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'Welcome' Groups for College Freshmen on Facebook Revealed as Subtle Marketing Scheme

roomsurf group for middlebury college
High school seniors preparing to go to college next year may be tempted to familiarize themselves with their new schools and classmates on Facebook. But one collegial "welcome group" on the social network may not be what it seems.

Certain Facebook pages advertise themselves as online forums for rising freshmen at various schools, including NYU, Pepperdine, Middlebury, Wesleyan and the University of Texas. The pages for each of these colleges feature essentially the same layout, including official logos and descriptions like, "Welcome SUNY Oswego Class of 2015." According to the New York Times, though, the pages aren't official welcome groups, but are rather part of a clever marketing campaign undertaken by a company called Roomsurf.com.

The site helps incoming college freshmen find potential roommates, for fees ranging from $4.95 to $9.95. None of the Facebook welcome groups, however, make any mention of Roomsurf, nor do they indicate that users joining the pages will receive promotions from the company. J. D. Ross, a new media director at Hamilton College, helped identify Roomsurf as the engine behind the welcome groups, which, according to him, comprise "a deceptive marketing tactic" on the company's part. Ross added that official welcome groups created by colleges typically offer valuable mentoring and guidance that Roomsurf's pages do not.

Roomsurf founder and CEO Justin Gaither, however, vehemently contested Ross's claims. When asked why Roomsurf's name doesn't appear anywhere on the pages, Gaither said users could easily click on the name of the group's creator, Justin Blackwell, and see that Blackwell proclaims himself as "co-founder, Roomsurf.com." Turns out, though, that Justin Blackwell is just an online pseudonym that Gaither uses for "business-related stuff." He added that Blackwell is his middle name, but later admitted to the Times that the name doesn't appear on any of his official documents.

Facebook spokesman Simon Axten reminded the Times that the site "prohibits the use of fake names and false identities," and said the company was "investigating" Gaither's online activity.

Tags: college, facebook, marketing, roomsurf, SocialNetworking, students, top, Web, WelcomeGroup

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