A comment on the Facebook group for the College of William and Mary class of 2016 about dorm decor received 1,200 comments. Within two days, a post about setting up arranged marriages between Early Decision students received 273 responses. One student created a theme song for the Early Decision group to the tune of the song “Sexy and I Know It” by the band LMFAO.
In any other situation, this activity would be seen as a positive example of how excited students are to have been accepted into the College. But when it turns out that the particular page they are posting on is run by a company that wants them to pay for their services, called Roomsurf.com, the story changes.
As most students are aware, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions creates a Facebook group for newly accepted students every year. Usually, they waited to create the group until all students had been accepted. Starting last year, however, they decided to make the page accessible earlier for Early Decision students.
“We were receiving a substantial amount of feedback from the Early Decision kids,” Senior Assistant Dean of Admissions Wendy Livingston ’03 M.Ed. ’09 said. “They wanted us to create it earlier because they’re always so eager after they’ve been accepted.”
The students’ eagerness to get to the College can be understood. But it appears that this time the excitement of the Early Decision students in particular has sent them in a different direction.
Roomsurf.com is the roommate-finding equivalent of eHarmony.com or Match.com. Students sign up and fill out a questionnaire that the company then uses to match them with other students from their university. Participants must sign up using Facebook, and, although it is free to register, they must pay to take the actual questionnaire. Since the group comes up before the official page during a search, it is inevitable that some students signed up without knowing they were not part of the official group.
“[Roomsurf] is a group that’s trying to drum up business by trying to get students to want to join and find a compatible roommate,” Wolfe said. “This has been a recurring problem, even on our Facebook page. Places like that post videos and ads and generally just spam the official page.”
There are, of course, side effects for those students who are not part of the official page. Apart from not getting all the information that the College regularly posts, they are posting on the page of a company that would ideally like them to pay to take their questionnaire.
“I would think that they’re just doing it as a way to get access to these students and hit them up with whatever their requests are,” Wolfe said. “There’s probably no real danger — these students have grown up in this age and know how to handle themselves online. We just want them to be cautious of it. This company is trying to make money.”
The page itself has received a massive amount of attention from Early Decision students. On average, comments posted on Friday will have 26 ‘Likes’ and 25 additional comments by Sunday, a phenomenon that rarely happens on the official page. Students have created a microcosm of high school life, complete with cliques and social drama, in which they post things unrelated to the College, from discussions of the State of the Union Addresss to whether anyone else likes zumba.
“The issue isn’t that we’re trying to eliminate them, but it’s just that Early Decision students are so eager to get moving that we don’t want them to give money or credence to something that isn’t officially William and Mary’s,” Livingston said. “We don’t want them to get wrapped up in something that they shouldn’t get wrapped up in.”
The page may be a tool for the company to start its registration process, but since many students do not realize that it is not the official College page, they are not getting the same information that other students are receiving. Christiana Kallon ’11 recently took over the Admission Office’s social networks and regularly posts information Early Decision students may find helpful.
“We want to connect [with] students with social media and the website, so that they know what’s going on around campus outside of the admission office,” Kallon said.
The activity on this unofficial page is unprecedented, with a great deal of activity that the official page is not seeing. In the past, students have rarely created a community as tightly-knit as this with interactions jumping to other social networks like Tumblr.com
“I think the difference is, now more and more students are getting used to growing up with that kind of interaction,” Livingston said. “And we’ve seen more and more submissions where they link their Facebook page to show more about themselves. I think they’re just getting more active because it’s just much more ingrained within who they are.”
Although Roomsurf.com’s group has received a lot of attention from students, the official page is still becoming more active. With the additional activity already flourishing on the Roomsurf.com page, the fact that these two groups of students are coming in separated may be outweighed by the fact that strong bonds are already flourishing within the groups.
“Facebook is always changing,” Kallon said. “We always have to figure out how we want to reach out to students and how we want to incorporate those changes into our interactions with them. It’s good to see them so involved, and when you get 57 likes on something, that makes you feel good.”