Despite Cal State Long Beach’s efforts to introduce the community management system BeachSync to every incoming student since 2011, the site seems to be a virtual ghost town.
BeachSync is a local version of OrgSync, a platform used by colleges across the U.S. and internationally to help students connect with various clubs and organizations on their campuses.
The digital platform lists all clubs, fraternities, sororities, religious, political, activity, honors and other groups recognized by the university, including official school departments.
BeachSync is introduced at the end of the required Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration workshop to all incoming students. However, of the 390 student-run organizations listed on the site, only 107 have made even a single post in a year or longer.
The site was launched by Associated Students Inc., which negotiated the contract with OrgSync. Platform management was transferred to Student Life and Development and the office of Student Affairs in 2014, in part to increase student participation, according to Melissa Norbomm, the assistant director of the SLD department.
It costs roughly $17,000 a year to maintain the contract between the university and OrgSync, which is scheduled to run through May 2019, according to Norbomm.
Nevertheless, the platform remains almost untouched across campus groups at the university.
“My team does not use BeachSync,” Tess Morales, the president of Dragon Boat racing team, wrote in an email. “The only time I’ve ever used BeachSync is in order to fill out the officer information that is required by the school. In order to communicate, we have a team Facebook group page that has all of our past and present members.”
A careful review of every single organization’s public feed tab on the site echoes Morales’ statement.
During the spring semester, only 95 organizations, or 20 percent of the total 468 organizations listed on the site, had made a single public post or more on their BeachSync profiles — and this was only for an introductory post at the beginning of the semester. Another 62 campus groups, or 13 percent, made their last public post at some point during fall 2017. This left 311 organizations, or the remaining 67 percent , as either having made no posts in at least a year (170 organizations) or never having made a public post at all (141 organizations).
A third of the pages with more regular activity belong to organizations operated by the school itself. Of the 157 groups that have used BeachSync to make a single post or more in the last school year, 50 of them fall into the “Departments and Services” category. This makes up the bulk of that category, which has 76 listings.
Many organizations haven’t seen any activity in over five years and feature dated information. For example, The Daily 49er page has only one post, an event created in 2013. It also lists as a primary contact an Editor in Chief who graduated several years ago.
Some pages, like that of the College Democrats, feature an accurate email address that is still used by the group, despite a lack of updates and otherwise incorrect information. Several pages with no posts at all include that of the LBSU Lifting Club, which has no contact information, no profiles and lists no officers.
Out-of-date information like this appear to be a common feature. Reaching out to over 100 student clubs and organizations using contact information listed on the site resulted in only four responses and multiple “message could not be delivered” automated replies.
“BeachSync is something that we do not really use to reach out to current members,” said Tram Tran, the current president of the Eta Sigma Gamma honor society. “I have asked members if they preferred for us to just email them or use BeachSync for [messages]. And they preferred a different platform. Some of them said that messages sent to them [from BeachSync] went to their junk mail.”
Eta Sigma Gamma is a useful example of an organization with at least one post in the last year, as it still reflects a general lack of activity. Other than updating the group’s profile page, Tran made three posts on the group’s page in 2017, which stopped in September. As with Eta Sigma Gamma, several campus clubs confirmed a general preference to use more commonly known platforms for interclub communications, like Facebook or MailChimp.
“Everybody knows how to use Facebook,” said David Ochoa, vice-president of the College Democrats during the recent Marketplace for Ideas event on campus. “It’s just easier to say, ‘Go find us on Facebook’ rather than to find us on BeachSync.”
However, the data from observing the site and student testimonials contrasts with information provided by Norbomm.
Using administrative tools to generate reports on usage, she said that 22,479 users had logged in to the website in the 2017-2018 school year, with an average number of 10 logins per user from 2014 to 2018.
Naturally, this leads to questions about who exactly is using BeachSync and whether it’s an effective tool for students on campus, an almost impossible task to independently measure.
All of the iterations of the OrgSync platform used on college campuses internationally are filtered through a central website hub. Using sites such as Alexa or SEMrush that measure online activity return global numbers in the hundreds of thousands of pageviews per day that are not reflective of individual, localized versions of the site like BeachSync.
Norbomm also stated that inactive, older pages and activity on them were being intentionally preserved by Student Life and Development.
“We don’t remove anyone from the system, like graduated students,” Norbomm said. “The reason behind that for now, is because this is sort of our way of keeping track of who was involved with what organizations. We want to maintain that record. That also means that the average number of individual student logins is going to include those students from previous semesters.”
Norbomm stated that there are no current metrics for what constitutes “success” in terms of usage or engagement of the platform. She also confirmed that the process for removing dated listings for organizations is purposefully slow, taking at least two years, in order to potentially allow different iterations of the same club to use the same page.
There may be a chance for the university to move away from BeachSync. OrgSync was purchased by another company, Campus Labs, in 2017 and is now offering a platform similar to OrgSync called Engage, which is used by other Cal State campuses, such as Cal State Fullerton. Norbomm stated that while no official decision has been reached on transitioning to a new platform, SLD was “leaning toward a transition” to Engage, if not another platform, in the hopes of offering additional services and increasing student usage.
“We think [moving to Engage] could be a really good move for the campus into this kind of re-launching of the platform,” Norbomm said. “Maybe we can try to get increased usage by students and hopefully it’s a cleaner look and people notice that we’re making a change.”