Tech Talk: Building Community in Higher Ed Today

If you are practitioner in higher education, then you already know the value of engaging with students, parents, businesses, and colleagues through social media. We have to be mobile, social and provide opportunities for our constituents to engage in meaningful ways with our brand and institution. With so many mobile applications available, how do institutions decide where to plant the most resources, time and development?

Over time, I have observed my institution (and alma mater) grow with the social media revolution. In the late nineties, I received acceptance letters and open house invitations via postal mail. Now, new students are invited to join the “Class of 2018” Facebook page and sent care packages to welcome them. When I was planning for financial aid, I remember sitting with my mom over notebook paper and drafting itemized expenses with minimal instruction. Now, families are provided with YouTube tutorials and online resources to help them plan. Phone calls during normal business hours has now bled into instant chat sessions with online representatives to make sure questions are answered expeditiously.

There are a number of mobile social applications that support higher education institutions (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blackboard Mobile, Snapchat, Instagram, blogs). Admissions might use YouTube, blogs and Instagram to share information with prospective students. Student life offices use Facebook, Twitter and custom mobile apps to keep current students informed about events and activities. Academic affairs may utilize Blackboard Mobile to keep students engaged in course content when they are on-the-go. Alumni offices invariably use Facebook, Twitter and even private communities to engage graduates after commencement.

We know from Flowtown (2010) that 91% of mobile users access social media for 2.7 hours per day. This was reinforced by Kruger (2014) who stated that people are spending 2 hours and 51 minutes a day on mobile devices. Flowtown also reports that 47% of mobile phone users browse social networking sites, 34% chat on social networking sites, 29% connect with other professionals and 35% comment on social networking sites.

While Facebook is likely becoming the tired social network for current college students, it’s hard to deny facts like these:

  • App Annie’s Intelligence Index (2014) states the top apps worldwide are Facebook Messenger and Facebook respectively and
  • Over 90% of college students have profiles on Facebook (Harvard, 2011).

At this point, I would say that Facebook still has the broadest mobile social applications for prospective college students and parents, current college students and parents, college graduates and professionals looking to connect across institutions. If I were a social media administrator at a higher education institution today, I would advocate for time and resources to be spent on Facebook, among other current and emerging applications.

Aside from launching a private social network (which according to Noel-Levitz, 75% of prospective college students think schools should provide), I think that Facebook can easily fill this need through affinity groups. Here’s how:

  • “Class of” (closed) student groups for each entering class for new students to build connections, find roommates and ask questions about life on campus;
  • “Class of” (closed) parent groups for family members of the entering student classes to get information and ask questions about school;
  • Club and academic (open/closed) groups for current or prospective students to join and connect with others around common interests;
  • Professional networking (open/closed groups) for colleagues in the industry to connect around topics or professional associations;
  • Events (private/public) pages for various constituencies to come together around open houses, homecomings, club events or school functions;
  • Office (pages) presence to promote services, products, and opportunities to students.

The tool sees success across all constituent groups who opt to use it as a way to stay in contact with the institution. The network provides information on residence hall policies, photos of students engaging on campus, celebrations of milestone events, group collaboration space and free advertising for clubs and offices.

Success with this tool can be measured in many ways including event attendance responses, number of group followers, engagement in posts and comments, sharing images and articles, number of likes on comments or images and number of questions answered (compared to phone calls or emails avoided).

It should be noted that there are other platforms that can also provide community – Twitter, Google+ and Ello. With Twitter, students, parents, administrators and professionals can all join the conversation easily, follow people, build private/public lists and read conversations using hashtags. Google+ can provide a great feeling of community through the use of circles, but the user base has not caught up with the broad use of Facebook yet. Lastly, Ello has great possibilities for building community, but it is limited to only “Friend” and “Noise” groupings, making it tough to carve out affinity groups. None of these can quite compare with the community and affinity that can be built broadly across Facebook.

Which mobile social media tools are used by your institutions to build community and what are the successes with each?

This blog is part of my MKT-555 Social Media course and fulfills the 6.3 course project requirement.


App Annie Intelligence. (2014). Retrieved October 11, 2014, from

Davis III, C., Deil-Amen, PhD, R., Rios-Aguilar, C., & Gonzalez Canche, M. (2012, January). Social Media in Higher Education: A Literature Review and Research Directions. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from

Kruger, L. (2014, October 9). Here are the Latest Facts on Mobile Marketing. They Will Surprise. Retrieved October 11, 2014, from


3 thoughts on “Tech Talk: Building Community in Higher Ed Today

  1. I find it interesting that so many high school and college students say they are not using Facebook, but the numbers clearly say otherwise. I also believe that Facebook has become a tool for information and I really like the idea of the affinity groups. Having real-time information from the source or through other members that have a common interest is very powerful and allows the group members to feel less uninformed and alone navigating post-secondary challenges.


  2. According to Campus Squad, a 2013 survey was produced targeting teens aged 15-18 in eight countries for 15 months and showed that 67% of this age group still use facebook, but that was a 12% decline from the year before. On November 2013 Facebook had 350 million photos posted per day while Snapchat had 400 million photos per day. The study found young people seeing Facebook as “uncool” and they keep their profiles to stay in touch with older relations. Some say the decline could be from the parents over use on the app, hence staying away from apps their parents use.

    CampusQuad. (2014, Feburary 19). CampusQuad. In The Evolution of Social Media Use Among College Students. Retrieved from

    Noel-Levitz. (2013). Higher Education Consultants. In 2013 E-Expectations Report: The Impact of Mobile Browsing on the College Search Process. Retrieved from


  3. Thank you for dropping these facts. I loathed the fact that I was pumping up Facebook for this post, but I do believe it’s one of the only free social networks that provides an overall sense of community for student affairs audiences in higher education. Note, I did mention applications for a few other networks. However, when I think about the audiences that we try to reach in student affairs – parents, friends of students, students, business contacts, colleagues in the field – the one thing they all usually have in common is Facebook. If we think about community in a broader sense, it really opens up more opportunities across other platforms!


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