At the end of June my alma mater, the University of Zurich (UZH), named Michael Hengartner as its new president. I first learned about it through Twitter. Here’s why I find it valuable to connect with my place of study:
I’ve only recently started following my university on social media. As a UZH student in between my bachelor’s degree and my master’s studies, I realize how hard it is to stay connected to your university, especially when you travel abroad or have graduated. Even when you’re a current student on campus it is not easy to keep up with new developments, news, and events. Being in the Silicon Valley for an internship in communications, it was only natural for me to turn to social media as a possible solution to this isolation—and luckily for me, the University of Zurich has been busy building up its presence on social networks.
About one-and-a-half-years after the start of a successful pilot program, UZH has now fully integrated social media into its communication strategy. It has an official presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing, and YouTube. In addition, a large number of UZH departments are also present on Facebook and Twitter.
Highlights of UZH’s social media presence:
- University of Zurich (UZH): The University’s official Facebook page gathers news about research, campus life, and its different faculties (similar to departments).
- UZH Vetsuisse Faculty: A nice mix of news, research, professional pictures, and funny stories—cute animals are always a crowd-pleaser.
- @uzh_news: The official UZH twitter account tweets mostly about university news and new research developments.
- @CareerServUZH: The Career Services office provides students with tips, articles, and events to help with their career entry.
- @foegUZH: The Research Institute for the Public Sphere and Society (part of my major’s department) shows that smaller institutes can also have an active social media presence—a close connection to social media as a subject helps, of course.
Across the Great Divide
With 7,063 likes on Facebook and 1,904 followers on Twitter (official accounts), the University of Zurich ranks well compared to other Swiss universities.
However, compared to the universities in the San Francisco Bay Area, which are very active on social media, UZH still has a relatively small following. When Stanford University changed its cover photo on Facebook to a picture showing graduating students mid June, the image got 1,723 likes and 35 comments within the first five hours. Those are numbers that my alma mater can only dream of.
This is more surprising than you might think considering that UZH—the largest university in Switzerland—has around 26,000 students and 5,360 employees. That is actually bigger than Stanford and its 18,000 enrolled students and 1,995 faculty members.
Of course, it’s not only students that add to Stanford’s impressive number of fans and followers. Nevertheless, it still seems as though UZH students, or Swiss students in general, don’t engage as much with their university through social media as students in the Bay Area.
Personally, I follow my university on Twitter, I like its page on Facebook, and I connect with it on LinkedIn. However, this was not the case until I came to San Francisco. And I still belong to a minority among my friends.
The Benefits of Belonging
Why do we Swiss students care less about what our universities are up to? Is it that we use social media differently, or just use it less?
Additionally, the use of social media is more extensive and interactive in the Bay Area. Twitter is still not very common among my peers, and my Swiss friends are also less active on Facebook then their Californian counterparts.
What I think makes a bigger difference, though, is the relationship between the university and its students. In general, US students have a stronger and more emotional connection with their universities. They root for their sports teams, have an active campus life, and proudly wear their university’s sweater.
Private institutions have an especially big interest in attracting potential students early and keeping strong ties with alumni: money. Students pay hefty fees and alumni are some of the heaviest investors. This is reflected in activities on social media—a stronger focus on students by far compared to Swiss universities.
Things are changing, though. The growing social media expertise and increasing presence on social networks of UZH and other Swiss universities is more than promising. And I hope that as they expand their outreach they will also shift their focus more towards students. In as much as I like to hear about the newest developments in UZH research, what I am really interested about is getting helpful information for my studies and my life as a student. For example important administrational deadlines, changes in study regulations, or university related events.
I might not constantly look at the UZH website, but I check Facebook and Twitter daily and thereby come across news and information that I would not have seen otherwise. For instance, I realized through a tweet by the Department of Political Science—my minor—that it offers a new focus on political data journalism, which could be really interesting for me. Just the other day, I learned through social media that UZH is offering its first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) this fall. Thanks to Vetsuisse’s funny and interesting photos and videos on Facebook, I came in contact with a completely different department than my own. All in all, my university’s presence on social media helps me stay informed—and gives me a sense of belonging.
Therefore, I hope that following UZH on Twitter and Facebook is not only helping me keep up with news from abroad, but will also simplify and enrich my daily routine as a student once I am back on campus this fall.