UI tepidly tries Twitter

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 6/09/2009

UI officials have set up numerous accounts on Twitter, but they don’t know how many people are following the novel social networking site.

Updating with the 140-character-limited messages could just be “throwing stuff into a vacuum,” said George McCrory, an associate editor for UI News Service who writes updates for the university’s main Twitter page.

Twitter itself has had trouble retaining an audience. Ten percent of active users are responsible for more than 90 percent of all messages known as “Tweets,” while a Nielson study shows about 60 percent of new Twitter accounts are abandoned every month.
UI spokesman Tom Moore said university departments are not required to use Twitter. Because it is an emerging technology, there is no policy regarding the university’s activity on Twitter, either.

But university officials said it’s always in the UI’s interest to contribute to publicity in any way.
“Twitter is such a wide-open network. I think you want to have as many people ‘Tweeting’ about the university departments as possible,” McCrory said.

It’s difficult to quantify how much — if at all — Twitter boosts the UI’s public image. While 1,347 followers receive the UI’s updates, university officials say there is no way of knowing how many actually read the university’s posts.

Though studies show Twitter may not be the most popular social networking site, it is free and takes only minutes a day to update, officials said. The university has set up several accounts with numerous people to update them.

Tom Snee, another associate editor of UI News Service, updates Twitter accounts for both the College of Law and the Tippie College of Business. He said he uses the site as a means to share — rather than gather — information from its 184 followers.

Conversely, the main UI Twitter account selectively follows only 373 users, which include other departments, faculty, and local news outlets.

“I try not to follow anyone who will put out Twitter spam,” McCrory said, referring to advertisements that companies send through their Twitter accounts.

The site picked up 44 followers over the weekend. But it is not as popular as the UI page on Facebook, a site which the Nielson study found enjoyed consistently higher retention rates, even in its infancy.

Indeed, a Facebook page created by the university for incoming freshmen has gathered more than 1,300 members. While that is roughly the same volume as the UI Twitter account, the Facebook page boasts more features, such as high-quality video clips.

McCrory said the page’s popularity can also be attributed to Facebook’s wider audience and more established reputation.

He said: “Facebook is a little more trusted, tried and true among users.”


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