The University is now active on all manner of social networks—and students, faculty, and staff members are even inventing new ones of their own.
BY MOLLY PETRILLA
Five years ago, I wrote an article for this magazine titled “Fine ’09 Meets Online.” At the time, a new online orientation network called Pennster and a little blue-and-white Website called “thefacebook” were revolutionizing the way incoming students got to know each other. It was 2005, and while email and Web browsers were already fixtures of modern life, popular social networking sites like Facebook were just beginning to emerge. It was a time when pre-freshmen meeting on those sites was big news.
With the soaring number and variety of social networks out there now—and with users ranging from young children to 90-year-old grandmas—I began to wonder how the social-networking landscape at Penn had also changed: Was the University fully utilizing the new social media out there? Who’s in charge of, say, the Career Services blog or the Penn Alumni Twitter account, and who are they trying to reach? Are people reading their messages?
After talking to more than a dozen students, faculty, and staff members, one thing became clear: Penn has more active accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking sites than a classroom packed with Web-savvy teenagers; and at the same time, others across the University are inventing entirely new social media of their own.
Deeply “LinkedIn” to Penn
It’s a little after 1 p.m. on a sunny October Thursday, and Steve Minicola has decided to show the 15,000-plus “fans” who have joined the University’s Facebook page some of the vivid fall colors currently on campus. He posts a photo taken next to Penn’s Love sculpture with the caption “Another gorgeous fall day on College Green.” Within only a few hours, he’s received almost a dozen spontaneous responses from a wide range of Facebook users. “Gosh do I miss Penn’s beautiful campus!” gushes a C’08 alumna. “Wow I’m a junior in high school and I really want to attend this school!! Just another reason why this is my top choice :),” a teenage boy writes. “I loved my time at PENN,” adds a C’90 alumnus. “Wish I was close enough to take classes as an alum.”
As the University’s manager of web communications, Minicola helps oversee some of the University’s official social networking accounts, and often shares photos, articles, or playful questions with Penn’s Facebook fan club, which in the last year has grown from 5,000 to 15,784 as of press time.
Vice President of University Communications Lori Doyle puts Penn “in the middle of the pack” among peer institutions in its embrace of social networking. “We try to have fun with it,” she says, of the University’s Facebook page. “Initially, we made the mistake of just putting our news releases up there … [but now,] people love the fun items that we post.”
Doyle says her department tries to echo that blend of light-hearted-but-engaging content across the other social-networking platforms it uses, including a Twitter account with more than 4,300 “followers”; a YouTube video site; and a photo-sharing account on Flickr. “Our office’s overall goal is to positively impact Penn’s reputation,” she adds. “We’re all about increasing the University’s visibility nationally and internationally … and now social networking is one of our key strategies. That wasn’t part of our communications plan until about two years ago, but if we want to reach people—potential students, current students, parents, alumni—we have to be on these sites.”
As Penn continues to figure out the best way to give various constituencies what they want from social networking, Doyle says her office “is working more closely with Alumni Relations and Athletics, for example, to make our Facebook page even more relevant to a wider Penn audience.” And there’s lots more going on around campus, too. “Many of Penn’s departments, schools, institutes, and centers have their own [social-networking] sites,” she adds. “There are dozens, if not hundreds, of social-networking sites coming out of Penn.”
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FEATURE: PENN 2.0 by Molly Petrilla
Illustration by Justine Beckett
©2011 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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