Last spring, it was Education Dive’s list of the top university Twitter accounts, as determined by Klout score, number of followers and some kind of secret “subjective appraisal.” (I groused enough about that shoddy methodology last spring, so no need to rehash it here and now. The links are there if you want to revisit it.)
Now comes something via the Huffington Post called The Top 100 Best and Most Collaborative U.S. Colleges. And, just like Ed Dive’s approach with Twitter, this ranking’s methodology does not pass muster on many levels.
Once again, there’s a heavy reliance on an institution’s social media Klout score. As if that weren’t enough to raise skepticism, it relies on another ranking — one that is well-established but that comes under fire year in and year out: the U.S. News & World Report listing of the best colleges and universities.
- HuffPo contributor Vala Afshar, who compiled the ranking, used this formula:
- Pick the top 100 colleges and universities listed in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of national universities.
- Look at their Klout and Kred scores.
- Rerank the U.S. News & World Report top 100 by those social media influence scores.
- Create an infographic that claims: “The very best schools are the most social schools.”
So. Where to begin the critique?
Let’s start with Klout and Kred. These tools are supposed to measure the influence of a social media user. And it may be true that individuals with high Klout and Kred scores may be more influential than those with lower scores, as this more or less balanced article suggests, I’m not too familiar with Kred, but I think Klout is designed for the individual, because it offers rewards from brands to those who attain certain scores and levels of activity. Chris Syme calls the Klout score an “ego metric” (see her comment on this post from a couple of years ago), and I agree. Aliza Sherman, in the article I cite earlier in this paragraph, says:
A high Klout score is like a Maserati or whatever the cool car of the day might be. It’s fun to flash around, but at the end of the day, it isn’t practical.
So I don’t think these vanity metric tools carry much clout or cred.
And what about the U.S. News & World Report rankings?
First of all, Afshar only looked at the top 100 national universities. U.S. News ranks many other types of schools — regional colleges, liberal arts schools, specialty schools, etc. So by limiting only to national universities — all Ph.D.-granting — Afshar excludes many from his list. For example, Williams College was ranked the top liberal arts institution by U.S. News, and it has a pretty impressive Klout score of 85. Meanwhile, one of U.S. News‘ top national universities, the Colorado School of Mines, was ranked No. 100 on Afshar’s “most social” list with a Klout score of 57.
So if you’re going to use Klout as a metric, don’t penalize ostensibly social media-savvy schools just because they’re not in the “national” category.
Finally, Afshar’s ranking suggests that an institution’s high rank in social media equates to high levels of collaboration. I don’t buy it — for the same reasons I didn’t buy Ed Dive’s list of the best higher ed Twitter accounts last spring. Look at several of the schools on either list, and you’ll see that much of the communication is one-way. That doesn’t sound very collaborative to me.
One commenter on the HuffPo site wrote, “[I]f you calculate the correlation between U.S. News ranking and your social rank, you get a coefficient of around .32, which indicates a weak to middling relationship. In other words, it is difficult to make the claim that ‘the very best schools are also the most collaborative.'”
Difficult, yes. But as we tend to see more often these days, not impossible.