HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- When Marshall University Director of Recruitment Beth Wolfe and her recruiting staff wanted to expand their online presence two years ago, they turned to the place where they knew they would find their target market: Facebook.
Beginning with the class of 2014, recruitment staff created a class page on the popular social media website. They wanted to give incoming freshmen a social space where students could interact with one another and ask the recruitment staff questions.
"That has been effective for us in a lot of ways," Wolfe said. "We've seen students find roommates on there. They're connecting with each other. ...They're really starting to build these friendships and make these connections before they even come to campus."
Marshall University is just one of the state's many colleges and universities that have begun using social media as a means of recruiting and connecting with potential students. And while recruiting experts say their social media efforts are designed to build interest and communication among potential students, many say they use platforms like Facebook as a means of practicality.
"Our consultants have told us that about 80 percent of students and 48 percent of parents use Facebook and 27 percent of these students (and 26 percent of these parents) are checking out a school-specific site on Facebook," Kate Padula, assistant director of admission at WVU, said in an email. "The students that we're working with are already on Facebook (as well as Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) so it makes sense for us to be there, too."
Padula coordinates many of the social media recruiting efforts at WVU. Her office is responsible for most of the social media seen by prospective university students.
Like Marshall, WVU uses their social media efforts to engage prospective students. But Padula said her office also uses it as a gauge to measure student interest and to communicate how WVU can help satisfy those interests.
"We push some content and information to these sites, but we're primarily using it as a tool for listening," Padula said. "It helps us get a feel for what's on their mind at any given time.
"If we see that students are talking about housing or student organizations, then it gives us the opportunity to get more information out regarding those subjects while they're still on their mind," Padula said.
Most recruitment counselors contacted for this article said Facebook is the dominant social media site used in their recruiting efforts. Still, other sites -- such as Twitter, which allows users to create posts known as "tweets" in 140 characters or less -- also have become an important means of connecting with high school and college-aged students.
West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon is one of the state's colleges that has begun placing more emphasis on other social media sites like Twitter.
"Twitter is more public in nature, and can be used more as a communication tool," said Stephen Brothers-McGrew, a 2004 graduate of Wesleyan and the college's current senior assistant director of admission and external relations.
"Prior to the current 2012 recruitment cycle we didn't see a lot of Twitter use by high school-aged students," Brothers-McGrew said. "We're seeing that trend shift a little bit, though, as celebrities and 'interactive' social media culture has started to trickle into the high school age demographic."
Meanwhile, WVU has gone a step further, producing its own social media platform known as ...@WVU.
Cathy Orndorff, WVU's director of university relations, said the site - which is open only to admitted WVU applicants -- was developed specifically for the recruitment process.
New students use the network "to find roommates, share knowledge about classes, and find others with similar majors and interest," Orndorff said in an email. "This is a social media app that allows people to share information."
Ning, a company that creates social websites, developed ...@WVU.
Recruitment experts say social media, while providing a great forum for interacting with prospective and accepted students, also has its drawbacks.
"I think one of the biggest things we're facing ... is just the sheer volume of trying to keep up with it and keep it up to date," said Wolfe, Marshall's director of recruitment. "I could probably dedicate a full-time position to just messaging."
What's more, Wolfe said, is that measuring social media recruiting success can often be difficult.
"It would be really nice if Zuckerberg [the creator and CEO of Facebook] would help out some colleges," Wolfe said. "Virtually every college and university is using Facebook in some capacity. Toss us a bone and help us gather this information in some ways."