COLLEGE STATION – Friend limits for personal Facebook profiles may have stymied Texas A&M University President R. Bowen Loftin from engaging more personally with students, but Loftin believes he’s found the solution to this problem: Twitter.
Last year, Loftin’s personal Facebook profile — one he has maintained since before becoming university president — began rapidly approaching Facebook’s 5,000 friend limit. He started a Facebook fan page (https://www.facebook.com/bowen.loftin), which allows for an unlimited number of “fans,” but Loftin prefers his personal profile, as it allows for deeper levels of one-on-one conversation with students.
Loftin may have found the perfect solution when he joined Twitter earlier this year. He began tweeting from the handle @aggieprez (https://twitter.com/#!/aggieprez) and has gained more than 2,700 followers since launching the account last month. When Texas A&M’s move to the Southeastern Conference is official in July, Loftin will become one of three actively tweeting SEC university presidents — and the most popular one at that. Loftin’s followers already outnumber those of fellow university presidents Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky (@UKYpres https://twitter.com/#!/UKYpres) and Joe DiPietro of the University of Tennessee (@UTPresidentJoe https://twitter.com/#!/UTPresidentJoe).
Loftin’s move into the Twitterverse echoes similar actions of other Texas A&M administrators, including Jason Cook (https://twitter.com/#!/jason_cook), the university’s vice president of marketing and communications.
“Social media allows a university — particularly one as large and diverse as Texas A&M — to communicate with and connect to a wide range of audiences instantaneously,” said Cook, who took to Twitter earlier this year to defend the university’s famed 12th Man trademark. “Here at Texas A&M, we have made a commitment from the president to many of our colleges and divisions to embrace social media to not only drive conversation, but participate in it as well.”
Texas A&M’s approach to social media in higher education is focused on engaging students whether they are current, former or — in last Saturday’s case — prospective students.
During Aggieland Saturday, Texas A&M’s campus-wide open house for thousands of prospective students and their families, the university planned a special Foursquare activation for visitors. Using Foursquare, a location-based social media platform that encourages exploration by allowing users to “check in” at various places using their smartphones, attendees of Aggieland Saturday were able to take advantage of campus discounts, win prizes, access exclusive campus information and earn Texas A&M’s custom Foursquare badge.
“This was groundbreaking use of Foursquare for our prospective students,” says Diane C. McDonald, Texas A&M’s executive director of marketing and social media. “The first campus-wide social media scavenger hunt set a bar for engagement on a university campus, and we took that to the next level by using our social media platforms to welcome thousands of prospective students to campus.”
Texas A&M continues to lead the way in college social media. In 2011, the university was named the most engaging university Facebook page for an institution with 75,000+ Facebook fans based on data collected by the blog Varsity Outreach, which analyzed the “likes” and comments on thousands of university and college Facebook posts.
Additionally in 2011, Texas A&M ousted Stanford University as the most influential college online with a record high Klout score — a measurement of the online influence of an individual or brand’s ability to motivate action — of 73 out of 100. It has also been featured in highly regarded tech blogs such as Mashable.
The university, which has been a leader among Big 12 conference schools, will also be a big social media player in the SEC. Currently, Texas A&M ranks No. 1 among SEC schools in terms of Twitter followers and No. 3 in Facebook fans, behind Louisiana State University and the University of Florida, respectively.