Social media use continues to grow at UI

BY EMMA WILLIS | JUNE 24, 2013 5:00 AM

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While social media are often used to help individuals connect with one another, higher-education institutions use them to connect with students.

And a June 7 Academic Progress Rate report indicates that schools within the Big Ten conference, including the University of Iowa are gaining traction in their social reach.

Social media at the UI

University of Iowa Director of Creative Services Lin Larson said the university maintains many social-media fronts. With nearly 80 Facebook pages and more than 40 Twitter accounts linked to the university, the UI has used social media as a ways to stay connected to students.

With constant new emerging technology, Larson said, the university looks at a number of emerging platforms when targeting the social-media market in order to keep track of the how future endeavors might aid in interaction.

With an estimated equivalent of 1.5 staff members who work specifically on social-media advances in the UI Central Communications and Marketing Office, he said, the efforts are mainly collaborative in the communication that is spread across the university.

That current students are continually online can create a number of positive outcomes.

“Students are much more plugged-in [to] the next big thing than some of our professional time,” Larson said.

Because so many departments use social media, that allows for a more personal engagement for students and their specific likes.

“So much of what we do online is community building,” Larson said. “It really helps to have people in-house who know the communities.”

Despite the UI’s being one of the smaller fish in the Big Ten sea, UI Assistant Professor of journalism Brian Ekdale said it is less about the numbers race and more of looking beyond the figures. The number of online followers may be fewer than the numbers for the University of Michigan or Ohio State University, but that doesn’t matter, he said.

“[People have] realized it’s a really superficial way to measure how effective they are [on a social network],” Ekdale said.

Social Media in the Big Ten

The presence of the Big Ten in social media continues to grow. With a high consistency of followers, there are people across the conference who work on making these accounts accessible to students in their respective institutions.

With 228 social-media accounts and roughly 61 staff members working across campus on the university’s presence in social media, Purdue University chimes in at approximately 127,295 likes on Facebook and more than 27,000 followers on Twitter.

Martin Sickafoose, the digital marketing director at Purdue, said officials there try to have a presence in every spot that has student users.

“It gives us the ability to engage with our students,” he said.

Pennsylvania State’s manager of social media, Geoff Rushton, said social media provide a lot of opportunities to the share stories and connect with people using different platforms.

“It’s multidirectional,” he said. “The information you share becomes more robust.”

At 140 Facebook pages and Twitter accounts linked to the university, Penn State maintains a lot of ways for students to stay connected.

Social Media in Iowa universities

At the University of Northern Iowa, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the main accounts used to keep in touch with students. Though there are only three people in the University Relations Office who direct the official social-media accounts as a portion of their duties, various colleges, departments and programs administer their own specific accounts.

At 46,789 likes on Facebook and 6, 963 followers on Twitter, UNI communications specialist Lindsay Cunnningham said that although staff members are hired to work on the college’s social-media page, no definitive cost amounts are available. She said that all new information that is increasingly, the university said the preliminary budget is derived from a communal space.

“We really try to keep an open conversation going on that page,” Cunningham said.

Similar to UNI, Iowa State has several different accounts run by different staff through campus, with the official Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus accounts directed by the University Relations Office.

Social-media benefits

UI junior Tori Nichols uses her Facebook to keep up with everything in Iowa City. The therapeutic recreation major said social media are great tools.

“I think it’s important because it lets people reach out to the world of students and parents,” she said. “It’s all about spreading the word.”

Nichols sees the value not only in the audience but in the immediacy of accessible information.
Cheryl Hodgson, the manager of marketing services at the UI Hospital and Clinics, agrees.

“If [people] see a message they are interested in, they have an easy way to share it with friends and family,” she said.

With social media demonstrating high cost benefits throughout its use at the UI as well as other institution, the trend is likely only to grow.

“It’s always evolving,” Larson said. “But it’s always going to be part of our business.”

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