UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 14 January 2011

Previous Surveys of Institutional Use of Twitter

Back in July 2009 Liz Azyan published a UK University Twitterleague which listed the number of followers for various official University Twitter accounts. In September 2009 Liz followed this with a List Of UK University Twitter Accounts.

In May 2010 Duncan Hull published a post entitled The University of Twitter, UK: A Quick Survey. which summarised Twitter usage by the 20 Russell Group Universities – these are universities which:

represent the 20 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector.

As Duncan pointed out “they are exactly the kind of places you would expect to be embracing and experimenting with new technology“. In response to Duncan’s post Paul Dobson provided further analysis of Twitter usage by Russell Group Universities.

Finally I should mention a recent article on “Top 10 of Social Media in HE” published by the Science Guide blog which provides a summary of Twitter (and Facebook) usage across leading European Universities. This post points out that “Having a closer look at how universities from different countries perform in communicating via Twitter and Facebook, it is easy to see that Great Britain dominates the ranking” :-)

Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities

Building on such previous work, a survey of institutional use of Twitter by Russell Group University Web sites was carried out on Monday 10th January 2011. The survey recorded the number of followers, users followed and tweets published. In addition links to the Tweetstats service are given which provide additional statistical information on Twitter usage, together with a summary of the average number of tweets posts per month. A record was also made of the location and biographical details of the institutional accounts. This information is published in the following table.

 Ref. No. Institution Nos. of Followers Following Tweets Tweetstats
1 University of Birmingham: @unibirmingham
Name: Birmingham Uni
Location: Birmingham, UK
Web: http://www.birmin…
Bio: News and events from the University of Birmingham
4,681 222 1,011 Tweetstats for University of Birmingham:Average 40 tweets per month
2 University of Bristol: @bristoluniName: Bristol University
Location: Bristol, England
Web: http://www.bristo…
Bio: News, events and general announcements from the University of Bristol
4,040   33 1,164 Tweetstats for University of Bristol:Average 91 tweets per month
3 University of Cambridge: @cambridge_uniName: Cambridge University
Location: Cambridge, England
Web: http://www.cam.ac…
Bio: News and Events from the University of Cambridge
11,759 211   923 Tweetstats for University of Cambridge:Average 43 tweets per month
4 Cardiff University: @cardiffuni
Name: Cardiff University
Location: Cardiff, UK
Web: http://www.cardif…
Bio:
6,764  43   862 Tweetstats for Cardiff University:Average 25 tweets per month
5 University of Edinburgh: @uniofedinburgh
Name: Edinburgh University
Location: Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Web: http://www.ed.ac.uk/
Bio: Official news and events from The University of Edinburgh
4,092 177   666 Tweetstats for University of Edinburgh:Average 25 tweets per month
6 University of Glasgow: @glasgowuni
Name
:
Glasgow University
Location: Scotland
Web: http://www.glasgo…
Bio: Official news and events from the University of Glasgow
6,007 122   716 Tweetstats for University of Glasgow:Average 26 tweets per month
7 Imperial College: @imperialcollegeName: Imperial College
Location: London
Web: http://www3.imper…
Bio: Imperial on Twitter – follow us for campus alerts and daily highlights. Send your tweet tipoffs to twitter@imperial.ac.uk, or talk direct via @imperialcollege
6,210 2,248  889 Tweetstats for Imperial CollegeAverage 42 tweets per month
8 King’s College London: @kingscollegelonName: King’s CollegeLondon
Location: London UK
Web: http://www.kcl.ac.uk
Bio: News from King’s College London. King’s is a multi-faculty research-led institution and one of the world’s top 25 universities.
865  139  192 Tweetstats for King’s College London:Average 21 tweets per month
9 University of Leeds: @universityleeds
Name
:
University of Leeds
Location: Leeds, UK
Web: http://www.leeds….
Bio:
3,161  188  573 Tweetstats for University of Leeds:Average 44 tweets per month
10 University of Liverpool: @liverpooluni:
Obsolete Account
1,450 0 1
10 University of Liverpool: @livuni
Name: Uni of Liverpool
Location: Liverpool, UK
Web: http://www.liv.ac.uk/study/
Bio: This is the official Twitter channel of the University of Liverpool. Any questions? Tweet us!
2,900 405 1,352 Tweetstats for University of Liverpool:Average 50 tweets per month;
11 LSE:
No central single Twitter account found. However several official accounts exists e.g. @LSEpublicevents and @LSENews

12 University of Manchester:
No central single Twitter account found
13 Newcastle University:
No central single Twitter account found
14 University of Nottingham: @uniofnottinghamName: Nottingham Uni
Location: Nottingham
Web: http://www.nottin…
Bio: A twitter channel for Nottingham University
3,179 1,850 1,662 Tweetstats for University of NottinghamAverage 74 tweets per month
15 University of Oxford: @uniofoxford
Name
:
Oxford University
Location:
Web: http://www.ox.ac.uk
Bio: Twitter stream of the University of Oxford
12,265    48  380 Tweetstats for University of OxfordAverage 74 tweets per month
16 Queen’s University Belfast: @queensubelfast
Name: Queen’s University
Location: Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK
Web: http://www.qub.ac.uk
Bio: Queen’s has a record of academic achievement which stretches back more than 150 years. It offers a world class portfolio of research & educational opportunities
1,127    91  369 Tweetstats for Queen’s University BelfastAverage 23 tweets per month
17 University of Sheffield: @sheffielduni
Name
:Sheffield University
Location:Sheffield, UK
Web: http://www.sheffi…
Bio: Founded in 1905, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading Russell Group universities with an outstanding record in both teaching and research.
5,869 5,089  744 Tweetstats for University of Sheffield:Average 30 tweets per month
18 University of Southampton: @southamptonnewsName: Uni of Southampton
Location: University Road, Southampton
Web: http://www.southa…
Bio: The official twitter channel for the University of Southampton.
1,876   302  796 Tweetstats for University of Southampton:Average 30 tweets per month
19 University College London: @uclnewsName: UCL News
Location: London
Web: http://www.ucl.ac…
Bio: News from UCL – London’s Global University
2,523   190  940 Tweetstats for University College London:Average 44 tweets per month
20 University of Warwick: @warwickuni
Name
:
Warwick University
Location: United Kingdom
Web: http://www.warwic…
Bio:
6,334   715 1,137 Tweetstats for University of Warwick:Average 40 tweets per month
TOTAL 83,562 12,073 14,376

Note the @lsepublicevents (which is described as “Free public lectures and debates at LSE, with high profile speakers from government, politics, business, academia and civil society. http://www.lse.ac.uk/events” was not included in this list of institutional accounts as his seems to be a departmental Twitter account. However, for the record, this Twitter account had 10,542 f0llowers, was following 1,162 account and had posted 3,470 tweets.

Discussion

Institutional use of Twitter is relatively new, so best practices are not yet well established. Surveys of Twitter usage can help to identify patterns of usage from which in may be possible to observe emerging best practices.

Profile Information

The information on the Twitter profile can help to understand how institutions regard their use of Twitter.

  • Institutions which make it clear that the Twitter account is an official channel or is providing official news : Universities of Edinburgh and Southampton.
  • Institutions which define the scope of the Twitter account as covering news and/or events: Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, KCL and UCL.
  • Institutions which provide marketing information in their Twitter profile: KCL, Queen’s University Belfast and Sheffield.

Location Information

A variety of location information was provided in the profiles:

  • City and UK: Seven Eight instances: Birmingham, UK; Cardiff, UK; Edinburgh, United Kingdom; Liverpool, UK; London UK; Leeds, UK; Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK; Sheffield, UK
  • City and country: Two instances: Bristol, England; Cambridge, England
  • Country only: Two instances: Scotland; United Kingdom
  • City only: Four instances: London; Liverpool; Nottingham; London
  • Road and city: One instance: University Road, Southampton
  • No location: One instance: University of Oxford

Location information could potentially be used by automated harvesting tools or by location-sensitive applications. Note it was also noted that non of the Twitter accounts provided location information in a machine-readable format.

Links

The following institutions provided links to their institutional Web site from their Twitter profile:

  • Links to home page: Universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton and Warwick and Queen’s University Belfast, Imperial College and KCL
  • Link to news page: UCL
  • Link to Study page: Liverpool
  • Link to about/help information: None

Note that links to an institutional Web site from a popular service such as Twitter may help in enhancing an institution’s Google ranking. [Note as described in a comment to this post, this is unlikely to happen due to use of the NOFOLLOW attribute.]

Also note that a link to a help page could provide information on how the Twitter account is being used.

Metrics

A summary showing the range of various Twitter metrics is given below:

  • Numbers of Twitter followers: The numbers ranged from 865 -12,265.
  • Numbers of Twitter users followed: The numbers ranged from 33-5,089.
  • Numbers of tweets: The numbers ranged from 192-1,167.
  • Average numbers of tweet per month: The numbers ranged from 23-91.
  • Numbers of institutions not apparently using an official Twitter account: Three institutions to not seem to have an official Twitter account and one institution is not using what seem to be an official Twitter account.

Note that:

  • The number Twitter followers may be some indication of value. However this number is likely to be influenced by the size of the institution:
  • An institution may wish to develop a policy on following other Twitter users. There is no need to follow other Twitter users, especially if the Twitter account is used for one-way broadcasting of information. If Twitter accounts are followed this will allow direct messages (DMs) to be sent between the institution and the user. Also not that it is possible to configure a Twitter account so that new followers are automatically followed back.
  • The number of tweets posted will be affected by the date the Twitter account was created. The average number of tweets posted per month may be a more useful way of comparing usage patterns across institutions.

Emerging Best Practices

The following suggestions are proposed for best practices for institutional Twitter accounts:

  • An appropriate profile should be provided. This could be used, for example, to clarify the status of the Twitter account, the scope of usage and to promote the host institution.
  • The location of the host institution should be provided, in text and as geo-located metadata, in order for tweets to be available to location-aware services.
  • Twitter profiles should provide links back to appropriate pages on the institution’s Web site.

Note that it is probably also desirable to provide a policy on use of an institutional Twitter account. It may be desirable to link to the policy from the Twitter profile, so that users can easily discover the scope of the Twitter account, policies on following users and policies on responding to messages.

Also note that this post does not seek to address the question as to whether an institution should have an official Twitter account. That question, and related issues such as the purpose of the account, who should manage it and how it should be resourced, will be very dependent on institutional factors, including issues such as the relationship with other communication channels, possibly including Facebook.

Finally it should be added that it was observed that many of the institutional Twitter accounts had branded the Twitter home page, some with just a background image but others, such as Cardiff University, with additional textual information and link information (though this is not hyperlinked). However it should be noted that information provided on the Twitter background will not be available to those who use a dedicated Twitter client so there will be a need to provide relevant information in the Twitter bio field.

Your Feedback

I’d welcome feedback and comments on this survey and the accompanying suggestions. Is the data I’m provided correct? Are the suggested emerging best practices appropriate? Are there other suggestions which could be provided? I’m always welcome snapshots of Twitter statistics for other institutions (from the UK and beyond), although note that in order to provide meaningful comparisons, data should be provided for an official institutional Twitter account and not for departmental accounts.


NOTE: Information on the official University of Liverpool Twitter account has been received (which could not be found easily on Google). The table and summary information have been updated. Also note that the totals in the table were collated after the post was initially published.


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

29 Responses to “Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities”

  1. Thanks for pulling this together Brian, a very good summary of what’s going on currently. The data is correct for us (at the time of the survey). It would be interesting to know how people are being listed as well. We’re trying to pull together a Twitter list in Cambridge of known “official” Cambridge Twitter accounts. This will hopefully then provide an easy way of getting an aggregated feed of all Cambridge related tweets (something we need internally, possibly might be a bit noisy for external users).

    I agree with the idea of making it clearer what sort of activity the account will be used for, and ultimately, linking to an about/help page. This could also serve as a useful entry point to our Twitter feed from our website.

    Barney Brown
    Digital Communications Manager
    University of Cambridge

  2. [...] 14, 2011 Infoskills Leave a Comment Tags: Twitter Reading @briankelly’s post on Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities just now, where he refers to an old list of Twitter accounts compiled (in a blog post) by Liz [...]

  3. Agree with what Barney has said – excellent gathering of data in an area that quite honestly is chock full of confusing stats. Kudos!

    I’ve long had an interest in HE leaders usage of Twitter specifically (see blog post: http://bit.ly/aHfYJn). From my limited research although institutions tend to have corporate Twitter accounts there are very few Vice-Chancellors that adopt the social networking site to engage with staff, student and other stakeholders.

    I hypothesise in my blog that there are several reasons why this occurs including the perception that it can interrupt work; takes too much time; opens them up to attack etc. But in the case of Dominic Shellard of DeMontfort, his tweets have received nothing but praise for is quick and open behaviour from staff and students alike.

    They view him as someone they can approach, and unlike large numbers of VC’s he is known when he roams the campus. The morale is high, the appreciation of the university and support for it is also high and so support for what the benefits of higher education are is felt through all members of the community who ‘follow’ him.

    If only this can be encouraged.

    I’d be interested in hearing thoughts on why it is so difficult to encourage senior management to engage in the social media world?

  4. Chalie said

    University of Liverpool actually have a much more prolific twitter stream http://twitter.com/livuni rather than @liverpooluni that you use above (which was started in 2009 but quickly abandoned) – do you think you would be able to update the stats to reflect that? Also have you looked at University Library, Student Union and other twitter feeds at Russell Group unis? That would be an interesting area to look investigate next.

  5. Rich Ashby said

    This is a really helpful survey. Thanks for posting. I manage the University of Leeds Twitter feed, and it’s always interesting to see how Russell Group colleagues are using social media.

    More than happy to discuss our experiences, and share best practice with anyone interested.

  6. Hi Brian

    I suppose we all remember the derision with which the Government’s 20 page guide to using Twitter was met – but it had useful suggestions and, as you’ve observed here, getting it right is clearly non-trivial!

    I noticed a while back that Twitter has (or had) a verification system, for distinguishing official celebrity and world leader accounts from those that would spoof them – do you think something that might be warranted, whether maintained by Twitter or some authoritative body within HE? (An aggregation of all such official accounts would also grow to be an interesting record.)

  7. [...] Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities « UK Web Focusukwebfocus.wordpress.com [...]

  8. Graham Robinson said

    Note that links to an institutional Web site from a popular service such as Twitter may help in enhancing an institution’s Google ranking.

    Their source code is just a mass of javascript but most of the links in Twitter are surrounded by nofollow tags, in the hope that spammers don’t use them to boose their ratings.

  9. I think that this is a really useful survey of what’s out there in the Russell Group although there are also some interesting use cases emerging in lots of other institutions – not just from the wider group of universities but also some of the museums and galleries (on a related note the Digital Futures for Cultural Heritage Education project is well worth a look).

    Your table and discussion draws out the fact that few of the accounts are following others’ back. For growing and developing Twitter presences this is hugely important, particularly for curating real 2-way communication on Twitter. It’s something we have been doing for the AddressingHistory project’s twitter account and it certainly helped us grow our engaged audience quickly. Use of #FF (Follow Friday) posts, retweets and replies also give a really different character to a Twitter account than a one way stream of updates (no matter how good those updates are).

    The stats above are really helpful but it would be interesting to think more about the content of Tweets – as Richard has said the 20 page guidelines felt a little heavy handed but reflection on what works in this space is required and it can take a while to get what you tweet quite right. What I think is also interesting when you look at the main institutional accounts (as above) is the role of department – is the Twitter account led by PR and marketing staff, by alumni staff, by registration staff, by the IT department, by academics? It makes a huge difference to interest, engagement and the way in which the institution is represented. Where other accounts for an institution exist there can, however, be some interesting scope for strategic retweeting to ensure a consistent forcus for each stream but also cross-pollination across content and audiences.

    A few notes on profiles to add to your discussion:

    - Transparency around accounts – Marketing and social media companies in particular (others too) increasingly use their profile text to indicates who tweets indicating usernames as well as loose department (e.g. this account is updated by our social media team @name1 @name2 and @name3) to encourage a connection between personal professional identities (that may precede company affiliations) and personalise the corporate presence. There are all sorts of reasons why this may not be quite right for HE/FE type institutions but it’s a practice worth being aware of.

    - Geolocating tweets/profiles – I think that city/country etc. are relatively machine readable in the context of Twitter (so long as the locations are spelled correctly!) as the API is fairly robust and using tools like Unlock it’s possible to turn a text placename into a map location automatically for mashups etc. However giving a location as just “UK” or “Scotland” is not as useful. I’d certainly think any University would be happy to identify their nearest city or town – although for multi-campus institutions I can see there could be good reasons for not doing so. Geolocating individual tweets would be a fantastic additional way for an organisational account to be found but it’s only going to be appropriate in certain circumstances such as high profile events, conferences or building openings.

    - Profile image/completeness – I agree entirely with your best practice bullets and would add that complete profiles that link back to official institutional webpages is crucial in any social media space (including Facebook where people often forget that it is the small info panel that most see not the fuller info tab). I would add that a well branded properly scaled profile image is crucial to branding any Twitter presence – it will take most designers a few minutes to create this but it has far greater impact than a poorly scaled/low resolution/inexpertly created profile image. We’ve simplified our logos for some social media profile images because these are your most visible branding on most of what you will post – particularly given the usage of third party apps for services like Twitter.

    - Wallpapers – I agree that the wallpaper area behind a profile is less seen but can be useful however the move to “new twitter” – which has just recently been activated for a lot of existing Twitter accounts – compromises screen estate. You are now looking at about 10% of the screen either side of the main Twitter panel making text harder to read and make use of. As wallpapers are images any text will only ever be human readable and will not link back to webpages so I think it’s important to make good impact rather than the fullest textual impression here – we’re currently redesigning the Twitter wallpapers here to take account of the changes.

    Finally, on verification, as Twitter currently have this set up it’s only suitable where there are a high number of duplicate, satire or confusable accounts. For many universities this is unlikely to be the case but I think they will be bringing in a new system that allows for wider verification – though I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if this was a revenue generating activity as names can not be entirely disambiguated and as it stands there is an inherant trustworthiness and value to that verified rosette.

    OK, that’s more than enough from me. Thanks for this post and the discussion though – Twitter has gone sufficiently mainstream in the last year that I think we’ll be seeing many more discussions of this kind over the coming months.

    - Nicola Osborne, EDINA Social Media Officer

  10. Many thanks for the various comments, both here and on Twitter.

    Note that in response to suggestions that this survey shouldn’t be restricted to Russell Group Universities, the aim was for a small-scale and light-weight survey which would have sufficient variety to illustrate a diversity of approaches. The Russell Group Universities provide a good geographical spread, with institutions based in the four home countries. Since these institutions describe themselves as “the 20 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining the very best research, an outstanding teaching and learning experience and unrivalled links with business and the public sector” we might expect to see good practices which the wider community may find useful.

    If the survey approach I have used is felt to be useful then I would encourage others to carry out similar surveys across their region, group (e.g. the 1994 Group) or, perhaps, other official institutional use of Twitter within an institution. Note that I’d also encourage anyone carrying out such surveys to openly publish the results.

  11. “However it should be noted that information provided on the Twitter background will not be available to those who use a dedicated Twitter client so there will be a need to provide relevant information in the Twitter bio field.”

    and of course, this practice goes against the most fundamental accessibility principles.

  12. [...] Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities [...]

  13. [...] Kelly (UKOLN) reported on institutional use of Twitter amongst Russell Group universities. The study compared number of followers of institutional twitter accounts, number of people they [...]

  14. [...] this with a brief summary (which you could turn into a ranking if you really wanted to) on the use of twitter by Russell Group universities. It does suggest that UK universities are still a bit behind the curve on [...]

  15. [...] Brian Kelly wrote a great post exploring Russell Group uni’s use of Twitter, and explores what might be emerging best practice for HE use. The post looked at central, official, feeds rather than the mass plurality of research centers, departments and facilities using the platform. [...]

  16. [...] Posts Best UK University Web Sites – According to Sixth FormersInstitutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group UniversitiesFeedback Invited on Briefing Paper on Holistic Approaches to Web AccessibilityGathering and Using [...]

  17. [...] of Twitter by the 1994 Group of UK Universities, Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities, Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities and How is the UK HE Sector [...]

  18. [...] in summarising the statistics, where did the Twitterers tweet from?  In a post on Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities I observed in a survey of institutional use of Twitter by the Russell Group Universities that there [...]

  19. [...] survey of Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities was published back in January 2011. This survey provided a snapshot of institutional use of [...]

  20. [...] This year I’ll again provide a snapshot of the statistics for the blog.  There have been 988 posts published and 4,610 comments (which, I should add, includes referrer links). There have been 377,300+ views, with an average of 205 views per day over the five years. The busiest day was 14 January 2011 when there were 1,420 views following the publication of a post on Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities. [...]

  21. [...] between academics and those “outside” academic institutions. Thousands of scholars and higher education institutions are participating in social media (such as Twitter), as an important aspect of their research and [...]

  22. [...] between academics and those “outside” academic institutions. Thousands of scholars and higher education institutions are participating in social media (such as Twitter), as an important aspect of their research and [...]

  23. [...] 2007 up to January 2011, together with similar surveys of institutional use of services such as Twitter, YouTube and iTunes. It would be interesting to capture early examples of institutional uses of [...]

  24. [...] original was an image rather than a table).  The findings can be compared with the findings for Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities, carried out in January 2011 from which we found a much greater diversity on the number of [...]

  25. [...] have described institutional use of social media by UK universities, including surveys of use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and links to social media services. These surveys were followed by a post [...]

  26. [...] for Russell Group University Twitter Accounts. The survey built on a previous survey of Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities published  in January 2011. That survey provided a snapshot of institutional use of Twitter [...]

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