Guest post: Liz Allen on unofficial Facebook groups: ‘Don’t panic, participate.’

Today’s guest post is courtesy of Elizabeth Allen, associate director of alumni relations at the Caltech Alumni Association. Liz discusses higher ed, alumni relations, communications, baseball and other passions on Twitter @lizallen.

* * * * *

You are not alone.

Not on Facebook, anyway.

At this point, your institution probably has an “official” group on Facebook. You carefully selected the main photo to reflect the personality of your campus, you slavishly posted upcoming events, and you promoted it through your newsletter and with an email campaign. That’s great!

But did you search Facebook for other groups branded with your institution’s name? Chances are there’s a group (or many groups) for alumni, students, or prospective students of your campus. They have lots of group members, active conversations and upcoming events.

Now what? You start to panic. What if someone says something bad about your institution? The administration has no control over the content! You want to notify general counsel. You want to call the president. You want to shut these “unofficial” groups down!

Stop. Take a breath.

Don’t panic. Participate.*

Web 2.0 and social media is all about user generated content. Expressing ideas and opinions. It’s a conversation. It’s not your job to stymie that conversation. Your job is to help manage and observe. Here are some approaches to interacting with “unofficial” groups:

Join the group. It may seem obvious, but join your “unofficial” university groups on Facebook. If the group has open membership, just click and join. If you need to request membership, this is a good opportunity to introduce yourself to the group manager. Once you’re in, you can take a look at what’s been posted by the group members. You don’t have to join all of the groups – use your best judgment.

Form a partnership. Send a message to the group’s administrator letting them know that you’re available as a campus connection and resource. Establishing a good rapport from the beginning will help you in the long run.

Don’t Crash the Party. The group is already an established community. Don’t try to insert yourself; you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. It’s like showing up at a cocktail party and shouting “Hi everyone! I’m here! The party can start!” You will come across as completely inauthentic – or worse. To start, just sit back and observe. If someone posts a question you can answer, (What are the bookstore’s hours? When is commencement this year?) respond and contribute. Developing “street cred” takes time.

Keep Up. New groups are created on Facebook all the time. Run a search at least once a week to check and see if a new group has popped up. Additionally, try to keep up with references to your institution on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other websites. Create a Google Alert to help you keep tabs on things.

Simply ignoring the groups or hoping they go away isn’t the best approach. Joining the community and becoming a “digital native” will keep you in the conversation.

*If you’re headed to this year’s CASE Summit in San Francisco, register for the preconference workshop, “Don’t Panic, Participate: A Common Sense Guide to Social Media for Advancement Officers” presented by Michael Stoner, President of mStoner, and me.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

3 thoughts on “Guest post: Liz Allen on unofficial Facebook groups: ‘Don’t panic, participate.’”

  1. Currently, of 1,387 four year non profit colleges and universities, 983 have a fan page on Facebook. Definitely a good chance you’re there, even if you don’t know it.
    Great post!

  2. I couldn’t agree more here. It’s exciting, not troublesome, that students want to participate to such an extent. It’s OK to have reservations about what could be said, but the average college student who joins and participates in unofficial groups probably can disseminate between school-approved and unofficial pages.

  3. This post is spot on. At San Diego State University we have dozens of Facebook and LinkedIn groups that were started by “outside” users. They are fans, alumni, friends who are proud of their affiliation with the university. We see them as ambassadors and we have engaged them and are working with them to empower them to tell the story. Trying to stop them from their activities would be counterproductive.

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