Google+ allows colleges to create official pages

Stanford attracted 1,000 Google+ followers in 24 hours.

Higher education’s social media pros aren’t sure how students are using Google+, or how many alumni have signed on to the social network. Even so, universities lured by Google’s massive audience are creating official campus pages.

A handful of notable universities joined Google+ Nov. 7 after Google officials announced that schools, businesses, and organizations can make their own pages.

The social site, which features “circles” that make it easy to pick and choose which online friends you can share certain items with, and “sparks” that provide links to related photos and articles on a topic, had only allowed people to create accounts since its July unveiling.

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Stanford University, the University of California (UC) Berkeley, the University of Oregon, Rice University, and American University were among the first schools to launch official Google+ pages in the hours after the search giant’s announcement.

Stanford has the early lead in Google+ followers among major universities, drawing in more than 1,000 in its first day on the site.

Campus officials charged with increasing the institution’s social media presence said students, faculty members, and alums haven’t flocked to Google’s social network since the summer, but establishing an official page could pay off if Google+ catches on.

“Like a lot of people, we’re still waiting to see how it will evolve, but we want to be on the ground floor so we can be part of how it goes forward and how it grows,” said Zack Barnett, director of web communications at Oregon, which has 60 Google+ followers. “There will be some hiccups right now because no one has quite figured out how to use Google+ … and Facebook still has such a huge market share. We’re still waiting to see how to measure the investment of our time in Google+.”

Even if the Google+ official college and university pages prove to be a social media flop, Barnett said maintaining a page is worth the effort.

“Google’s vast audience, that’s where the real potential is,” he said. “The audience is too large to ignore, so we’ll wait and see.”

Dennis Troper, Google’s director of product management, said in a blog post that managers of Google+ pages “can look forward to many more features and improvements in the coming weeks and months,” without specifying those features.

Google+ pages differ from personal accounts: Pages don’t receive eMails or texts, the privacy settings are set to public as a default, and pages can’t add Google+ users to their circle unless the user follows the college, business, or organization.

Google+ pages can’t host “mobile hangouts” or share videos, articles, and other links with people in extended Google+ circles.

Barnett said campuses’ approach to growing official Facebook pages could work on Google+.

Oregon’s Facebook page had 3,600 followers in April 2009, and after a concerted effort to attract students, fans, and alumni, the page now has 160,000 followers.

“The big ‘if’ is if [students] engage with Google+ the way they engage with Facebook. If they do, then schools will need to be there,” Barnett said.

Campus technologists were largely skeptical of Google+ after the company’s failed attempts to create a social media site that can compete with Facebook—known as Google Buzz and Google Wave.

Google Wave, introduced in October 2009, combined text, audio, and video chat with features like drag-and-drop documents and interactive polls.

It was billed as what eMail would look like if it were invented today. Less than a year later, Google announced it wouldn’t “continue developing Wave as a standalone product,” but would use the site’s technology for other endeavors.

While Wave was pitched as a more business-related collaboration project, Google Buzz was hailed as a social site built into Gmail accounts. Buzz was seen as a far more entertainment-centric site.

The ability to separate students and professors and maintain appropriate distance from each other’s personal lives has been a much-discussed selling point for Google+ in education.

“Many young people are on Facebook to communicate with their friends, but they’re starting to have concerns about privacy as they learn more about cyber safety,” said John Woodring, a middle school teacher who blogs about instructional technology. “Google Plus right now has the edge in privacy.”

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