Social media use increases on campus

Story by Thom Fountain

When junior James Kust opens up Facebook, he sifts through the daily updates that appear on his news feed. There might be an invite to a birthday party, a friend offering their opinion on the latest episode of Fringe or a video someone posted about the Packers. Among all of these, however, is this update:

“Snow began overnight. Around 3 a.m. plowing and salting was initiated on the 86 miles of primary streets.”

These kinds of Facebook posts from the city of Eau Claire are part of a growing trend of governments, organizations and other public bodies engaging their constituents with social media.

The city government is not alone in Eau Claire. Both the Student Senate and UW-Eau Claire have official accounts on Facebook and Twitter.

“Every so often you’ll see something pop up on Twitter and be like, ‘Oh, that sounds cool’ or (see) that it’s useful to know,” Kust said.

Laurie Boettcher, a student and social media expert from Eau Claire who has helped form the city government’s social networking strategy, said Facebook and Twitter provide information to citizens at their comfort zone.

“People don’t want an avenue to complain,” Boettcher said. “What they’re looking for is information … And they’re so grateful.”

Boettcher said 2011 is the year social media “starts to become boring” as people embrace it as a fundamental shift in communication and not just a fad.

Like anything, though, social media is not all benefits. Kust said he’s recently noticed the UW-Eau Claire Twitter account seeking out students to follow, which he thinks has made some students feel uncomfortable. He also said following official accounts can contribute to an “information overload.”

Nick Hogan, public relations director of Student Senate, said using social media can increase the transparency of student government by keeping students updated on what’s going on at meetings and on campus.

“It’s definitely an easier way to connect to people, to get the word out on different things,” Hogan said. “It just makes communication so much easier between us and the student body — letting them know what’s going on.”

Hogan said all executive staff members have access to the Student Senate accounts, but only he, Student Body President Dylan Jambrek and Information Technology Commission Director Matt Sias update the feeds on a regular basis.

The Senate also live tweets its meetings, providing to-the-minute updates on debates and legislation as it passes.

“Social media is just another aspect of sharing with our constituency what we’re working on,” Hogan said. “It’s another way to directly connect with people in a more immediate way.”

Julie Poquette, interim director of the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau, said Facebook and Twitter are where the university can reach a large audience, which is one of the main reasons they use the sites.

“It’s clearly where our students are,” Poquette said, “and increasingly it’s where our faculty and staff are … We’re reaching a lot of different audiences.”

The official university Facebook page has 5,897 followers; its Twitter account has 910.

Kust said he follows the university to hear about events and special offers.

“It’s interesting that they’re able to disseminate that information so quickly with these social media platforms,” Kust said, “which is really nice.”