Picking which university to go to is a huge decision.
Studying for a degree is a huge investment in time and money, so it’s important for potential students to be informed and choose carefully. There are a wide range of information sources available to help decision making, from open days and prospectuses, to recommendations from friends and family, online guides and social media.
Key among these is the Times Higher Education Rankings, compiled each year based on a number of factors including teaching environment, research and international outlook. Of around 130 institutions in the UK, ninety-one are included in the rankings.
Tools like these can help you find the university that’s best for studying certain subjects or undertaking research, but how do these universities fare on social media?
Social media are some of the most important communications tools available to organisations today. Few mediums have the reach, the influence and the near-universal accessibility, leading to the soaring popularity of platforms like Facebook and Twitter among marketers.
You might not think of social media being a major source of information for making higher education decisions, particularly when there are official, well-respected sources that already have such an impact. But when you think about it, social media accounts form a huge part of the public face of the university.
It’s where prospective students can keep up to date with the goings-on – not just open days, but on the things that they could look forward to throughout the year if they were studying there. It’s where they can find regular insights into student life that might not make it onto the website. It’s where friends, acquaintances and former students will share their own experiences in the form of photos, videos and updates.
Social media isn’t so much an option for education providers then, as it is an essential. But how well are universities taking advantage of these opportunities?
To get an insight into the social media strategies of the UK’s universities, we took a look at the online presence of the 91 institutions on the Times Higher Education rankings.
We looked at their websites, trawled through their social media accounts and compared our findings to their official rankings to create the ultimate league table – the UK University Social Media Rankings.
We ranked the universities by the number of followers they had on the “big four” platforms; being Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. The top two spots are held by the same universities that rank top of the Times Higher Education league table – the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.
Once those two big hitters were out of the way, smaller universities really had their time to shine, with a number of institutions punching well above their weight. A big well done to the social media team at London South Bank University, who hold 17th place in the social media rankings – a whopping 72 places above their position in the Times Higher Education table.
Other universities weren’t faring so well, such as Durham University, who sit 69 places below their THE ranking at 81.
It’s not all about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube of course. We also took a look to see what other platforms* our leading institutions include in their strategies, which unearthed a few surprises.
The first shock was that 23% of universities link to a Google+ page on their homepage. While Google’s attempt at creating a social media platform to rival Facebook may have had some promise a few years ago, it failed to reach the heights Google hoped for and has rather fallen by the wayside. It may still hold the potential to reach a small audience, but there are far more promising platforms available that are more worth the investment.
One such platform is Snapchat, which just 12% of our universities held accounts for. With 10 million users across the UK, many of whom fall into the key demographic for first-time undergraduate students, we would expect Snapchat to become a must-do for many universities within the next few years.
Read our guide: Snapchat for Universities
From an international perspective, Sina Weibo accounts are advertised by 15 of the institutions. This Chinese microblogging platform is used by 30% of the Chinese population, making it an ideal space for universities who want to appeal to the lucrative international student market.
Discover the key insights for yourself in our infographic below.
Want to boost your rankings and get more engagement out of your social media efforts? Contact one of our experts for some tailored social media consultancy today.
*You might notice the absence of LinkedIn from our research. As regular users of the platform will know, universities have a distinct space on LinkedIn that is unlike other organisations. While they do have followers, they also have alumni and a host of other features that deserve to be considered separately – so you’ll have to do without a LinkedIn ranking for now. Sorry.