As Ouachita Baptist University celebrates 125 years of history, it is also gaining national recognition for its ability to keep up with the future.
Ouachita has been listed on StudentAdvisor’s inaugural list of “Top 100 Social Media Colleges” for its use of Facebook, Twitter and the Online Signal website, which is the web version of The Signal, Ouachita’s student newspaper.
Ranked at 92 of the top 100, Ouachita is rubbing shoulders with universities such as Harvard (No. 1), Yale University (No. 24), Abilene Christian University (No. 91) and many other prestigious schools across the nation. Ouachita is the only Arkansas school on the list and one of only three Baptist universities nationwide.
The StudentAdvisor list describes The Signal’s online presence as “great,” noting that it includes quality videos and slideshows of student events.
Dean Tsouvalas, editor-in-chief of StudentAdvisor.com, said that this rich content, from the videos and podcasts to the articles from the print edition, are a big part of Ouachita making it onto the list.
“I thought the [Online] Signal was really great,” Tsouvalas said. “It is a good example of how a school can have great elements” working together on a site.
Tiffany Eurich, instructor of mass communications, became the faculty sponsor for the website last fall, and has pushed her students to be innovative in both the type of story covered and the multimedia used to cover it.
“I think that this recognition helps the students see that when they think outside the box and look for untold stories and creative ways to cover them, that their hard work and skills will be noticed,” Eurich said. “The Online Signal staff is good at what they do. They put their best foot forward every day and I’m not at all surprised that they were honored alongside other prestigious award winners.”
Being listed on the inaugural Top 100 list is even more significant for the Online Signal team since the website, launched in 2008, has not yet marked its third birthday.
“It was an amazing experience for the site to win a Pacemaker Award in 2009, a year after obusignal.com was launched,” said Mitch Bettis, former assistant professor of mass communications, and original faculty sponsor of the Online Signal. “To be acknowledged as a social media leader by StudentAdvisor is another feather in the cap of OBU students.”
Bettis, who currently serves as general manager of Lake Media in Missouri, also said that “any time Ouachita can be listed alongside universities like Harvard, Georgetown, Marquette, Duke and others, students should feel confident about the type of education they are receiving.”
When the Online Signal website was created, the goal was to provide an environment for students to learn how to be “multimedia storytellers and create a site to serve as an information source” for the Ouachita community, including alumni, donors and parents, Bettis said.
The site has undergone several redesigns, from the original version created by alumni Chloe O’Conner, Holland Powell and Emma Smith, to the current design built by December 2010 graduate Devin Waters.
Aspen Grams, co-senior editor of the Online Signal, said the site is headed in a great direction. She said staff members plan to expand the site’s social media presence, beginning with their Twitter account, but that running the site is a challenge.
“There are so many aspects to take into consideration,” said Grams, a senior mass communications and speech communication major. “It’s not just articles; it’s videos, slideshows and things of that nature too.”
She said she was surprised to learn of Ouachita’s ranking on the list, as she “tends to get into a grind, and focus on the day-to-day work. It was great to see that someone saw the big picture and acknowledged that we’re doing something right.”
Student Advisor reviewed more than 6,000 colleges and universities when compiling the top 100 list, and the universities on the Top 100 list make up the top 5 percent of schools that met overall criteria for consideration.
“One of the things that is so exciting is you see how so many different colleges around the country have leveraged social media,” Tsouvalas said. “The truth is that social media is the way we communicate today.”
To be considered for the list, a university needed to have an official Facebook fan page with more than 500 fans, at least one Twitter account and a verifiable enrollment number. Schools which met these criteria were put into a program which equalized them for enrollment, and looked at the effectiveness of the three criteria. The data was compiled and analyzed using HubSpot and TwitterGrader.com to arrive at the final list. Twitter Grader is a free program that ranks the power of a Twitter account against other accounts on a scale of 100. Ouachita’s Twitter grade is a 97.4.
Ouachita’s Facebook fan page has almost 3,700 fans, and the Twitter page has more than 1,100 followers. Even accounting for some overlap between the two, the total is more than three times the school’s current enrollment of 1,500 students.
“We are extremely pleased that Ouachita has been recognized as one of the top social media schools in the nation,” said Trennis Henderson, vice president for communications. “Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, the Online Signal or other options, social media has become a key tool for connecting quickly and effectively with prospective students, current students and alumni.”
The StudentAdvisor list will be updated monthly, and the Online Signal staff plans to help keep Ouachita on the list.
Eurich said that the staff is considering another redesign to make the site more user-friendly, and that other improvements are pending.
“I think we’re doing a great job, but with everything, there’s always room for improvement,” Eurich said. “We already have some great new ideas we’ve been developing, and this recognition gives us encouragement to continue moving forward and working hard. I would love to see us steadily move up that list.”
To view the complete Top 100 list, visit: www.studentadvisor.com/top-100-social-media-colleges.
By Ananda Boardman, The Signal news/features co-editor