For the third year in a row, a corporate entity — this year, RoomSurf — has established more than a hundred misleading Facebook groups designed to attract members of incoming freshman classes. The groups have no real affiliation with the universities they pretend to represent, though that is hard to tell by just looking at them.
Back in the day (and by that I mean 2008), Facebook groups were grassroots efforts started by people who actually shared a common interest in something. Our admissions office would allow groups for the newly admitted class to emerge from amongst the students themselves. That changed in the wake of these “Facebook-gate” shenanigans; our admissions office now creates official Facebook groups for our incoming classes.
Of course, if RoomSurf or any business has a product or service to promote on Facebook, they are perfectly free to do so. Students — like all sentient beings — are marketed to all the time. What is objectionable in this case is the disingenuousness of RoomSurf’s tactics. Call my hopelessly naive, but if their services are cool, useful, affordable, etc., then why not promote them with the honesty and authenticity that is supposed to exemplify social media, rather than stooping to what feels like a cynical con game?
So what to do in the wake of all this?
1.) Create your own Facebook groups for incoming students and create them early. Last year, our admissions staff created a Class of 2014 group after the URoomSurf group was already established and had attracted over a hundred members. It took a little while, but the official group eventually far outstripped the bogus one, with over one thousand members. This year, admissions created the Class of 2015 group in July, and it already has a nice head start on the RoomSurf group, with 145 members to their 28.
2.) Make your group is the “place to be” with lots of fun and valuable content and participation from your own student staff. This probably goes without saying, but as an authentic voice for your students your group should have a whole lot more to offer your incoming class than any RoomSurf group could. Make sure your group is monitored, questions and problems are addressed quickly and honestly, and students get a chance to interact with each other around some fun content only you can provide.
3.) Steer people to your group with posts on the bogus group’s site and posts on your main university fan page. No need to get angry here, tempting as that may be. Just a simple message like, “This group was not established by University staff or students. The group at [LINK TO YOUR GROUP] is maintained by University students and staff in the Admissions, Residential Life, and Student Life offices — come check us out!” should help to clear up confusion your incoming students may have as to which group does what.