Whether you’re walking down the street, sitting in a café or pub, or simply looking around a lecture theatre, an abundance of screens will meet your gaze. This is because, for the modern student, social media is the go-to source for everything from juicy gossip to political debates. But what would life in St Andrews be like without it?
The Saint surveyed 100 students and found that 64 per cent viewed social media as “crucial” or “very important” to their experience as a student here, with only eight per cent opting for “not very important” or “unimportant.”
This suggests that a considerable value is placed on the role of social media in enhancing student experience and that St Andrews would not be the same vibrant hub of student activity without it. The Saint spoke to several committee members to learn more about the ways in which social media contributes to the organisation of events in town.
Second-year Sam Ross, founder and director of Populus, a society aimed at reducing loneliness among students, said, “Without Facebook I don’t think Populus would have reached out to so many people. We often speak to people who say they have seen our posts or think our advertising is great.” Ms Ross acknowledged that, while regular notifications from event and group pages can be irritating, “at the end of the day it can often be the only way to capture a student’s attention.”
Alison Thomas, president of the University’s Dance Society, agreed, saying: “We find some people check their Facebook more often [than email]. In terms of promoting events it is vital, particularly if we want the specific event to have a wider reach than our immediate members.”
Appealing to the masses certainly comes across as a significant perk of social media.
Ms Thomas touched on the particular significance of social media in the university town’s unique atmosphere, saying, “[Social media use] is probably more heightened [here] due to the ‘bubble’ effect of St Andrews. Because we live in a small area concentrated with students, where everyone knows each other and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have mutual friends with all students, social media is a really fast way of getting information out there to the St Andrews community. Within only a couple of shares, events can reach almost everyone through friends of friends.”
The unusual intensity of social media in the St Andrews student community was also noted by Louise Rosenberg, marketing director for the Foreign Affairs Society, who said, “I think St Andrews uses social media a lot more frequently, and more inclusively, as opposed to other universities.
“Many of my friends back in the USA comment on how many events I am going to or interested in. To them, normal going out events, such as a themed night at the Union or another pub, are not as publicised because of the drinking age, which is a shame because then they don’t reach that many people.”
This being said, social media isn’t the only method used to reach students.
Ms Ross said, “A great way to capture a student’s attention can also be found in giving away free stuff. All of our events are free, and we often hold free bake stands where we hand out cake in exchange for taking a leaflet or business card or joining our mailing list. I’ve found that sometimes people just want a bit of a pick-me-up during the day, and that is primarily what Populus is here for.”
In addition to the persuasive qualities of distributing complimentary goodies, Ms Ross maintains that “actually speaking to someone in the street about an event can be a much more memorable and personable way to reach out to your audience.”
This is an opinion shared by second-year student Robyn Rogers, who has permanently deleted her Facebook account because it was wasting her time.
Ms Rogers acknowledges that there are benefits to certain social media sites. However, she believes that Facebook has become mostly about creating an idealistic image of yourself.
“Facebook I think is so personal, like your whole life in one place,” Ms Rogers said. “As soon as you put stuff on Facebook people expect to be friends with you and you can feel obliged to be friends with people, or to like things you don’t want to, and it just ends up being a load of information you don’t actually want to see.”
Ms Rogers also touched on the problematic nature of using Facebook alone to organise student events.
She said, “I remember when I had Facebook and I would create events and some people would say ‘interested’ and it was just kind of like not knowing where you stand.
“You don’t put as much thought into it as you would when writing an email, or even just a text or phone conversation, where you’re authentic. […] There’s probably so many support events that people want to go to and they’re posted on Facebook. It’s not something you want to share with everyone, but on Facebook, everything is public. Why can’t there be compartments of your life that are just your own?”
Despite this, Ms Rogers did find it hard to organise her social calendar without Facebook and relied on her friends to tell her when events were being put on in University residence halls.
She admits that a social media-free St Andrews just would not be the same, saying, “For museums, societies, galleries, it’s useful to have a Facebook page. It’s useful to have a place where you can transmit information to people.”
As well as its scope in being able to reach lots of people, the constantly evolving nature of social media allows students to create innovative promotional campaigns for their events, as demonstrated by the recent behind-the-scenes Snapchat stories promoting RAG Week’s Catwalk event.
Catwalk social media coordinators Rachael Miller and Jamilah Jaffer told The Saint that social media was fundamental in the promotion of their event and audience engagement, particularly because Catwalk was being staged so early in the new semester.
“As a fashion show, we think visuals are very important for building our identity and connecting with our audience,” Ms Miller said. “The purpose of the Snapchat was to share the everyday lives of our models and committee members during the Christmas break, to show that they are normal people who everyone can relate to.”
Summing up the irreplaceable function of social media, Ms Miller said, “We know people are constantly checking these platforms, so it is the easiest way to reach them. The practicality and reach of social media is something you cannot achieve by any other means.”
Survey statistics revealed that 43 per cent of respondents would consider going on a temporary social media detox, with a further 36 per cent answering “maybe.”
If usage wasn’t causing them any problems, surely such measures would not be deemed necessary?
“Too much of a reliance on social media is most definitely a hindrance,” Ms Ross said.
“IT IS TOO EASY TO GET LOST IN YOUR FACEBOOK NEWS FEED INSTEAD OF MEETING UP WITH SOMEONE AND TALKING ABOUT YOUR WEEK.”
So, are we becoming too reliant on one method of communication? The answer to that is probably yes. But as long as social media is a helpful platform for the vibrant and diverse programme of student-led activity in St Andrews, we should probably just embrace it. And maybe try not to check Facebook so much during lectures.