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The integration of social media on campus @messiahcollege

With sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram developing faster than ever, society can no longer ignore how social media saturates our daily lives. When considering this social media phenomenon on a college campus, the shift from face-to-face communication to screen-mediated communication is revolutionizing the way college administrators engage with students—from their first campus visit to graduation day.

“The interaction between Messiah College and its students that takes place on social media is extremely important to the life of the institution. Students are able to have a voice because of the transparency and two-way communication that is created by social media and feel like a valued part of the life at the college,” says Ethan Eshbach ’14.

The admissions office has noticed a trend in high school students that visit Messiah’s campus. “Social media is popular and pervasive with high school students. With social media and mobile devices, they are always ‘on,’” says John Chopka, vice president for enrollment management. “While it has become a preferred way to communicate with friends, organizations like ours need permission to enter that world.”

With the proliferation of social media, Chopka, along with the rest of his admissions team, have begun to use Messiah’s institutional Facebook and Twitter, as well as specific Facebook groups for high school students to engage with the College and one another. Prospective students use the social media to post acceptance letters or check in during an open house. Experimenting with Twitter, the admissions office answers questions via hashtag from students and parents at various recruitment events.

Once a student enrolls and moves onto the College’s Grantham campus for his or her first semester, the student affairs office relies on social media to continue to engage students and their parents.

Using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and more, social media has become a helpful means of interacting with students on campus, according to Doug Wood, associate dean of students.

“Whether it’s Messiah Athletics tweeting about the incoming class of soccer players, the Career Center’s Pinterest posting photos of the do’s and don’ts of job interview attire or the Intercultural Office announcing via Facebook a study abroad opportunity in New Zealand, social media has changed the way we reach out to students,” says Wood.

As student affairs professionals at a liberal arts college concerned with the holistic education of its students, Wood and his team are working to move beyond the traditional one-way communication of campus mail or mass email. Social media sites offer a “quicker, relevant and often interactive” experience for students and Messiah plans to meet them where they are.

On the other side of the spectrum, students’ reliance on social media seems to grow every day. “I schedule and find out about events via social media, get updates from the College about social happenings or crisis situations, and feel valued as a member of a constructive system of two-way communication,” says Eshbach.

Although the benefits of social media abound, students and administrators alike note that some problematic issues can arise by using this online interaction as the primary form of communication.

The medium is organic and uncontrolled, allowing people to post their opinion—whether constructive or critical—via social media. This poses a challenge as it takes sensitivity to correct inappropriate messages or misinformation spread online.

Social media can also oversaturate students’ lives, leading them to overlook or ignore certain messages.

“Not everything can be captured in sound bites, and misunderstandings can occur,” says Wood. “We continue to encourage authenticity and congruence in our students as they mature in their sense of self and negotiate relationships, both in the real and cyber world.”

With its ability to build and monitor relationships with students, their parents and alumni, social media cannot be ignored by colleges and organizations. Messiah strives to continue integrating tweets, pins and Facebook comments into their organizational structure, tapping into their students’ lives in an unprecedented way.

By Emily Mohler ’13. This story was originally printed in the April 25 issue of Mennonite World Review.

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