By Farah Al Saati
LAU Tribune staff
LAU and the American University of Beirut (AUB) advertise their social media channels on their official websites. LAU administrates five official Facebook pages, including: LAU alumni, LAU Libraries, LAU news and information, LAU Students and Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program. AUB, on the other hand, has only one official page –the American University of Beirut Official Page.
LAU’s official page has gained 32,351 likes, which nearly amounts to 21,000 mores fan than AUB’s official page, with 11,240 likes. Material posted on these pages falls under three main categories, including academics, events and university-related news.
“Both pages should have much more likes,” Abdallah Absi, a computer science student at AUB and the founder of Rifflex, says.
Most of the likes on the two pages come from students –which is why, for Absi, LAU beats AUB on Facebook. “LAU is known to be more caring and engaging,” he said.
Studies found that online reputation affects universities greatly. The more a university Facebook page has likes and the more active it is, the better its reputation among undergraduates.
“At a time when reputation is more important than ever because of higher student fees and greater global competition, the ability to manage their [universities’] reputations is increasingly falling out of their hands,” Harriet Swain, a journalist for The Guardian, wrote.
Before Facebook, Twitter and smart phones, university-related news was broadcast on the official websites of the concerned institutions or by email. The news often reached students quite late –especially when the latter did not check the official website regularly.
Today, social media pages have come to be universities’ prime choice for communication with students.
“The audience of universities is a combination of a large student body of current students, a growing alumni community, collaborators from the public and private sector,” Ayman Itani, digital media instructor and social media specialist, said. “These participants are communicating more and more via various social media channels.”
Unlike AUB’s page wall, the wall of LAU’s official Facebook page is freely open to all. Posts range from questions about exams’ dates or registration deadlines to announcements about student plays and other commercial links. One can find job offers and restaurants ads –up to the promotion of a salsa dance class.
Although LAU beats AUB on Facebook, the case is reversed on Twitter. AUB’s official Twitter account, @AUB_Lebanon, has gathered over 5,000 followers –nearly double the amount of LAU followers.
“As one of the best universities regionally, these universities must have a higher social media outreach to everyone. A university is meant to be universal and not just for university students” Absi advised.
Beirut Arab University (BAU) joined the social media battle through student effort. Undergraduates created several pages and groups to communicate and exchange information about BAU on Facebook. No official page or Twitter account were created by the university so far.
The fight for digital presence doesn’t end there. Beirut Arab University was the first Lebanese university to launch a mobile app in the App Store on May 24, 2011. Seven months later, LAU created its own version of the digital platform. These apps keep students updated with the news they might need about their universities like registrations dates, official holidays and course offerings.
University social media presence is not only important for students. It is also helpful for alumni. Facebook keeps old classmates in touch. It assists alumni in finding jobs.
“If universities want to take part in the discussion, they need to embrace social media as part of its day-to-day communication as well as their long-term plans,” Itani explained.