It’s a typical Tuesday at Utah State University in Logan, where I attend the Huntsman School of Business. It’s typical, at least, for an MBA student studying during the era of social media. My study routine is a clear example of how social media is transforming the act of communication. After my first class, I spend the morning in the library reading from a digital textbook and working on homework projects on my laptop. I take a quick study break—I check my e-mail, but I know I’ll find the real news on my social media feeds. First, I pull up my Twitter account on my smartphone—I check for Utah State University news by checking the #AggieLife hashtag. I see a tweet from a USU student that piques my interest: “#USU JCOM professor Matt LaPlante speaking NOW (1 p.m. at the TSC auditorium!) ‘Out of Iraq,’ event about effects of war #aggielife #utah.”
Suddenly, my plans have changed. I head over to hear the presentation sponsored by the department of journalism and communication.
Ten minutes later, I’m checking my e-mail in the auditorium while I listen to a panel of war vets and journalists talk about their time in Iraq. I find this experience satisfying, so I tweet back to the USU student who tweeted about the event: “Thanks for the heads-up. This is interesting stuff.”
As a business student in the social media age, I am fascinated by the immediacy—the real-time nature—of social media. The technology has sped up communication between individuals and organizations, and it has given students enhanced access to information about—and from—their schools. Social media has quickly become one of the most common methods students use to stay connected with their peers, their schools, and the world. In fact, in their 2012 study, Nicholas Capano, Johanna Deris, and Eric Desjardins of the University of New Hampshire in Durham found that nearly all UNH students use at least one social media platform, with 96 percent of students using Facebook and 84 percent of students using YouTube. Although this study focused only on UNH, it is likely that other universities would see similar rates of social media usage among their student bodies.
As part of my work as the student social media manager for the Huntsman School, I was responsible for benchmarking its social media efforts against those of other U.S. business schools. In March 2012, a colleague and I gathered social media data for 371 AACSB-accredited business schools in the U.S. Our goal: to learn what the Huntsman School was doing well in the social media sphere and where it could improve.
However, our data don’t just provide the Huntsman School with an idea of where it stands among its peers. The data show which social media practices are most common among top-performing schools, as well as where many schools fall short. They also offer a picture of how—and how well—the community of business schools is using social media to market, to communicate, and to teach.
Anatomy of a Social Media Profile To benchmark each business school’s social media performance, we considered the following questions:
■ Does the school have official profiles on Google Places, LinkedIn, and Google+?
■ How many Facebook fans does the school have?
■ What is the school’s number of “people talking about this” on Facebook? Relatively new, the “talking about this” feature counts the number of Facebook fans who take actions such as liking the page, commenting on or sharing a post, or sending an RSVP to a posted event.
■ How many Twitter followers does the school have?
■ How many YouTube channel video views has the school generated?
■ Does the school have an entry on Wikipedia?
■ Does the school provide links from its Web sites to its social media feeds?
For instance, we found that only 139 of the 371 schools in our survey—or 37.5 percent—have articles about their institutions posted on Wikipedia. On the other hand, a majority of schools have fan pages on Facebook.
But the most successful schools don’t just establish accounts on major social media sites. They also integrate those accounts with each other and with their home Web sites. Given that, we were surprised by how many business schools did not make such integration a priority. Business school Web sites have become hubs of information for business students, so it makes sense for schools to connect their Web sites to their social media feeds. But of the 371 business schools in our survey, nearly 36 percent—133 of them—did not provide links to their feeds on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or LinkedIn from their Web sites.
Why is this a problem? Just consider the following statistics:
■ Business schools that have official Facebook pages and include links to those Facebook pages on their Web sites have an average of 1,654 fans.
■ Business schools that have official Facebook pages, but that don’t link to those pages from their Web sites, have an average of only 439 fans.
■ Business schools with official Twitter handles and links on their Web sites to their handles have an average of 1,744 Twitter followers.
■ Business schools that have official Twitter handles but that don’t link to those handles from their Web sites have an average of only 509 followers.
Adding links to social media feeds is as easy as loading each social media service’s plug-in to a Web site. Plug-ins can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets on their Web site developer pages. Schools that haven’t taken this step could be reducing the impact of their social media content by up to 70 percent.
By the Numbers
How well business schools conduct their social media strategies depends solely on how well they manage and deploy communications on each individual network. That’s why we explored what individual schools are doing on each major social media site. Here’s what we found:
Facebook remains the most popular social media out-let for business schools. Currently, 64 percent of the AACSB business schools in our sample have established official business school Facebook fan pages and have, on average, 1,297 fans. At the time we took the sample, these schools also had an average of 31 individuals “talking about this.”
To get an idea of how those results compare to some of the top schools in the market, we considered these numbers:
■ All of the top-25 business schools in U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 rankings have Face-book fan pages.
■ Those top-25 business schools have an average of 6,194 Facebook fans each.
■ Schools that ranked from 26 to 50 have an average of 1,796 Facebook fans.
■ Harvard Business School has the most Facebook fans with 29,559.
■ Harvard also has the most individuals “talking about this” at 672.
The second most popular social media platform for business schools, LinkedIn helps alumni locate career opportunities and maintain their networks. More than 48 percent of business schools have established official LinkedIn groups. That compares to 84 percent of top-50 business schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report.
Of all social media outlets, LinkedIn is perhaps the one that business schools actively man-age the least. Business schools typically spend much more time developing their presences on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. That makes sense, given that business students and alumni are really using LinkedIn, not to support their lives at school, but to develop and digitize the professional networks they developed during their business school programs.
One of the most rapidly growing social media outlets, Twitter is unique in that business schools can tweet messages several times per day without breaking the social outlet’s norms. If they made the same number of Facebook posts per day, many followers might consider it too much information and unsubscribe. As a result, more schools are using Twitter as a central tool for communicating with students regarding daily events and announcements.
Because of Twitter’s easy access and quick response time, it also has become more common for students and potential students to address business-related questions to a business school’s Twitter handle, instead of using traditional outlets such as e-mail and phone.
Here’s what we found:
■ 42 percent of business schools in our sample have a Twitter handle.
■ 100 percent of top-25 business schools have a Twitter handle.
■ A number of business school deans are on Twitter, including Judy Olian of UCLA Anderson, Garth Saloner of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Rich Lyons of the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley, Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School, James Dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, David Thomas of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, and Robert Bruner of the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
■ As of April, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania had the most Twitter followers of any business school with 22,641. Harvard Business School came in second with 17,503, and MIT Sloan came in a close third at 16,022.
YouTube is now the second most popular search engine in the world behind Google, according to a July 2011 article in Search Engine Journal. Many current and future business school students use YouTube as a resource in their learning activities. Business schools have established channels where lectures, school video ads, and video interviews are uploaded.
As useful and informational as YouTube videos can be, only 31 percent of business schools have a YouTube channel, compared to 96 percent of top-25 business schools.
However, we found that when a school makes a commitment to online video, it can reap big rewards in increased visibility:
■ Videos on the YouTube channel for Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business had a total of 2,341,127 views at the time we took our sample.
■ Many of Stanford’s most popular YouTube videos are presentations given by its guest lecturers, who range from Pixar president Ed Catmull to rapper-turned- entrepreneur MC Hammer. Some of its videos have received well over 100,000 views.
■ The average business school channel has 57,145 video views, with a median view total of 5,252.
Google Places is a free service that invites organizations to create customized profiles that include their locations information about their offerings, photos, and other details. Google Places also offers statistical data that lets organizations track how many people are searching for them, where those people are located, what search terms they’re using, and what information on Google Places they access the most. Users also can leave reviews about their experiences with an organization.
We found that schools on Google Places seem to benefit from excellent search engine results. Prospective students also turn to the user reviews—generated mainly by the school’s students and alumni—as a unique way to learn about a business school’s program.
Even so, only about 10 percent of business schools in our sample had a profile on Google Places. Two business schools tied for the most Google Places reviews at 35. These were the NYU Stern School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a high correlation between schools that are ranked in the top 50 by U.S. News and World Report and schools that are highly established on social media outlets. Also not surprisingly, there is a correlation between schools with large student populations that use social media outlets and those with high numbers of followers, fans, and video views.
But there are exceptions to these correlations. I believe the schools that stand out as exceptions have the most valuable stories to tell.
For instance, Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Texas and Utah State’s Huntsman School had 5,426 and 9,031 Twit-ter followers, respectively. Neither of these schools is ranked among the top 50 business schools by U.S. News and World Report. Both schools have a relatively average population of 3,000 students.
The Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia has 126,580 channel video views on YouTube. That places it ahead of top-25 schools such as George-town’s McDonough School of Business and the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.
These examples prove that a business school doesn’t need a high profile in the rankings to develop a high-profile approach to social media. These data provide all business schools with opportunities to compare their social media progress to their peers and learn valuable lessons about what social media can do for their programs and reputations.
As I mentioned, this is a fascinating time to be a business student, but it’s just as great a time to be a business school. With today’s social media tools, business schools can enhance their visibility in the market, connect with constituents at greater speed, and take only seconds to pro-vide their students with new opportunities to learn. Simply put, social media is how today’s students communicate. Whether by tweet, like, or status update, it’s time for business schools to get that message.