About 500 people work in social media roles at Canada’s higher education institutions or consulting or freelancing to the sector.
That number has grown over the past decade, as social media has become a basic element of university and college digital marketing and communications.
One of digital marketing’s benefits is that it is data-informed, allowing campaigns to react and adapt as new information emerges. But, in the tumult of tactical execution, broader strategic shifts can get missed.
This report examines the landscape and analyses in more detail the five major social media networks that Canada’s colleges and universities use to reach their audiences.
Those audiences are large. Across the networks we can measure about 17.2 million accounts are listening to higher education’s social media output.
And institutions are generating significant amounts of content for their audiences, close to 50,000 videos uploaded to YouTube, watched over 130 million times. More than 1.8 million tweets and 5.2 million likes on Facebook.
But there is substantial variation in content production and engagement and the report’s data provides some benchmarks for use in planning future social media campaigns.
We surveyed 173 Canadian post-secondary institutions’ official social media accounts merging the results with their publicly available content and engagement data.
Five networks dominate Canadian higher education social media activity. All institutions have official Facebook accounts and even late-to-the-game Instagram has over 90% uptake.
One surprise is LinkedIn has 8 million followers, 45% more than Facebook and 350% more than Twitter.
We used LinkedIn’s alumni as a proxy for addressable audiences. LinkedIn reaches almost 1/3rd more than each institution’s alumni. Facebook and Twitter don’t match that reach.
Higher education rapidly adopted YouTube and then Twitter as part of its social strategies. Twitter played the hare: YouTube the tortoise.
The chart shows the social networks with lower content volumes – posts/pins/videos in the thousands rather than tens of thousands – and the top producing institutions.
The social networks with the highest content output – tweets and photos by the tens of thousands along with the top producing institutions. Note Flickr’s narrower adoption.
We’ve established some of the high-level characteristics of how higher education uses social media.
While we readily identified a dozen different networks in various stages of use or disuse, only five of those networks have a material presences across colleges and universities.
In this section we’ve merged the publicly available content creation and engagement data with each institution’s account to build a picture of how Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube are used in practice.
Social media is a basic component of university and college digital communications and marketing, but while networks offer detailed analytics it’s harder to see the context.
The charts in this section are intended to provide basic performance benchmarks.
Your Instagram account only has 4,500 followers? That’s a median account. What’s the return on investing more to boost that number?
You’re tweeting five times a day – the median account tweets twice daily. Are you getting the incremental return from the extra activity?
You’ve produced and uploaded 1,000 videos to YouTube – too many or too few?
It’s hard to plan and execute campaigns without realistic targets and much of that data is on the following pages.
The range of Facebook likes is too wide to readily fit on one chart. Above are the 85 institutions with cumulatively fewer than 16,000 likes for the official account.
Group II shows the 88 Canadian post-secondary institutions with official Facebook accounts cumulatively attracting more than 16,000 likes – along with the small outlier group.
From its October 2010 launch Instagram has gained 90%+ adoption in Canadian higher education and largely replaced Flickr for posting images. Colleges post more than universities.
Instagram has built an audience of 1.2 million followers of official higher education accounts: about 20% reach, using our LinkedIn alumni numbers as the denominator.
The median official higher education Twitter account in Canada has 6,230 followers. Adoption was rapid, but Twitter shows signs of stagnation and few institutions have large followings.
Canada’s post-secondary institutions have fired out 1.8 million tweets to their 2.2 million followers. And, NAIT is the tweetiest school with close to 67,000 tweets.
Twitter grew from its first university user in August 2007 to 50% adoption within 22 months. 90% of institutions were on Twitter by March 2012.
It’s hard to know the appropriate cadence for Twitter, but the median higher education account tweets twice daily. Others are way more productive.
LinkedIn is the original social network. 95%+ of Canadian post-secondary institutions have an account. LinkedIn holds education history and thus has a comprehensive alumni database.
LinkedIn likely reaches a non-undergraduate audience and half of all institutions are followed by more than just their alumni. In some cases followers exceed alumni by 3X or 4X.
Video is a key higher education content type and most of that video output is on YouTube. About 50,000 videos have been collectively uploaded, as of February 2019.
Engagement with YouTube video content, as measured by views, spans a massive range. We split institutions into those with less than 350K views and those with more.
The median institution in Group II has had its video content viewed over 900K times. However, some institutions have seen exceptional success: University of Manitoba.
YouTube’s rise has been slow and steady rather compared to Twitter’s pile on. Twitter requires little infrastructure compared to video, but video engagement now predominates.
Mirroring trends seen elsewhere, only a portion of all content engages with its audience. And, for YouTube video about 13% of uploaded videos have generated 80% of all engagement.
We were unable to find a statistically significant correlation between video length and the number of views. Duration has shortened and the median video runs for under 2 minutes.
We sampled 25% of all videos to produce the above analysis. Median engagement, in views, has fallen and stabilized, while duration has settled out at around 100 seconds.
Higher education institutions and groups within those institutions have enthusiastically assessed the potential of new social media networks as they have emerged.
Individual account evaluation provides only partial views of a social network’s suitability, effectiveness and fit with an institution’s overall marketing and communications objectives.
Institution-wide or sector-wide surveys uncover larger insights, establish performance parameters and set relevant benchmarks.
We collected the data for this report using our higher education web estate management solution. In this case we surveyed official accounts at all of Canada’s higher education institutions.
The same process can be readily replicated across an entire institution or specific units within an institution to build a similar understanding of the landscape.
Social media is just one example of the content, user experience and risk insights our solution can provide from comprehensively scanning college and university websites.
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