A new infograph illustrates social media’s surge in popularity in the last three academic years.

Once regarded as a passing fad, social media is now an essential language that today’s college students—and officials—must learn in order to remain relevant and well-informed.

The University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently surveyed numerous four-year accredited U.S. colleges and universities to assess the use of social media in higher education.

The study’s findings are based on 456 interviews conducted between November to May of the 2010-11 academic year. UMass Dartmouth previously assessed social media findings for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years.

This type of comparative data effectively illustrates a major upswing in the use of social media in higher education, the study’s authors note—something that administrators can benefit from understanding. UMass Dartmouth found that 100 percent of surveyed colleges and universities now are using some form of social media.

The survey infograph illustrates how universities use social media in multiple ways: in the classroom to inform students of announcements, in recruitment efforts, to reflect school pride, to improve professional development, and in general outreach efforts such as connecting alumni or informing students’ parents about university activities.

(Next page: How Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and blogging use have changed over time; plus, view the infograph)

In its original 2008-09 survey, researchers reported that none of the surveyed universities were using Twitter. In the next academic year, 59 percent of colleges began to tweet, and in the 2010-11 academic year, 84 percent of colleges had active Twitter accounts. In a mere three years, Twitter use expanded by a staggering 84 percentage-point margin.

LinkedIn, the “online resume” job networking site, has also seen massive growth in three years. As with Twitter, none of universities claimed to use LinkedIn in the original 2008-09 survey, and only 16 percent used it in the following  year’s survey. The most recent survey, however, reflects a 31 percentage-point increase, as 47 percent of surveyed colleges use LinkedIn, particularly admissions professionals.

Facebook, often regarded as the centerpiece of social media, is unsurprisingly the most used social media tool in higher education. In 2008-09, 61 percent of universities reported using it, and a year later, that number was up to 87 percent. In the most recent study, 98 percent of colleges reported using Facebook to connect with the world.

The infograph also listed the three greatest successes and challenges to using social media in higher education.

Most administrators agree that safe communities created within social media—how professors can link students to course materials via monitored virtual environments—is a positive movement. Social media also encourages collaboration among students and professors, and it gives them opportunities to produce good content and further market a university’s unique fingerprint and identity.

In contrast, a lack of knowledge was reported as a major social media deterrent.

“A school’s social media account must be managed by someone who understands social media and is passionate about the school,” the infograph reads. “Otherwise, students will feel it isn’t authentic.”

Lack of connectivity also can make students feel isolated. Additionally, once universities begin using social media, they must maintain and constantly update their accounts in order to remain relevant.

“Students, current and potential, will judge the school based on their experiences with the school’s social media accounts,” the infograph reads.

The top five colleges lauded for their superb social media presence are Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, University of Notre Dame, Ohio State University, and Columbia University in the City of New York.

Check out the full infograph here:

Follow Assistant Editor Sarah Langmead @eCN_Sarah.


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