What makes a great #highered Twitter account?

Davide Savenije, assistant editor of the website  Education Dive, recently posted his picks for The 10 best university Twitter accounts — and what they do right. The list has generated a lot of chatter on Twitter, especially among the fans of those schools who made the list. But there hasn’t been much looking into the methodology behind that ranking.

Enter moi.

The Dive’s list consists of big schools, many from “big” confrerences (Big 10, Big East, SEC) that have big followings — 208,000 for No. 1 selection @Harvard and 110,000 for No. 2 @Stanford — and impressive Klout scores. That is, if you find Klout scores impressive.

But Savenije knows bigger isn’t always better. He points out that “followers alone do not equal social media success,” which is why he included Klout scores and something he calls “our subjective appraisal” of the accounts. But take a look at the list, and it’s the numbers and Klout scores that jump out at you. Which might lead a reader to be skeptical of this compilation. Especially when “our subjective appraisal” is so ill-defined. It isn’t even ill-defined. It isn’t defined at all.

Maybe the descriptions of each account will give us some insight. Let’s pick on No. 6, The Ohio State University (@OhioState). Savenije writes:

The Ohio State University’s Twitter account keeps students, faculty and alumni apprised of the school’s goings-on. From student tips, daily photos and event promotions to alumni stories, faculty research and sports team notifications,@OhioState serves followers with the information they need and want.

Really. The school’s twitter account keeps not only students informed, but also faculty and alumni? (But apparently not staff.) That’s what sets this account apart?

Is that all it takes to attain Twitter greatness in the higher ed realm? That and a minimum following of 16,000 plus a Klout score of 83 or better?

I don’t buy it. I doubt you do, either.

So let’s come up with some metrics that make sense for higher ed Twitter accounts.

Please tell me in the comments below (or on Twitter): What makes a great university Twitter account? Feel free to share examples of schools that you think are doing it right (regardless of size of audience or Klout score) and suggest some ways to measure success. Your thoughts just might make their way into a future blog post on this subject.

P.S. – I’m not taking anything away from the 10 schools on this list. They’re all great and have robust social media efforts. I’m just questioning the validity of the metrics. (Something I picked up from administrators dissing the U.S. News & World Report rankings.)

P.S. to Education Dive: In your blog post, is the “S” in “University of Oklahoma” supposed to be larger than the other letters in that name?

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

25 thoughts on “What makes a great #highered Twitter account?”

  1. The best higher ed Twitter accounts are responsive to people’s tweets: answering questions, providing more info, RTing select tweets with commentary. They also are good when they’re cross-promotional, linking up conversations elsewhere. Like tweeting out a link to a Facebook invite or photo album, a pin from Pinterest, etc. Also, lots of imagery! Images on Twitter and elsewhere get more engagement than plain text.

  2. Retweets, while some might consider it a vanity metric, might be useful here. If someone find the information in the account so valuable that they want to pass it on to to other people, that might mean something.

    Ratio of @ replies to standard tweets could create some type of conversational metric.

    It would be almost impossible to find out, but it would also be interesting to see the breakdown of followers in categories of students, staff/faculty, alumni, other to see if their audience is really their community, or just a bunch of sports fans.

    A related and equally hard-to-measure metric could be the percentage of Twitter using students, staff/faculty, and alumni that choose to follow the account – market penetration, if you will.

    Another hard-to-measure, “squishy” metric could be audience satisfaction. Poll the followers and ask them to rate the account on a number of objectives (engaging content, affinity, reliance for useful information, etc).

    Most of these would be very hard to measure, which is why I think it would be a huge (and expensive) undertaking to make a list like this that accurately represents colleges and universities of all sizes.

    Another P.S. to Ed DIVE – every university is NOT on Twitter. That’s a huge (and incorrect) assumption.

    1. I’m not sure how reliable their numbers are, but Twittercounter.com lets you compare two different numbers from a Twitter account, like tweets vs. RTs or followers vs. mentions. Could be useful for some of the metrics you propose.

  3. To double up on your Ohio State example, I see no validation from OSU of their followers. A few retweets, but most of those are tweets by other OSU entities. The University of Minnesota’s account – @UMNews – does an excellent job of balancing interesting, timely content with genuine interaction with its followers. It doesn’t matter what industry, real interaction always makes for a better Twitter account. (disclaimer – I helped build the @UMNews account when I was at the U of M six years ago, but I no longer have any connection to the account)

  4. Great post, Andrew. This should generate some good conversation about goals and strategy for university Twitter accounts.

    It’s important to note that there can be differences in meaningful metrics for institutional accounts on Twitter. Some may focus on student engagement and customer service, while others may be driven by specific campaign efforts or general news awareness and amplification. These strategies are really an extension of the “voice” of the Twitter account and how they focus their efforts.

    I respect both strategies, when executed well and attached to specific goals.

  5. Bravo, Andy. As usual, your post and Twitter account are great for #HigherEd [So is Liz’s]. Big isn’t always better and noisier isn’t always heard. Keep sharing and posting your insights. I am listening!

  6. I think it goes back to what someone else said. That it’s really about the institution’s needs and what they’re using it for. I know some schools who are small, that have a different kind of audience that aren’t using Twitter the way that some of the more active schools are. But it works for their audience and their purposes. Still, it’s not about numbers as much as it’s about engagement. Engagement and a human behind the cloak rather than feeling like it’s a nebulous force at the helm. Great conversation starter as always, Andy.

  7. IMHO what makes a Twitter account great is that it is an active participant in the community. It RT’s, provides valued, timely information and it creates opportunities to bring people into a conversation. It creates targeted hash tags so that people can follow conversations. It cross promotes other accounts of value to its audience. It follows back relevant accounts/people. It has a personality (brand). Its not afraid to be cheeky/human/real.

    This all leads back to the social media ROI conversation as Liz discusses in her comment. ROI isnt just trackbacks/clicks/donations or filled out forms. Its sentiment and changing sentiment. Its adding valued content. Its raising the volume of mentions of your brand by or not by the hash tag/account of your choice.

    We need to continue to raise the bar on this.

  8. What makes a great twitter account period? I think it depends on the number of followers, which is dependent on popularity, which depends on how much people need the content, or find it interesting.
    Retweets increase followers, increased followers decrease the need for retweets. (If everyone in the world followed an account, there’d be no need to retweet at all)

    It’s very complex.

  9. Good piece Andy. I’d leave follower numbers completely off the table, but maybe look at the number as a percentage of the total number you could reach (alumni, students, staff, faculty, etc.) Reach is a shallow metric–has nothin to do with effectiveness-only shows how many people could have access to your information. Another important metric, as Liz pointed out, is shares (or RT). Another is advocacy numbers. How any people RT you more than once a week and who are they? Are you reciprocating or giving dap? I also wish there was a way to measure content cross promotion–shares of RTs on other Twitter feeds, click throughs or ping backs (all share metrics). Sprout Social does that for me, but everybody doesn’t use a dashboard with built-in metrics.

    I would also look at growth rate of RTs on a weekly basis, number of lists each feed is included on, and number of @mentions weekly and the context of those. It’s always a mistake to measure reach and broadcast metrics only. Twitter used for broadcast only is meaningless. I can have a million followers on a dozen accounts and tweet 12 times a day on each and have no advocacy. Look at the advocacy metrics.

  10. Great discussion. For our institutional feed, I place a lot of emphasis on listening and responding to individual tweets, and I don’t always respond publicly. I imagine that selective retweets and replies, as well as the curation of meaningful lists, would be good indicators of community engagement.

  11. As others mentioned, it’s all about the relevancy of your posts. As an Admissions Counselor for a small liberal arts U (@GCAdmissions), my main goal is to make a direct connection with our prospects. I want to let them know that we’re not just here to spit out info on deadlines and such, but to give them something they can’t simply read on our website. I recently tweeted out a hashtag (#GC2017) to help incoming freshmen find roommates. The response so far has been pretty solid.

  12. A great Twitter account in Higher ed should live in the center of a larger social media strategy. Through the creation of our internally focused @ConnCollegeLive Twitter account – we engage our current students by facilitating conversations and promoting the vibrancy of our digital campus community. This allows us to provide admitted, prospective students and parents with an authentic user-generated view of campus life. The result: vibrancy and transparency.

    Really enjoyed your article – Definitely agree that there’s more to a great Twitter account than followers!

  13. Thanks Andrew! I enjoyed your article. Another thing to think about is sentiment and how interactive a Twitter account is. I try to use our @DukeU Twitter account as the spirited voice for the university. We congratulate alumni on new additions to their family, welcome prospective students to campus and often take things offline through direct messaging to connect with our community. We don’t have a huge following, but we have a ton of engagement and quality conversations that don’t happen in the same way on other social networks.

  14. I’m still not sure how to define what makes a great Twitter account. I do know that creating a list and/or ranking is a great way to get attention.

  15. I think a great university social media account is one that supports the university’s strategic goals: admissions, student engagement, alumni relations / development, etc. Social media should not occur in a bubble. The interactions and conversations taking place between a university and its constituents on Twitter should be funneled to other appropriate departments so that the experts there can follow-up. For instance, when a new grad announces he/she got a job at Prestigious Company X because of a fellow alumni connection, the university’s Twitter account should do more than just say “Wow – our alumni network sure is strong”; it should funnel the information to colleagues in career services and development for appropriate follow-up. A conversational Twitter account is great; an account that actually DOES something to strategically mine the conversation for the benefit of the university is even better.

  16. The best higher ed Twitter accounts? Your #1 factor seems to be that the University must be American!

    Try looking outside your borders or all those other pesky countries will pass you.

  17. Truthfully, the description given for Ohio State’s describes a function not unlike what bulletin boards are doing on campuses all across the country.

    While I don’t claim to be doing it the “right way”, what I enjoy most about administering the Twitter account for my office is the conversations that get started, and that I can talk back to students, alumni, and staff who choose to engage. The Ohio State description leaves that out.

    Social media is by design a two way street, and I have a hard time with a metric that leaves the social element off the list of considerations.

  18. Great thoughts and perspectives here! I definitely agree with Dan in that social media should not be measured in a vacuum and that a university’s twitter account should support its strategic goals. More than that though, I think a true determinant of an institution’s Twitter power is how much clout, pull, or expertise it may have in topics that relates to its mission statement/educational focus.

    For example, (and I’m only using this as an example) if MIT had a Twitter account with thousands of followers and hundreds of RT’s a day, but it only tweeted about cats and dogs and lasagna, then how is its influence really furthering its brand and/or mission? If, on the other hand, MIT’s Twitter proved itself to be a leader in terms of technology, education, and other related topics, then its prospective students would be able to see that the college had an established voice on Twitter on certain topics and proved itself to be a contributing member of the digital world.

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