If you look at the York home page, you’ll see two new items: the logos of the social media sites Facebook and Twitter, guiding you to more sources of information about the University.
With the growth of social media on the Web, it has become essential for organizations to be where their audience lives – on Facebook and Twitter, among other popular sites. In recent times, many units at York have expanded their presence on one or both of these services – often with spectacular results.
The Admissions & Recruitment unit, for instance, has been among the pioneers in the use of social media at York. Having begun using Facebook in the spring of 2007, its York University page now boasts the most fans of all, at more than 4,200. York Alumni, which has more than 2,600 fans, launched its page in December 2008 and is growing quickly as more and more of York’s 235,000 grads sign on to keep in touch. On Twitter, the Admissions & Recruitment team also leads the way with over 3,300 followers at last tweet, although anyone can read Twitter messages without being a follower.
With the number of official York pages growing rapidly – now well over 30 – it was time to provide a guide to all the Facebookers and tweeters.
“York has a strong presence in social media, and we’d clearly reached the point where we ought to show it off. So we decided to put lists of all York’s official Facebook pages and Twitter feeds in an easy-to-find place on the home page,” says Berton Woodward, York’s publications director in the University Relations Division and chair of the New Media Subcommittee of York’s Brand Stewardship Council (BSC), which brings together communications experts from across the University.
The lists have been created within the Facebook and Twitter environments, so that users can easily click around to see what York offers. All Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds are accessible by anyone online, without need for registration. (Facebook groups, which can be more restrictive, are not listed.)
Woodward is the first to agree that the lists are likely to have missed some official pages and feeds, given the amount of activity. Any unit that wishes to be included should send a note to email@example.com. An official Facebook or Twitter page is one set up and hosted by a Faculty, division, department or unit of York.
The Account Direction unit of University Relations has also developed York’s new Social Media Guidelines in collaboration with the BSC New Media Subcommittee. York units contemplating a Facebook or Twitter page should adhere to these guidelines, which include a Social Media Brief that will ensure integration of a unit’s broader objectives. Account Direction can provide guidance on creating a page, messaging and creative elements that maintain the consistency of York’s visual identity.
The Facebook overview page so far lists 20 official York sites – everything from York International to I’m Thinking Environmental Studies at York University for 2010. There’s also a page for the Glendon campus that currently has almost 1,000 fans. And the student and alumni page for the Schulich School of Business boasts over 1,400 fans, currently the third most popular.
The Marketing & Communications group took the plunge in the fall, creating the York University – Home news and referral page, which hosts the Facebook list along with a Wall of news, and setting up the Twitter feed YorkUnews. Selected news stories from York’s daily news sites YFile and Ylife, as well as key media releases, are posted daily on both Facebook and Twitter to ensure the widest possible audience. “There is a cardinal rule with Facebook,” notes communications officer David Fuller, who handles the Facebook and Twitter feeds. “Make sure you post relatively regularly, but don’t over-post or it will clog up your fans’ own pages. So we make sure we limit Facebook to a single post each day showing a group of headlines. But with Twitter, it’s pretty unlimited.”
For Laura D’Amelio, manager of print & e-media content development in Admissions & Recruitment, it was clear that experimenting with social media was a priority, based on a growing awareness that students were already using it for their own networking. “Then we realized that, with all the day-to-day questions we were getting, it was working for us,” she says. The fan base jumped from 1,300 in June 2009 to more than 4,100 in February, in significant part thanks to a bold decision to open the site up to student comments, warts and all, and delete only those that are really offensive.
“We like to put the power back in the students’ hands,” says D’Amelio, explaining her group’s policy for answering student posts. “We’ll respond to anything. First we acknowledge the comment and then we suggest how they can go further to get answers or offer solutions.”
One of the biggest benefits of using social media, D’Amelio says, is learning what questions are uppermost in students’ minds and using that information to adjust the emphasis in the printed material that students receive. D’Amelio’s colleagues have also discovered that students, who can sometimes be reticent in person, are more willing to ask questions online. “They can also ask questions that occur to them at one in the morning. And sometimes other students answer them before we do because they have seen us give the answers before,” she says.
For Liz Teodorini, manager of alumni communications in the Alumni Office, two-way communication is the key to using social media successfully. “We’re trying to encourage dialogue among our grads and the number of comments has spurted up in the last couple of months,” she says.
For York academic units, using social media has also been rewarding. Annette Dubreuil, project manager at York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), says her unit made the decision to switch from a Facebook group to a fan page just recently. (Pages have more flexibility than groups, and are always public.) IRIS also made use of Twitter at COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen, where York sent a team of official observers. “We used tweets to keep in touch with everyone,” said Dubreuil. “It seems to be a good way to connecting with people, particularly students, faculty and staff.”
It’s important to have an overall social media strategy, says D’Amelio, whose office also uses Flickr to post photo galleries of York events and Vimeo for videos, and maintains YU Blog, written by both student information officers and student volunteers.
Visit the York University – Home page to see the current list of York Facebook pages.
To follow York on Twitter, see the YorkUnews list of official feeds.