At 10:58 a.m. on October 3, Lindenwood University junior Katherine Anderson notified the university's official Twitter handle about a car crash on campus, and said a professor almost hit her car. "Do something about the driving on campus," she Tweeted in all caps. Lindenwood's response from @LindenwoodU came five-and-a-half hours later: "Specific suggestions for improvement are always welcome."
Chelsy McInnis, also a junior at Lindenwood, says the university looked her friend Anderson up in the directory and called her cell phone—rather than sending a direct message on Twitter. That partly explains why McInnis says the school is ignoring its student body on social media, where it responds only to "positive messages or the occasional nonthreatening question."
"Lindenwood is missing out on a great opportunity to recruit new students by ignoring the ones they're attempting to retain," says McInnis, who writes the handle @chelsysayshi.
Although a recent University of Massachusetts—Dartmouth study found that every college and university surveyed has some kind of social media presence, many schools' official handles function essentially as a list of links back to the university homepage. Other schools, like Syracuse University, have conversational handles, which they use to engage students directly.
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Rodney Fleming, a junior at Syracuse, doesn't know the feeling McInnis describes of being digitally disconnected from her university. "Personally, I take it for granted that @SyracuseU will respond to me within an hour on any given weekday with any university-related question I pose," he says. When he recently asked the Syracuse handle if there was a hashtag—a way to track a conversation on Twitter—for a campus event with bestselling author David Sedaris, Syracuse responded within three minutes.
Though he praises Syracuse's Twitter handle—which has a score of 67 out of 100 on the site Klout, which measures online influencers—Fleming notes a recent article in the student newspaper, The Daily Orange, which says Syracuse has slipped from second to seventh place on Klout's rankings of colleges using social media.
Fleming says at a big school like Syracuse, it can seem like every office has a Twitter handle, "which makes things somewhat disconnected when looking for a definitive answer." If students have a computer issue, they message the IT services handle; if there's a housing problem, they Tweet at the residence life handle. But he's confident that "things will change for the better very soon" after hearing that Syracuse recently appointed a new assistant director of social media.
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Kelly Bartling, news director at University of Nebraska—Lincoln, says the kind of Twitter monitoring and outreach she does is "pretty typical for colleges, many of [which] are ramping up their social media operations" and hiring staff dedicated specifically to social media. At UNL, there is no staff devoted to social media, Bartling says, so it's "getting overwhelming for us ... because you really need to be constantly monitoring in order to respond to posts quickly."