Facebook Announces Groups for Schools – Good, Bad, or ‘Meh’ for Higher Ed?

Facebook has released their newest feature – “Groups for Schools” – this week in an effort to increase their reach into university communities.

While a handful of universities have already launched this year, the expansion of these “group networks” has rightfully caused a stir within the Higher Ed community. We’ve been in touch with Facebook’s product team on these new features since last year, but like Apple, product features and releases are kept under close wraps.

As new developments continue to occur we’ll be updating this resource, so please share your feedback and insights as you dive into the new groups feature.

How Groups for Schools Work

As stated on Facebook’s website, Groups for Schools allows current students and faculty to create their own university affiliated groups under one umbrella group for the institution. Oberlin College was one of the first pilot programs, and Ma’ayan Plaut, the Social Media Coordinator has been covering her reaction to their new groups on their team’s web blog.

While students can browse, search, and create new groups within the new university group,  there is no way to integrate already established groups within the new framework.

In order to pre-populate these groups, Facebook has also created a variety of communities as default categories which students may (or may not) find useful.

What this means for Higher Ed

While these developments will continue to play out over the coming weeks, the biggest question to ask is will administrators be given any control on how to manage these groups? While this may be Facebook’s attempt to tame the wild west of runaway university Pages and Groups, it doesn’t look like schools will have any control or authority of their branded communities.

As Ma’ayan explains in her post on the Oberlin blog:

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m distrustful of things that are maintained by Facebook rather than by a human I can contact. If someone has an issue about Oberlin College on Facebook, you can get directly in touch with me and I can try and do something about it. Individual subgroups within Groups at Oberlin can be maintained by individuals, but the overall Groups at Oberlin is not maintained by us.

Another important question to ask, is how will these affect the overall level of student engagement within the university? According to Ma’ayan (and what we’ve seen from groups so far) a majority of these groups see little to no activity, and over half of the Oberlin groups have less than five members.

As I write this article, the astute Audrey Waters joined in with a series of questions all of higher ed will be looking to have answered over the coming months. Update: she has also started a post to aggregate some of the major questions and concerns over the new Groups feature here.

Although this post isn’t about us, in response to Audrey and the rest of the Higher Ed community, we wanted to be sure to answer how we’re different than the new Facebook landscape.

We build for you

The biggest difference between the Schools App product and Groups for Schools is that we partner with institutions to create custom communities and provide them with student specific enrollment data.  While 1-on-1 design collaboration, advanced moderation capabilities, and unbeatable customer service doesn’t come standard for Facebook users, they are offered to our 85+ partner institutions.

Groups for Schools also does not focus on helping prospects and admits, who often don’t have an .edu email. While we have communities both for current and admitted students, we’ve seen the highest levels of engagement take place before school even begins.

In the end, our mission is to help students succeed in higher education. And while we wake up every day thinking about how to meet student and institutional needs, the same cannot be said about Facebook.

What does your institution think of the new Groups for Schools feature? Love it or hate it, share your reactions below.

  • http://twitter.com/ashleyhenn Ashley Hennigan

    Great post, Brandon. Like many Facebook roll outs I think higher ed is quick to get excited and we start using features before we know what they do and what goals they support. As an admissions professional, I’m not sure where Groups for Schools will fit into the fold. Like you said, our target market of students has yet to obtain our .edu email address. I will be curious to see just how different these groups are in comparison to those that already exist. Will adding that extra layer of “privacy” really add anything? I’m skeptical.

    • http://blog.inigral.com/?utm_source=Social&utm_medium=Blog&utm_campaign=Commenting Brandon Croke

      Thanks for adding in Ashley. Facebook news gets EVERYONE excited, not to mention the small community of higher ed. It looks like only a handful have rolled out so far, and the API isn’t available to track/compare engagement to other groups or pages. For now at least.

  • Kayla Stai

    This seems like a great new feature; however, what’s the process for schools to get added to the groups for schools feature?  What do you do if your the admin person and want to get the feature activated for your campus?

    • http://blog.inigral.com/?utm_source=Social&utm_medium=Blog&utm_campaign=Commenting Brandon Croke

      Unless if you were one of the test schools you will not be notified from Facebook about when they are coming to your school. It has not been released yet if higher ed administrators will be given “admin” privileges on these new groups. So far the documentation on the website is entirely student focussed, not written for administrators. 

      The best way to find out will be to submit your .edu address and wait for notification if/when your groups will go live. Thanks for the comment and questions!

  • http://kevinfadler.com/ Kevin F. Adler

    Another aspect: remember when Facebook was just your university? Bet you shared a lot more crazy pictures then (and probably had a lot more to share). When “friend” means everyone from roommate to grandma, and when privacy seems to be in a constant state of flux, people share less. I don’t think Facebook can move back in time with this Groups feature.