A Look at Facebook’s College Groups

Part I: March 2012 – The Beginning

After Media Networks class one night, I opened up my iPad (like any good media networking social media person would) and saw the hovering button that stated “Congratulations! New: Groups at Oberlin.” Okay, I thought, it looks like I have something new to look into tomorrow morning. But because social media doesn’t stop for Ma’ayan’s bedtime, time waited naught for me. Within 10 minutes, I had an email from an incoming class of 2016 student asking when he could get his email address so he could join Oberlin’s new group. A group that transcends Oberlin’s on-campus community was discussing a new group they’d created yesterday evening on yet another social platform, Twitter. Word travels fast on the internet.

But wait. Really, wait just one hot second. Do you know what a Group at Oberlin is? Didn’t think so. I had a pretty good guess when I read the description, but now I know. Here’s my take on the situation:

Why Groups at Oberlin could rock:

  1. Remember when Facebook was still limited to just college students? Yeah, I barely remember that. The incoming class of 2010 was the first group to start networking before getting to campus and that was a godsend. This new Groups at Oberlin thing harks back to those days. It’s a private space for college students. That’s pretty awesome, actually.
  2. You can add people to a group that you aren’t friends with on Facebook. Essentially, with the creation of Groups at Oberlin, you’re removing the social aspect of connecting to friends and broadening your network to people you relate to but don’t need to know a lot of personal details about. Think study groups, announcement boards for majors and dorms. Those people are connected to you and have a need for similar information or communication, but you may not know them personally, and that’s now acceptable on this social platform. The downside of this, though, is that you can now be added to a group by anyone, not just your friends, and in being added to a group by anyone, you are a part of that group until you choose to leave.

Why Groups at Oberlin isn’t so great:

  1. You need an Oberlin.edu email address. Sure, initially, that sounds great, because it inherently privatized a network that now everyone and their mom — literally: my mom posted her first photo on my Facebook timeline for my birthday this year — can join. At Oberlin, however, you only have your .edu email address from the May before your orientation to around fall break after you graduate. What that actually means is that for creating social groups on Facebook, Groups at Oberlin is good for while you’re here, but you’ll lose all those connections and contacts with that particular group as soon as you lose your email address. If you’re an alum, well, you are out of luck.
  2. Affiliated groups change every year. I foresee an overwhelming amount of groups that one can join every year. You’re either going to join more and more groups every semester/school year, or join and leave groups as time goes on, which means you’ve created and severed many many ties in the course of a year. That’s more to maintain, more to keep up with, and more that you have to deal with at the end of every academic milestone. And don’t even get me started on the incredible loss of your newly networked self.
  3. What’s the difference between Groups on Facebook and an email thread? I, uh, can’t tell, other than the fact that Facebook is turning into a one-stop-shop for all kinds of communication, which is unfortunate for two reasons: A. Facebook isn’t permanent (you know how many times they’ve changed layouts in the last year…) and is not an organization you can easily contact if something goes wrong and B. not everyone is on Facebook.
  4. We don’t know who is in charge. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m distrustful of things that are maintained by Facebook rather than by a human I can contact. If someone has an issue about Oberlin College on Facebook, you can get directly in touch with me and I can try and do something about it. Individual subgroups within Groups at Oberlin can be maintained by individuals, but the overall Groups at Oberlin is not maintained by the school.

Hopping on bandwagons is precisely what Facebook want us users to do. They already have our info, they know what we like, and they know when they release something new that we are going to jump like little lemmings off that information right into their newest artificial body of water.

But hear this wee little plea from your friendly neighborhood social media coordinator: don’t just dive into something new because Facebook tells you to do something. Consider what that new feature is used for — and if it actually fits your needs — before you commit to yet another segmentation of your online life.

Part II: April 2012 – The Reckoning

Groups at Oberlin came onto my radar again after Facebook published a release introducing the feature for all schools. It seemed as good a time as any to check in to see how our approach to the beta launch has panned out.

A month after we got access to our school groups, we have created 128 groups. Sounds spectacular, right? Breakdown:

  • Over half those groups have less than five members. My guess is the member that created the group is the one of the only members in it.
  • The most populous groups are Class of 20xx groups, with over 100 members in each (out of the over 800 possible students who could affiliate themselves with each class). The class of 2015 group is the most populous, with 280 members. Other than adding classmates to the group and posting about a lost item and an event or two, the groups are about dead as their curated incoming class pages that were created when the students originally matriculated.
  • The most active public group is that of SciFi Hall, a themed living hall that has one of the most tight-knit communities on campus. It’s no surprise that their community is active on Facebook, too, since they’re one of the most active communities at Oberlin.
  • Out of the created groups, 95 percent of them have seen no activity (both in regards to new members or new posts) since the first week they were created in early March.

In short, it has not been adopted by our campus community. Okay, why?

  1. Why would students use Facebook as a central means of communications? Try as we might, it’s still primarily a place for friends and procrastination, not for homework.
  2. When it comes to connecting with friends, I should hope that if they’re on Facebook, you’re connected with them. Thus it is no different to create a regular Facebook group (which you can remain a part of after graduation) than a group as a part of the new Groups for Schools feature.
  3. It appears that there were some automatically created Facebook groups, such as jobs and internships, sports and athletics, etc. with no clue as to who is considered the administrator for them that students joined since they cared about the topic. When it comes to sports, it mentions scoring tickets in the description. Have you been to an Oberlin game before, Facebook? It’s free. When it comes to jobs and internships, there’s no one to provide the possible opportunities. How about letting us share our internship database and career services social connections on Twitter and Tumblr instead? This is a blow in the gut for me. There are resources on our campus that are willing and able to inform students about their interests to translate to job opps, but instead, an unmoderated “community” is the place that introduces the idea as something that will be offered to you, rather than seeking it out from the proper sources.
  4. I reiterate: what in the world is the difference between a school group and an email thread?

Maybe it’s just me, but a beta launch is a time to hammer out problems and see what an audience does with it. Perhaps the rules are a bit too open-ended, or we’ve reached a saturation point with social grouping, or maybe it’s just that Facebook just can’t dictate how we create our social groups.

  • The Chad

    There are already a few existing ‘college’ social networking and conversation sites– HackCollege.com, CollegeBlender.com, talknerdy2me.com, & CollegeBrain.com

  • How do I get my university on the groups for school?