Recruiting students for the writing club he started as a student at the University of Oregon was a labor-intensive job for Kevin Prentiss. The only option was to pass out fliers around campus.
Now the CEO of Red Rover, a human capital organization for universities and businesses, Prentiss is jealous of today's students, who can connect with other like-minded students with the click of a button.
"My own experience was never quite connecting with what I was passionate about," Prentiss said. "Now we live in this world where people are publishing everywhere."
A full 100 percent of universities now engage in at least one form of social media, according to a recent study by the University of Massachusetts.
Prentiss has dedicated his life to social media by putting students or employees in contact with each other and making those common-interest connections through Red Rover. Colleges purchase Red Rover for students and faculty to use, and they set up a Red Rover profile, which aggregates information from other social media sites and makes connections and suggestions to other people who are talking about the same things. At Georgia Highlands College, Prentiss said the program helped one transfer student drummer find a band to play in and helped ease him into the Georgia Highlands environment.
"Social integration is a key component of keeping students in school and excited," Prentiss said. "It's really neat to see something like that, to see a student embraced and involved right away. It can start out as a band and move on to academics."
He said one benefit of social media is it provides college students a venue to get their name and interests out there for other students and future employers.
Social media can also help universities receive nationwide recognition that otherwise would seem impossible. When Utah State's football team almost defeated reigning national champions Auburn University earlier this year, Utah State was the top trending topic in the nation throughout the game.
"I think it's beneficial to be where the audience is and the audience is on social media," said USU social media coordinate and marketer Trent Hunsaker. "Right now, everyone is involved in social media. We want to be there along with everyone else to be a source for information."
He said in the past two years, Utah State's traffic on its Twitter, Facebook and YouTube channel has increased significantly, and the staff has used the sites to provide information to perspective students.
At Weber State University, the school's Facebook page designer, Jonathan McBride, said WSU's social media usage hasn't just grown year-to-year but month-to-month.
"It is a little more informal," McBride said. "We always said this is a tool to have a conversation with people we couldn't and wouldn't have in any other way."
He cited an example of a group of incoming freshman who kept posting questions on the page. They started collaborating to find the answers and actually ended up living together during the year.
"It was a real-world communication problem where they were able to find a solution through social media," McBride said. "On message boards all over the Internet, you can pretend to be whoever you want to be, but what we're seeing with Facebook and social media is people are really themselves."
Because social media sites allow users to put their names and personal lives circulating around the web, social media experts advise users to be aware of their photos and even what other people post on their pages.
Social media scholar and professor in academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University Reynol Junco said when students post things online, they have to be aware of not only what they post but also how it can be misinterpreted.
"One of your friends posts they are going to Hawaii and you might post something like, 'I hate you,'" Junco said. "That's an example of how somebody might misinterpret something you said because of your tone."
He advised faculty members that using social media is a great way to interact with students, but they still need to be careful of what they talk about with the students and also what else the students can see on their profiles.
"Demystifying our roles a bit is good for first-year students, but at the same time, you have to be careful," Junco said. "You can't go overboard. I think there's a fine line and there's certainly gray area. It's important to continually think about that."
Junco has written multiple papers and has performed various studies on the effects of social media on college students.
Much like Junco, Executive Transition Coach and Agent and author of http://www.wellconnected.me/ "Well Connected" Gordon Curtis has also has spent much time researching the effects of social media. He has helped many students and businesspeople find jobs through contacts they have made through social media. He said it's not as much about how many contacts you have but being in contact with the right people.
"It's about building fewer relationships with the right kinds of people," Curtis said. "These days, what I find, given that we can connect with the world, people are suffering with this false sense of security that whoever dies with the most contacts wins."
He warned university professionals and students looking for perspective employers to always stay on top of the privacy settings on their social media profiles.
"So much of what is posted online is like a tattoo," Curtis said. " It's like what Jimmy Buffett said, 'A tattoo is a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.'"
He also suggested professionals should present themselves as a person willing to help their contacts within the network, and therefore increasing the chance of other people acting more receptive to return the favor.
"It's as much about what you can do to help other people," Curtis said. "Your trash could be someone's treasure, so put it out there. Establish that image of a giver rather than a taker."
As a great social media giver and advocate, Poynter Institute Associate Editor of Poynter.org Mallory Tenore was one of the first reporters to write about Twitter's application for journalists. She said when she published the piece, some readers ridiculed her for suggesting such a tool to be useful for journalists.
"At the time, The New York Times had about 400 followers," Tenore said. "Now it has 3.7 million. A lot has changed since then!"
She said she is happy with universities also adopting the use of social media to advance educational purposes and discussion. As a Twitter lover, she said some professors have begun using Twitter for that exact function and said some universities are even offering a Twitter course, yet she would love to see more.
"I think that professors should also let students tweet during class, unless something's being discussed that should be off the record," Tenore said. "Some students might find it a good way to take notes. The professor could even set up a hashtag for the class that students could use when tweeting class-related material/notes."
EMAIL: [email protected]