Social Media Adoption Research in Higher Ed.

In order to stay up to date with the latest research in higher ed. marketing, we’ve been diving into industry and academic reports to gather consensus around the current state of social media in higher ed.

Yesterday, Nora Barns and Ava Lescault from The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, published their longitudinal study of social media adoption in higher ed

The research was based on 456 interviews conducted with social media account managers at schools from all 50 states with a mix of 28% public and 72% private institutions reporting.

Percentage of schools adopting some type of social media.

  • 2008 – 61%
  • 2009 – 85%
  • 2010 – 95%
  • 2011 – 100%

According to the report, Facebook is the most common form of social networking being used, with 98% of colleges and universities reporting having a Facebook page. In addition, 84% schools have a Twitter account and 66% have a blog. Podcasting has also risen from 22% to 41% in the past year alone. But enough with the numbers – here’s where things get interesting.

Our recent summary of Noel-Levitz 2011 Marketing and Student Recruitment Research showed that only 38% of respondents found social networking sites like Facebook were ineffective. However, 95% of the Dartmouth respondents saw Facebook usage a success. Perhaps these differences stem from the Dartmouth research focusing on the people who actually manage the account compared to the Noel-Levitz research which was conducted with higher level admissions and marketing folks.

How do we define social media success?

Give the recent explosion of popularity of different communication media, it’s no surprise success metrics aren’t well established. Coming from a digital agency background, I know how nearly impossible it can be to tie back social activity into tangible ROI. Schools must be evaluating and prioritizing new initiatives with some sort of coherent strategy. The Dartmouth report showed blogging, podcasting and Twitter adoption is continuing to increase year after year even though these media were deemed some of the least effective ways to reach students according to recent Noel-Levitz research.

Why are universities adopting social media?

The following quote concluded the introduction for the report and I think it’s interesting to consider:

“For US institutions of higher education, the competition for these students is fierce and survival ultimately depends on engaging them through use of social media and new communications tools.”

Yes, competition for students may be fierce. However I think the real competition is the battle for students’ attention. As Seth Godin likes to remind us, we now find ourselves in the middle of the Attention Economy. It’s not just about University X vs. University Y, but about how Universities X and Y can engage students using the tools students are already engaged with, like Facebook. Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of universities staying ahead of the technology curve, but I can’t decide what the true battle is.

What’s your take? 

Is the battle between universities to compete for students’ attention or is the battle between the institution of a University and the new era of social networks? Also, what do you think explains the difference between the Noel-Levitz social networking success data and the recent report from The Center of Marketing Research? Share your thoughts below or shoot me a message on Twitter.