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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How I Use Social Media, Part 1

Almost every year since I started doing work in social media, there have been periods when journalists have gotten really interested in how social media is used in college admission. Sometimes we get painted as creepy folks trolling the internet for dirt about applicants.

One time, a survey asked admission officers if they had a Facebook presence. The results were reported a little differently.

Aaaah! Panic!

Really quickly after the group behind the survey put out a press release, all sorts of papers and news sites picked up on the story. This was on Time Magazine's website a few days later:

OMG, now we're stalkers?

I got a ton of calls and emails from folks asking me to comment, which I happily did. First of all, we don't have time to be digging around for information about our applicants. I don't even have time to eat lunch during reading season. I have files to read. Second of all, I think most teens are perfectly aware of privacy settings and they lock their information down.

A few months after that happened, I wanted to use the press release and resulting stories in a presentation to some new professionals at a conference. When I went to grab screen shots, I found an update from the Kaplan folks, who were behind the original survey. The update was added onto the original story, but I don't remember any media outlet picking up on that.

Doesn't that sound less scary that the original message?

Things have changed a little bit since that all happened. Students found Twitter and Instagram. I joined Twitter a long time ago. In fact, 1.45% of users have been on Twitter longer than I have been. That's a lot of people, but suffice it to say, I've been on Twitter since before most of our applicants knew what it was. Back then, it was really popular with people who worked in academia. It was a great way to keep up with what was happening all around the University.

Many (most?) people who do a lot of work with social media use a client to keep track of their different feeds. It's akin to a stock ticker on your computer screen. Mine has columns for my home feed, private messages, mentions, and my favorite hashtags. All day long, the feeds scroll. I don't watch them all the time, but I glance at them fairly regularly. Twitter is probably the fastest way to get an answer from me if you have a question because I have that client open all day. It gives me a little pop up notification if someone mentions me. 

Here's what my favorite hashtag feed looked like a few minutes ago as I was getting ready to write this post:

I do the same thing with Instagram. I downloaded Instagram when Hipstamatic was THE big photo sharing app. You don't remember that? It wasn't long ago (2010), but you had to pay $1.99 for Hipstamatic. Another blogger told me that Instagram was the free alternative. Well, look at what happened. We're all on Instagram and Hipstamatic isn't dominant anymore.

The UVA hashtag on Instagram is full of gorgeous pictures from around the Grounds (along with some pictures of grapes and grape products, por supuesto). I love checking it and so do many others in the UVa community.

On Twitter and Instagram, I think you need to be careful about your profiles and your use of hashtags. You might forget that a hashtag with a school name in it is probably used by students, faculty, administrators, and people in the community. That's the point of a share something with people interested in the same topic.

The vast, vast majority of my interaction with students online is awesome. That's why I keep writing blog posts, tweeting, and sharing images on Instagram. Once in a blue moon, something comes to my attention that raises an eyebrow. I usually address it. For example, a high school student once tweeted mean comments about the physical appearance of the admission dean giving an information session. He tagged the posts with #UVA. I wrote right back. He apologized. I didn't take a screen shot or try to figure out the student's real name so I could connect the tweets to an application. 

To summarize:

1. I like social media.

2. I don't have time to search for students on the internet.
3. If you include #UVA in a tweet or photo, you're asking our entire community to see it. 

Next time, I'll talk about how we use social media during the reading process.

Update: Here's How I Use Social Media, Part 2.