A new study by Nora Ganim Barnes and Ava M. Lescault, Social Media Adoption Soars as Higher-Ed Experiments and Reevaluates Its Use of New Communications Tools, provides some useful results. They began to look at this issue in 2007. This latest study (2010-2011) analyzes the most recent trending of social media adoption among four-year accredited institutions in the United States.
The most study found the trends first reported in 2007 are still in place and even expanding. Colleges and universities are using social media, especially social networking sites, not simply to recruit but also to research the backgrounds and activities of prospective students. This is another example of how online behavior can have important consequences for young people. It supports the notion that these tools can, and will, be utilized by others to make decisions about them. Additionally, schools are now moving away from some tools and embracing others, demonstrating a more strategic approach to their online communications.
In 2007-2008 61% percent of the respondents reported they used at least one form of social media. One year later, 85% of college admissions offices were using at least one form of social media. In 2009-2010 that number rose to 95% and in the latest study, 100% of colleges and universities studied are now using some form of social media. Usage continues to rise for the most popular tools, but adoption of others has leveled off or fallen.
The researchers reported that Facebook is the most common form of social networking with 98% of colleges and universities reporting having a Facebook page (up from 87% last year). Twitter is next and 84% of respondents have a school Twitter account (up from 59%) and 66% have a blog (up from 51%). Podcasting is also up rising from 22% to 41% in just one year.
LinkedIn is popular with admissions professionals with 47% now on the professional networking site, up from 16% last year. The number of schools using MySpace has declined from 16% last year to 8% this year. Foursquare and You Tube were included in the study for the first time and are being used by 20% and 86% respectively. Meanwhile, the use of message boards and video blogging have remained at approximately the same level as last year (37% and 47% respectively).
Like many business brands, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogging and podcasting are the tools of choice for US institutions of higher education. At most schools, the IT department sets up the blog and the others manage it. So, for example, it is not uncommon for those working with the school’s social media to be unfamiliar with the platforms being used to host the school’s blog (30%). WordPress has become the most commonly used blogging tool. I can see this if IT is playing a major role in tool selection.
Schools are becoming smarter in how they use these tools. For example, with blogs 37% of blogging schools did not accept comments in 2007. As the researchers note, this is a problem if the goal is to connect with prospective students through ongoing conversation with the school. In 2008 that figure dropped to 22%. The 2009 data shows another drop to 18%, then to 15% in 2010. There are similar rises in the use of RSS and email subscription and now 77% of blogging schools provide RSS subscriptions and 54% allow email sign-ups. While the researchers found that blogging has leveled off in business and non-profits, it continues to increase in higher ed.
There is much more in the study and you can find it for free at their site. I really appreciate the service provided by Nora Ganim Barnes and her colleagues in documenting social media usage over time.