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4 Tips for Fielding Student Questions Via Facebook

To better answer questions from prospective and current students, Thomas Edison State College has linked its FAQ knowledgebase to its Facebook page.

When prospective and current students have a question about Thomas Edison State College, a distance-learning institution based in Trenton, NJ, they need look no further than the school's Facebook page.

Last year TESC launched Parature for Facebook, a knowledgebase tool designed to integrate seamlessly into any existing Facebook page. It embeds an "Ask A Question" button at the top of the Facebook page, which links Facebook users to the school's Parature knowledgebase. There, they can type in a specific question, and Parature for Facebook will pull up any knowledgebase articles that match keywords found in the user's question.

If the Facebook user is unable to find an answer to his question in the knowledgebase, he can choose to submit the question to the administrator, and a trouble ticket is created. Parature for Facebook also scans comments posted to the school's Facebook wall for keywords that indicate a question may need to be answered, and creates trouble tickets for any posts that contain those keywords. "It allows us to answer questions for students who don't even know they're asking questions," remarks Iris Lewin, an academic adviser at the college who managed the implementation. (See below for Lewin's top four Facebook FAQ tips.)

Facebook FAQ Tips

  1. Always indicate that a question posted to the Facebook wall has been answered, even if the question requires a response via private message. "Sometimes the response will include personal information, or information that's irrelevant to other students," explains Iris Lewin, an academic adviser at Thomas Edison State College. "Often we'll just tweak our response and post it to their original question on the wall, or simply reply that we've sent the user a private message, so that other students see that you are taking the time to answer questions and you're not ignoring them."
  2. Bulk up the list of keywords used to scan Facebook wall posts for potential questions. "The more keywords the better," remarks Lewin. "It's better to get tickets that don't need a response than to miss pertinent questions because you forgot to include a keyword."
  3. Encourage users to answer each other's questions on the Facebook wall. "We want our students to be self-directed learners," says Lewin. "That's why we're here. Usually if other students or alumni answer a question posted to the wall, I don't touch it unless they need further information. The people who visit our page are applicants, students, and alumni, and by interacting, they can create a relationship, a reference, or a professional contact."
  4. Allow negative comments and feedback to remain on the page. "If someone makes a negative comment, then we'll create a way to fix their problem," explains Lewin. "That shows that we realize that we're human, and we value our students' responses and opinions. Also, sometimes a negative comment will get responses from other users saying that they didn't have that experience, or providing a way that they dealt with that issue. It shows that students are reading the Facebook page, and that there are a variety of experiences out there."

Before the Facebook integration, TESC was already using Parature to provide knowledgebase and trouble ticket modules for tier-zero support within its Blackboard page, but those modules were only accessible by logging on to with an active student ID. "These tools were housed in a closed portal," notes Lewin, "but we were able to open that portal up so that anybody who was interested in TESC could get easy access to answers and FAQs just by visiting our existing Facebook page."

While in the past, administrators had to log in to Parature to view trouble tickets submitted through the myEdison portal, they now receive instant notifications in a number of locations, including their own Facebook walls--allowing them to answer questions with increased speed and efficiency. "There are five sets of eyes on this page at any given time, so any one of us can answer a question or direct it to the right department in an instant--sometimes even before a ticket has been created," explains Lewin. "It's immediate. If it's the weekend and I'm buzzing around and I see a trouble ticket pop up on my Facebook page, I can go ahead and address that ticket. I don't have to be in the office."

Parature provides reports and metrics for trouble tickets and knowledgebase articles. "There are reports we can run to find out how many times a knowledgebase article was viewed," says Lewin. "We've seen a dramatic drop in trouble tickets as we've bulked up the knowledgebase content, and I can tell if a knowledgebase article is useful based on student feedback and the number of times it's been viewed."

The tool also provides analytics for posts on the Facebook wall, providing data on how many users were reached through a post, how many were engaged by it, and how many are talking about it, and monitors the Facebook wall for inappropriate material. "They were few and far between because most of our students are adults, but we did have a few inappropriate posts that we had to remove from our wall before implementing Parature for Facebook," says Lewin. "Now, Parature monitors that for us, which is nice."

Although there are no hard numbers available that show a reduction in phone calls from potential students since the implementation of Parature for Facebook, the number of Facebook users who became "fans" of TESC's Facebook page increased dramatically in the months after it was launched. "We can see statistically that our average student is around 40 years old, and the average age of our fans on Facebook is the same," remarks Lewin. "I think the Facebook page serves a real purpose now. It gives applicants or potential applicants an opportunity to engage with other learners and also find information in the knowledgebase that they wouldn't have access to without an active student ID."

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