To Facebook or not to Facebook, that’s the question

To Facebook or not to Facebook, that’s the question

As reports are coming in that young Facebook users are spending less time on Facebook and more on other social networks (Pew Report), we find ourselves scratching our heads, thinking ‘but what then, if not Facebook’? Not to worry, right now, Facebook is still Lord of the Jungle. It still has great, ever-changing possibilities, but capers are on the coast and your (prospective) students might be looking elsewhere. Furthermore, in some places, Facebook just doesn’t get you anywhere.

Point of saturation

In countries like the US, Canada and the UK, where Facebook seems to have reached the point of saturation, it is still the place where you will find most of your students and it remains to be a great platform for you to connect with your students. Next to that, in most parts of the world – places where many of us are recruiting, like Latin America, India, South Korea, or Vietnam – Facebook is booming like it was in the early days.

Then and now

However, as the network itself evolves over time, so do the ways in which we, in higher education, can benefit most from Facebook. Initially, at the University of Groningen, we used Pages mainly to recruit international students. Today I still like the possibilities Facebook Pages offers to present your institution, to advertise, and to get students interested in you. So we continue using Facebook for recruitment, but we also started using it for study abroad and to connect with current students and alumni. Instead of having just one Page, we now have many, all with different goals, purposes, and targeted at different audiences and regions. Furthermore, I absolutely love what you can do with Facebook Groups in recruitment and admissions. This is where the real community-building takes place and where you can create a – be it online – bond with your prospective students. It’s as close as it gets to physically showing them around campus and having them meet current students.

Greener pastures

Still, Facebook is commercializing and the moment students’ parents and even their grandparents started liking and commenting on their (grand) children’s status updates, they went looking for greener, more private, pastures. Not much of a mystery there. Add to that the fact that most of them are using cell phones to access the internet, it makes sense that mobile-friendly, visual, fast and privacy-sensitive networks and apps have an edge.


Snapchat is one of those. It took the US school campuses by storm in the fall of 2012 and is now gaining popularity in the rest of the world. It’s a photo-sharing app that self-destructs images within 10 seconds or less. Around 10 million ‘snaps’ are being shared every day and most of them are so-called ‘selfies’ – weird, funny self-portraits. A reason this network is also referred to as the ‘network of silliness’. Can we use it in higher education, or a better question, should we use it? I’m not sure, yet. It could be one of those skyrocketing, yet short-lived apps, because in the end people get bored with it. But you never know, so we are watching it.


One of the most interesting apps right now is Vine. It shows great potential for us and a number of schools have already established a presence. Acquired by Twitter in October 2012, this app lets you create and share looping 6-second video clips. They can also be shared through other social networks like Twitter and Facebook. In April 2013 it was the most downloaded free app and it seems to be growing faster than apps like WhatsApp and Snapchat. If you are interested in some great examples of how you can engage with your (prospective) students, alumni and other stakeholders, check out the University of Michigan or the University of South Florida on Vine. There are many more great examples out there though!

Where else?

Apart from the above two, where else will you find your students? Even though numbers are small in comparison to Facebook, more visual networks like Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest are growing rapidly and are gaining ground. All these networks offer you fun and easy ways to connect with your students. Doesn’t mean you should establish a presence on all of them, but find out if one of these, or another one, one could work for you, especially in combination with other networks like Twitter or Facebook. There are great examples of universities out there combining multiple networks to engage with students, thereby generating great exposure and content.

China and Russia

If you are recruiting students in China, where Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google are banned, you should consider going on Weibo, RenRen, or the latest hit in China: WeChat. It’s not always easy, but very much worth it. It does help though if you have someone on your team who speaks Chinese. If that’s not the case ask your students to assist you, most of them will be happy to help out. In Russia and Kazakhstan VKontakte (VK) dominates the social media market. VK is very similar to Facebook, which makes it easy to use. Another plus is that it has an English version.

So, should we abandon Facebook? No, we shouldn’t. Not yet at least. It still has great possibilities and potential and it is still the network where we will find most of our students. This doesn’t mean that it’s the only network we should be looking at. The social media landscape is one that is ever-changing. It is very plausible that in several years Facebook might not be the place to be anymore. When it comes to engaging with our (prospective) students through social media, we can’t afford to be lazy, we have to be aware of new trends. If we want to use social media effectively, it is our job to figure out what and how they want to hear from us and this differs per network, per channel, per target group, per region, and so on. Social media can be a puzzle, but if done right, it can also be amazingly effective.

By Jessica Winters

Jessica is coordinator Marketing & Social Media at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She was an early adopter of social media and the University of Groningen was one of the first higher institutions in the Netherlands to become active on social media. Jessica will also present three sessions and a workshop at the 2013 EAIE Conference in Istanbul: Inbound versus outbound marketing in international education, Social media across borders: the impact of cultural differences on student recruitment, Improving your social media strategy and Facebook for global partnerships: beyond the basics.

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