What the Data Behind an EU University Social Media Audit Reveals

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At an EU University? Here’s an opportunity to benchmark your official social media accounts

In our last blog post we identified the principal social media networks universities across the European Union use and the degree to which these networks have been adopted for official social media accounts.

In this post we summarise the results of capturing account-level data for each EU university’s official social media account: the number of followers, posts, tweets or views. In aggregate we collected just under 40,000 data elements that provide a detailed social media snapshot as at the end of February 2020.

Although we have gathered data for each university, in this post we will only discuss summary data at the EU- or country-level. Contact us, if you are interested in understanding the data for individual countries, regions, language groups (for example, German-speaking countries) or specific university clusters.

What’s the total audience for EU university official social media accounts?

We start our analysis by reproducing a chart from our previous post. In Chart 1 the horizontal bars show our adoption rate estimates for each major social media network. We’ve estimated adoption rates as the result of counting the total number of official accounts on a network and dividing by the total number of institutions in the study: 2,350. Hovering a cursor over a bar shows the percentage adoption rates: from 97.7% adoption for Facebook to 64.3% for Twitter. In other words, we estimate that 97.7% of all EU universities have an official Facebook presence, while 64.3% have an official Twitter account.

Chart 1: Estimated social network adoption rates for official EU university accounts

We next estimate how many individuals, organisations or other entities are paying attention to these official social media accounts. Each social network provides follower counts for its accounts, for YouTube these are reported as subscribers, rather than followers. We've collected the follower counts for each university on each network on which it has an official social media account.

In Chart 2 we plot our estimates of the total number of followers (subscribers) for all the official social media accounts across the EU’s universities. Again, hovering a cursor over a bar will reveal the associated data. We estimate there are 50.9 million followers of official EU university Facebook accounts. And, as Chart 2 shows, at the lower end of the scale, we estimate YouTube has 10.1 million subscribers to official EU university accounts.

Chart 2: Estimated total number of social network followers for official EU university social media accounts

A mildly surprising discovery is the total estimated number of LinkedIn followers is only slightly smaller than Facebook's, at 48.7 million. We note that our estimate for YouTube’s audience is the total number of subscribers for all the official YouTube channels or accounts. However, relatively few YouTube accounts have large numbers of subscribers and this measure may not convey YouTube’s true popularity and thus may be an unreliable audience measure.

The estimated total number of followers across all five social networks for EU university official accounts is 135.4 million – it is unclear to what extent each network's audiences overlap or the degree to which followers are active. At most higher education institutions official accounts are reinforced by large (and often unknown) numbers of unofficial individual, departmental and other accounts. Overall social media audiences for the EU’s universities are many multiples of that for its official accounts and in a previous post we discuss how to find "hidden" social media influencers at a university.

How do EU university official social media account audiences vary by network and country?

To develop a sense of the scale and range of audience sizes for official EU university accounts we’ve analysed and ranked each university's follower data for accounts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. We opted to omit YouTube from this analysis, as few institutions have material YouTube subscriber numbers, while many have large audiences actually viewing their videos: we review typical YouTube viewing data later in this post.

One method of framing social media audience sizes is to list the top ten accounts by follower numbers. This approach gives a sense of which institutions have attracted the largest audiences, as well as the size of those individual audiences. The ranking data for Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter are shown in Tables 1 to 4. Clicking on the institution name in each table links through to the underlying social media account.

       
Data collected February 2020
University Name Followers
University of Oxford University of Oxford 3,803,004
University of Cambridge University of Cambridge 2,229,268
University of London University of London 531,671
London School of Economics (LSE) London School of Economics (LSE) 493,162
London Metropolitan University London Metropolitan University 365,636
The Open University The Open University 355,516
London Business School London Business School 310,925
King's College London King's College London 304,477
Portuguese Navy Academy Portuguese Navy Academy 290,341
University of Birmingham University of Birmingham 278,284

Table 1: Top ten ranked follower counts for official EU University Facebook accounts

Table 2: Top ten ranked follower counts for official EU University Instagram accounts

Table 3: Top ten ranked follower counts for official EU University LinkedIn accounts

       
Data collected February 2020
University Name Followers
University of Oxford University of Oxford 568,893
University of Cambridge University of Cambridge 505,838
London Business School London Business School 167,336
The Open University The Open University 154,153
University of Granada University of Granada 129,812
University of Sevilla University of Sevilla 125,616
University of Sheffield University of Sheffield 120,921
University of Málaga University of Málaga 118,841
SciencesPo Paris SciencesPo Paris 117,719
University of Birmingham University of Birmingham 117,480

Table 4: Top ten ranked follower counts for official EU University Twitter accounts

Consistent with its wide adoption and relatively early availability (August 2004) Facebook has the largest follower counts and the largest follower range over the top ten accounts. The top account, the University of Oxford has 3.8 million followers while the tenth ranked account, the University of Birmingham has 278,000 followers: less than one-tenth the following of the top-ranked university.

By contrast the other networks have no official EU university accounts with more than one million users – Instagram comes closest with its top-ranked account, the University of Cambridge and its 720,000 followers. LinkedIn has a narrower spread of account followings and the top ten features a higher proportion of non-UK institutions.

The top ten tables help establish the upper layer of social media audiences and support the conclusion that most institutions have official social media accounts with fewer than 150,000 followers and, in many cases far fewer. We estimate the median EU university official Facebook account has 8,050 followers; Instagram, 1,130 followers; LinkedIn, 2,840 followers; Twitter, 419 followers. By this measure Facebook and LinkedIn appear to be the best routes to reaching larger audiences.

From looking at the data for each university and aggregating the data by country, we can see there is a wide variation in institutional audience sizes. To assist in understanding the range of audience sizes we’ve plotted five maps, one for each social network. Maps 1 to 4 show the top three institutions in each EU member state (or state in a transition period) ranked by the official account followers. Hover a cursor over a country to see the summary table and use the + / - buttons to zoom in and out.

Map 5 summarises the top three universities in each country by the total number of times videos on an institution’s official video channel have been viewed. This is arguably a better measure of relative audience size for YouTube than the number of subscribers. We estimate that the median official EU university YouTube account had been viewed 58,275 times as at the end of February 2020.

Map 1: Top 3 follower counts for official EU University Facebook accounts. Hover cursor over individual countries to see top 3 tables.

Map 2: Top 3 follower counts for official EU University Instagram accounts. Hover cursor over individual countries to see top 3 tables.

Map 3: Top 3 follower counts for official EU University LinkedIn accounts. Hover cursor over individual countries to see top 3 tables.

Map 4: Top 3 follower counts for official EU University Twitter accounts. Hover cursor over individual countries to see top 3 tables.

Map 5: Top 3 video views for official EU University YouTube accounts. Hover cursor over individual countries to see top 3 tables.

How do my university’s official social media accounts compare to others across the EU?

Our final set of charts are histograms to help benchmark social media audiences for official accounts across the European Union's higher education institutions. In each chart hovering a mouse cursor over a bar will show the percentage labels in each category.

In Chart 3 the vertical scale shows the percentage of all institutions having an official Facebook account with a follower count falling into one of the categories shown along the X-axis. The first bar indicates that 1 in 5 (19.7%) official EU university Facebook accounts has been zero and 2,500 followers. The second bar indicates that 1 in 6 (14.9%) official EU university Facebook accounts has between 2,500 and 5,000 followers. The remaining bars can be interpreted similarly. To aid analysis we’ve also plotted the cumulative frequency as the grey-shaded area in the background. Looking at Chart 3 we can see that 95% of official EU university Facebook have fewer than 80,000 followers and recognise that very large followings are rare.

Chart 3: Histogram of official EU university Facebook account followers

Chart 4 for Instagram similarly shows that 1 in 4 (24.6%) official EU university Instagram accounts has fewer than 1,000 followers. Recall the median Instagram account has an estimated 1,130 followers and Instagram’s "one percent" for official EU university accounts represents institutional accounts with more than 64,000 followers.

Chart 4: Histogram of official EU university Instagram account followers

Official EU university LinkedIn accounts show a slightly different pattern to Facebook or Instagram. While there is still a high proportion of small accounts (24% with fewer than 1,000 followers) the distribution across the remaining categories is more uniform. This distribution pattern suggests that even small institutions can build a material presence on LinkedIn.

Chart 5: Histogram of official EU university LinkedIn account followers

Twitter parallels LinkedIn’s follower distribution pattern by having a high proportion of small accounts (23.8% with fewer than 500 followers) with a more uniform distribution of followers over the remaining categories. In common with the other social media networks only a very small proportion of official EU university LinkedIn accounts have large numbers of followers.

Chart 6: Histogram of official EU university Twitter account followers

For completeness, we’ve also plotted YouTube subscriber numbers and from Chart 7 we can see that almost 25% of official EU university YouTube accounts have fewer than 100 subscribers and 80% of accounts have fewer than 2,000 subscribers. While official EU university YouTube accounts may have relatively few subscribers, they attract substantial traffic and video viewing numbers are significant.

Chart 7: Histogram of official EU university YouTube account subscribers

As we suggested earlier examining the number of times videos are viewed on an official EU university YouTube account likely provides a better sense of the audience for this social network. The oldest official EU university YouTube accounts date from the final quarter of 2005 and have been in operation for about 14 years. Over that time period we estimate that official EU university YouTube account videos have been viewed 1.6 billion times with the median account having being viewed 58,275 times.

Chart 8 shows how viewership is distributed across the accounts we studied. About 1 in 5 accounts (21.8%) have had their videos watched fewer than 16,000 times and 90% of accounts have fewer than 2 million total views. These are still substantial levels of engagement with material and we estimate that the video content of the median official EU university YouTube account is viewed about 1,800 times per month.

Chart 8: Histogram of Total YouTube Views for EU Universities

Chart 9 shows the distribution of monthly YouTube video viewing for the official YouTube accounts for EU universities. Only 6% of all YouTube accounts in our study receive more than 25,000 views per month.

Chart 9: Histogram of YouTube Views Per Month for EU Universities

Conclusions

Higher education institutions have eagerly adopted social media as one of many ways of communicating with its different audiences.

While we may be vaguely aware of the metrics of high-profile accounts on many social networks (for example, that Barack Obama has 113.6 million Twitter followers) we are likely less familiar with accounts more relevant to the official social media activities of the EU’s universities.

In this post we have summarised the high-level results from identifying and collecting data on the social media accounts the EU’s 2,350 universities use for official purposes.

The maps provide some individual country-by-country institutional comparisons, offering a glimpse into the sizes of social media audiences across the EU.

The social media account follower histograms allow institutions to see where their official social media accounts “stack up” by comparison with other EU institutions.

We have amassed a large dataset and would welcome ideas and suggestions on other comparisons that could provide insights into social media use at EU universities.

 

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Blog photo image: unsplash.com