News & Web 2.0: UR Using Social Apps to Interact with Online Users


Newswise — There's still a lot to be said for that old-fashioned "word-of-mouth" way of spreading information. In recent years, such Web-based applications as blogs and social network sites like MySpace and Facebook have amplified that method and taken the World Wide Web into the realm of Web 2.0.

Western Illinois University, like many higher ed institutions, is beginning to utilize these tools to help reach individuals via the Web 2.0 model. Simply defined in a September 2006 article in "Information Week," "Web 2.0 is all the [websites] out there that get their value from the actions of users."*

Within the last calendar year, Karmon Runquist, an information technology systems manager at Western, started a WIU page in Facebook (http://facebook.com/pages/Macomb-IL/Western-Illinois-University/10274793956), which has garnered a substantial number of followers in the past few months.

"We launched the WIU Facebook page in March 2008 with the help of two student workers," explained Runquist. "As of early September, we have more than 1,300 'fans' of Western Illinois University through the page."

Western's Facebook page features daily news updates from University Relations (UR), which is responsible for advancing news and information about Western. It also provides a means for WIU UR staff to be available online for interaction--a primary tenet of Web 2.0--with Facebook users.

"We started it as a way to reach out to students and alumni through something they are already using," Runquist noted. "By using Facebook, we have been able to answer questions from both students and alumni, post information about upcoming events and have a presence in the place where our target audience is already interacting. The 'fans' can also interact with each other by posting their own pertinent information and questions to one another or to the overall fan network."

The WIU Facebook page was UR's second voyage into the social network sea. In July of 2007, the University Relations office started using Flickr (http://flickr.com/photos/westernillinoisuniversity), a photo-sharing website, to post photos of campus and Western events.

"After reviewing Flickr and recognizing that students and alumni were already posting WIU- and Macomb-related photos on this site, we thought this was a great way to further highlight, through photos, what Western has to offer," said Darcie Shinberger, director of University Relations. "Flickr is just another way to highlight our programs and accomplishments."

UR is now wading deeper in Web 2.0 waters with the recent addition of a Twitter account (http://twitter.com/WIU_UR) and a Delicious account (http://delicious.com/WIU_UR).

According to the Twitter website (http://twitter.com), "Twitter is a service for friends, family and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: 'What are you doing?'"

"Individuals, media outlets like the Chicago Tribune and the Quad City Times and museums like the Smithsonian as well as other universities, such as Indiana's Butler University, are also using Twitter to interact with online users," noted Teresa Koltzenburg, the new UR public information specialist.

"We started the WIU UR Twitter account just before the beginning of this semester, and we're hoping it will be another way to provide users with important Western news updates," Koltzenburg said. "The Twitter service is also particularly well-suited to spread information through text messaging. Just visit the WIU_UR Twitter page at twitter.com/WIU_UR to get instructions that tell you how to get WIU news through text messages."

Delicious, a bookmarking service, is another social application that UR is experimenting with. The Delicious website notes that its service "allows users to tag, save, manage and share web pages from a centralized source. With emphasis on the power of the community, Delicious greatly improves how people discover, remember and share on the Internet."

By using these applications--sometimes referred to as "apps"--Western's UR office is establishing another channel through which news and information relevant to students, faculty, staff, the community and alumni is disseminated.

"Providing information through conventional channels, like press releases and a website, still works. But it's important to also be in the online places where your users are," said Koltzenburg, a WIU alumna who, prior to working in UR, worked as a new media manager at a regional newspaper and as an editor of a library-technology focused publishing unit, TechSource, of the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago.

"I actually witnessed first-hand the power of user interaction while working at ALA," she noted. "When I started at ALA TechSource in 2004, the unit was failing to reach members of its core audience: librarians focused on and developing library tech applications. After founding a librarian-written blog and starting a Flickr account, not only did the unit's website get substantially more traffic, but it also began to garner a larger audience and build an online community around the technology-focused periodicals the unit published."

Visit WIU's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/pages/Macomb-IL/Western-Illinois-University/10274793956, follow WIU UR's Twitter service at http://twitter.com/WIU_UR, share bookmarks at http://delicious.com/WIU_UR and view Western photos from UR at http://flickr.com/photos/westernillinoisuniversity.

* "Information Week" article "Here's the Skinny on Web 2.0" by Mike Elgan available at http://informationweek.com/news/software/open_source/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=193000630.

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