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How universities use social media to reach their students

Joseph Webb | Fulcrum Contributor

UNIVERSITIES ACROSS CANADA are increasingly catering to their students through social media to create what are truly virtual campuses. In recent years, the University of Ottawa has expanded its online presence to include Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest, with an aim to be more in touch with the student body. The university also phased out its unilingual social media accounts in favour of a communications strategy that embraces bilingualism.

Adrian Ebsary joined the U of O’s web communications team as its online community specialist in 2011 and has since played a large part in engaging the university’s online community. He says many students may not be aware of the services they provide online and his team is trying harder to get the word out.

“For many people, [social media] is easier than using other means of contact,” says Ebsary. “It can be easier to fire off a tweet or send a Facebook post as opposed to clicking through several [telephone] options.”

Canadians are among the world’s foremost users of online media. A 2011 study performed by Ipsos—a Canadian market research company—found that about half of Canadians have a social media profile of one kind or another. In total, 86 per cent of Canadians on social networks had a Facebook profile and 19 per cent of Canadians had a Twitter account.

Jose Rodriguez, 18, is a first year bio-pharmaceutical sciences student at the University of Ottawa. Keeping in touch with friends and family back home isn’t all he uses social media for; he says that periodically looking at the University’s Facebook page helped him transition from high school in Markham to university.

“It was kind of useful because it was not just about frosh but people posting schedules,” he said. “Maybe you know who is in the same classes, or people asking questions. It has really helped.”

Lisa Longchamps, 20, is a U of O student who is in third year criminology. The way she uses Facebook has changed since she entered university.

“It evolved in a way that it is a lot less juvenile, more productive, and more constructive,” she said. “You look for jobs, find people, [find] information, and look up sites.”

Longchamps is one of many students who have shared information about courses online. One way she’s done this is by using Facebook groups to communicate with group members. She says that, in one class where this was done, the professor of  was aware of the group and encouraged students to use the network. However, the professor did not post anything herself. As someone who is bilingual, Longchamps also finds it helpful that the university’s Facebook and Twitter accounts use both official languages to really try to communicate with its students.

“It’s not just posters and signs now. You need to come and reach us: we are always on our phones, computers,” Longchamps says. “I definitely find they are making much more of a try and I think it is working.”