Ben Freed, a broadcast journalism and Middle Eastern studies senior, knew what it was like to try and desperately advertise a student group on campus with little effect. So, he began with a simple Facebook page. And, after a bit of trial and error, he co-founded — with advertising sophomore Jason Tennenbaum — Free At UT.
This “open-source platform” on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t just inform students of free events and giveaways on campus; it allows students themselves to be the ones to post about their group happenings. Free At UT currently has nearly 3,000 Facebook “likes” and more than 900 Twitter followers.
Freed and Tennenbaum each had different reasons for making Free At UT what it is: Freed aims to provide student organizations with a bigger outlet for announcing group events to potentially gain new members; Tennenbaum, who will continue running the pages next year after Freed graduates, brings an advertising perspective and sees it as a place where students can post and hear about free things on campus.
This combination, as well as their belief that Free At UT has the potential to make a larger impact on campus, keeps this wide-reaching resource running successfully. While it isn’t growing as quickly as the two of them hoped, The Daily Texan mentioned Free At UT in an online story a few weeks ago, stating that it “provides a great deal of promise in helping incoming students save up on their Bevo Bucks.”
Longhorn Life sat down with founders Freed and Tennenbaum (in separate interviews) to better understand the dynamics of Free At UT.
Longhorn Life: Describe what “Free At UT” is.
Ben Freed: It’s a place online with the end goal of being where free things can be found and where organizations can put their names out there.
Jason Tennenbaum: We are an intermediary where you can go and search for free stuff. If you’re an organization that has a meeting, let us know about that meeting and we’ll re-Tweet it or we’ll post it on our wall. So, basically, we’re a two-way window of free stuff. Post it, people will want to search for it; search for it, people will find it.
LL: What made you turn to Facebook and Twitter?
JT: Well we’re all in college and on Facebook, and Twitter is so quick. Everyone loves to see things quickly. Plus, our target for marketing is centered on college students of ages 17-24, roughly, who spend a lot of time on these sites.
LL: What is your outlook on social media’s impact on how people communicate?
BF: With social networking, it has the power to impact in a negative or positive way; it all depends on how it is used. If used positively, it can be beneficial for the social fabric of communities. Yes, there’s the risk of people taking advantage of just attending without being affected or interested, but that’s a risk organizations take. You have to make sacrifices for the idea that a percentage will be affected and, in turn, contribute, or at least spread word to someone who will be affected positively.
JT: I think social networking is a better way to interact. It does lessen face-to-face interaction, but it’s also a second window to interaction. If you’re shy, you can always talk to a person on Facebook first until you gain enough confidence. Twitter is such a different platform though, because it’s all about “what I’m doing now.” But overall, I think Facebook is good.
LL: What kind of impact do you think Free AT UT has had on UT students?
BF: I think that Free At UT has the potential to have a greater impact on students’ lives. Free things make everyone’s lives better. With freshmen who are totally taken aback by everything, Free At UT helps guide them to branch out, join an organization, and make a difference. The benefits are auxiliary — benefits reach farther into lives than just some free shirt.
JT: Right now, since it’s growing, it doesn’t have a huge impact, but people are starting to follow us and they are looking for us, and asking where free stuff is. I mean, you’re in college; you don’t have a lot of money. So any way you can save, whether that be a free T-shirt or free lunch, smoothies one night, or dinner, anything that [can save you money]…that’s what we’re all about.