UK Web Focus

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Archive for February 9th, 2010

Investigation into Challenges, Application and Benefits of Social Media in UK HEIs

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 9 February 2010

A New Report

A new report on “An Investigation into the  Challenges, Application and Benefits of Social Media in Higher Education Institutes” has just been published.  This 28 page document was published by Jadu, a provider of Content Management Systems for public sector organisation.

The Process

Since I am aware there may be concerns in the sector related to a commercial company publishing such a report I should first declare my links with this report and with Jadu. Jadu were one of the commercial sponsors of UKOLN’s IWMW 2009 event. After last year’s event I was approached by Christine Fiddis, Jadu’s Marketing Director who wanted to carry out a survey of the higher education community to gain an understanding of how the sector was responding to the challenges and benefits of Social Media.   Christine is very aware of certain sensitivities within the sector to surveys from commercial companies.  My suggestion was to make the report freely available under a Creative Commons licence and to keep to a minimum any sales pitch in the report.  I also suggested providing an incentive to those involved in managing institutional Web services – and an iPod prize was provided to the lucky winner. I also provided some suggestions on the questions on the survey and gave some minor comments on the final report, as well as drawing the prize from an electronic hat (I used a random number generator to select a number which Christine used to identify the winner).

I’m pleased to say that the report is licensed under a Creation Commons Attribution licence – and there are only two brief paragraphs about the company.

The Content

Sixty responses were received from 44 HEIs across the UK (36 in England, 3 in Wales and 6 in Scotland). Responses were received from people working in Web management, marketing, media and communications, learning and development, business, libraries and IT management and services.

The top three challenges to date in implementing social media which were identified were (1) developing the business case for its usage; (2) overcoming cultural issues and (3) dealing with current software compatibility issues.

There are few restrictions on access to social Web services in the community, with unrestricted access to Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr reported by 90% of the institutions.

The two most frequently used external social networking tools are Twitter (68.3%), YouTube (60.7%) followed by social networking tools such as Facebook and MySpace (57.49%). 47.3% of respondents intend to adopt Twitter over the next two years; 41.8% intend to YouTube and 41.1% social networking tools such as Facebook and MySpace. A much smaller percentage of respondents intend to adopt ‘customised’ social networking tools such as Ning.com and Yammer.

67.9% of respondents believed that the main factor in influencing the development of HEI’s social media strategy is the user base, with the web team’s role to respond to user demand. This compared to 44.6% of respondents who believed that the Web team was driving strategy development.

There is currently little if any integration of content management systems with social media technologies within those HEIs responding. [This will be the marketing opportunity for the commercial sector, I feel].

The four major issues identified in the report are:

HEI Management need a stronger business case:  Building a business case for social media adoption is the number one challenge for HEIs both now and in the future. Whilst users are convinced of the benefits, HEI management need a stronger business case.

The strategic approach to managing social media is evolving: The future strategy for responding to social media development is unclear in many institutions. No firm conclusion appears to have been reached on ownership and management this new development. It is also not clear whether social media technologies should be treated as a separate strategy, or embedded in core operations?

Can unrestricted use continue? The low level of restrictions currently applied to social media usage has implications for a wide range of areas including privacy, intellectual property to data protection. As usage grows it is likely that these issues will increase in profile and impact.

Increased awareness is needed to address cultural issues: Awareness of the potential benefits of social media and its usage was identified as a ‘generational issue’ by a number of respondents. The development of short programmes around the ‘benefits of social media technologies’ for HEIs could address this situation and the cultural issues identified.

What Next?

This summary may be unsurprising, but it provides value evidence on the perceptions of the challenges and concerns of those practitioners involved in providing and managing institutional Web-based services. This reports complements the “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World” report produced by a team led by Sir David Melville which, as I described last year, provided a senior management perspective which acknowledged the importance  of the Social Web.

I would encourage all those involved in the management of institutional Web services to read this report.  Myself and my colleague Marieke Guy feel that the issues raised in the report could well form an important part of the programme for UKOLN’s IWMW 2010 event, which will be held in the University of Sheffield on 12-14 July 2010.  As I mentioned recently the call for submissions is currently open – so if anyone is willing to give a talk, perhaps on the four key challenges listed above or, perhaps more appropriately, facilitate a 90 minute workshop session on these issues, we’d love to hear from you.

And I’d like to leave the final thoughts to Kathryn Chedgzoy, Development & Alumni Relations Officer at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick. In a 5 minute video clip available on Vimeo Kathryn discusses how her institution is adopting a social media strategy and the challenges she feels need to be faced.

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