How are Universities using social networking media such as LinkedIn, FaceBook and MySpace?The question really has two parts: How are universities using the tools now and how will they use them in the future?
The most important thing schools need to understand is that these new tools are an opportunity to connect their community in an authentic way.
This is a wholesale cultural shift in the way we gather information, work together and communicate. It is not a marketing movement. Marketing in the social media space in the traditional sense works only for some companies. (See Dell, Japadog, etc.) Most of those sell consumer products.
Education is something very different. It is an experience, a path to a better life and a way to become the professional each individual strives to be. In essence it covers all of the 'Needs' in Maslo's Hierachy of Needs.
LinkedIn is mainly used by individuals representing the institutions in their own way. Each staff, faculty and student can provide the school an opportunity to leverage their expertise through their contributions to the LinkedIn community and in turn raise the profile of the school in an authentic way.
At this point schools are using LinkedIn to do research (See Rob Duncan), build professional networks, reconnect with alumni and seek out the top faculty and staff for key positions. I could keep writing because all the time people all over the world are using these new tools in new ways. Follow them on Twitter and stay up to date ;)
Schools use Facebook to communicate with prospective students, current students and alumni. This is the challenge of Facebook for schools. Some schools make different groups and pages to try and manage these elements more independently. It can put a strain on often over utilized marketing and it/web services resources.
Students will make groups of their own and probably already have. The answer from Lisa Enderby, Experiential Learning Consultant at University of Toronto covers this very well. Schools should have a representative there. At BCIT we are using our Facebook Page as a way to communicate with our community in that space, the important thing is understanding who they are, it's different for each school and dynamic.
For us there are is a larger group started by a student before the institution's entry into Facebook. This group caters more to students desire to have more casual and 'unofficial' conversation. We participate in it as individuals and alumnus to clarify questions and provide answers when we have them.
The are many uses for Facebook and there are many larger schools particularly in the United States with enough resources and student participation to create custom apps and student portal integration with Facebook connect, as an option. One US school built it's own custom social networking site for Freshman to connect with great success, above average buy-in and high engagement levels.
Teachers are making groups for specific courses to share current supplemental course material. Some teachers use delicious, some use Twitter. Each tool offers teachers and instructors an easy way to communicate and store ideas with a group. They answer students questions in a forum which is better than in class or via email for a few reasons. Emails are sent to individuals and remain private unless forwarded. They also need to be categorized or sorted to be organized for later access. Teachers use blogs, pages, specific links, discussions and wall posts to save time and turn an answer to a question into information for all students to use, share and converse.
In class some students don't pay attention, some miss class and some just miss what the professor said. A facebook group, twitter page or delicious page is a course blog that doesn't require as much effort and encourages students to become active participants.
MySpace isn't widely used in Canada but has been successful for some large American schools.
Thanks to Rob Duncan for sending me this question through LinkedIn and thanks to Diane McCullough for asking it.