Mac experiments with social media

By Matea Wasend

Macalester College has 4,333 fans, 1,516 members, 1,617 followers and eight subscribers. Almost every day, it shares links, statuses, tags, videos and pictures, and receives messages, comments and likes. Macalester has joined the twenty-first century online world of social networking, with official accounts on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Delicious and YouTube.Macalester joined LinkedIn two years ago after prompting from Macalester alums. Since then, the Communications and Public Relations department has created accounts for the college on four more social networking sites, including a YouTube channel that was launched in November 2009.

According to Director of Communications and Public Relations Amy Phenix, each of the accounts has seen steady growth in popularity since they were launched. The fans of the school’s official Facebook page nearly doubled last semester.

Macalester joins many colleges and universities nationwide in using sites like Facebook and YouTube to creatively promote itself. Phenix called the sites “one more channel for reaching key audiences” like prospective and current students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff.

“It’s a new way of sharing Macalester’s stories,” Phenix said.

On Facebook, the CPR department has created an admissions tab for interested students, which directs them to Macalester’s home page. The school also posts information about campus events, photos and videos of students and professors, and links to relevant news articles. Last week, the page encouraged students to attend the Feb. 5 Haiti Benefit Concert and included a link to a video of Wes Alcenat ’10 speaking about the Haiti disaster.

The college’s Twitter account often offers similar information, though in fewer characters. Recently, Macalester tweeted, “Rumor confirmed: Macalester president will be Mac the Scot at tonight’s women’s b-ball game. 7:30 in Leonard Ctr.” The tweet promoted a stunt that was part of CPR’s own video project involving President Rosenberg, which will be posted on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on Feb. 15.

The YouTube channel, Macalester’s most recent social networking conquest, only has eight subscribers at this point. However, Phenix said the goal is to eventually post extensive video for prospective students who want to see what life at Macalester is really like. The CPR department is working with two students, videographer Collin Calvert ’13 and photographer Aaron Brown ’10, to collect footage.

The channel has posted 12 videos to date, including a performance by Macalester music professor and pianist Mark Mazullo, which has been viewed 328 times.

For Internet Communications Coordinator Nick Raleigh, the appeal of Macalester entering social networking sites is the unique interactions they can create.

“It’s a mashed up sort of audience,” Raleigh said. “These interactions are unique in the world. It’s about gaining exposure to the entire Macalester community and all of its subgroups.”

Phenix described just one such online interaction, when a prospective student who had applied to Macalester tweeted that they had just been admitted and that it had made their week.

“We were able to respond to them and say congratulations,” Phenix said. “And an alum commented saying ‘I went to Macalester, you’re going to love it.'”

Raleigh remembered another conversation, which took place on LinkedIn after a long-time Macalester professor passed away. Alumni shared stories and memories about him online for days.

About one-third of the college’s fans on Facebook are college-aged, and another third are aged 25-34. A solid seven percent, however, are older than 55.

“The age demographic is skewing older by the second,” Raleigh said. “On Facebook we have some fans in their 70s.”

According to a recent New York Times article, only about 9 percent of Facebook users are teenagers. For this reason, the CPR department has not felt the need to directly involve students with creating and keeping up the accounts, although Phenix said she sometimes asks CPR department student workers for advice.

“We don’t have a formal way of getting student input, but we’d love to hear ideas,” Phenix said.

She pointed out that anyone can post things on Macalester’s Facebook wall, and hopes that students will use it to promote their own events in future.

Macalester’s Facebook page has about 2,000 more fans than nearby St. Thomas’ despite the fact that the university has over 10,000 students, something Phenix was quick to point out.

“We try to be active participants in these spaces, and study the best practices,” Phenix said. “We make sure that we’re being engaging.[these sites] are part of the Mac community.