As Students Scatter Online, Colleges Try To Keep Up

When Jerica Bennett, a senior at Frostburg State University, wants to know what's happening on the campus, she likes a message short and sweet. Ideally it would pop up on her cellphone as a tweet or a post on Facebook.

A classmate, Tyler Mathews, would rather be reached by e-mail, which these days is seen as the old-fashioned way, so that he isn't distracted by his friends' spring-break photos when he's looking up the schedule for band practice.

And that poses an interesting challenge for people like Rebecca E. Ramspott, a social-media specialist at the Maryland university. She's assigned to find the best ways to communicate with students when the target audience is constantly moving and, with the help of spam filters, frequently ducking.

"You have to be nimble and not get emotionally invested in one approach," she says of the university's foray into Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest (which lets users "pin" images to an online discussion board), and a handful of other social-networking sites. Send the same message to multiple sites, and students are likely to feel besieged. Rely on e-mail, though, and important messages may go unread.

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