UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 18 January 2011

Background

At a time of flux and upheaval in the higher education sector there is a need to be able to understand how institutions are responding to a changed environment. There may be a particular need to understand how networked services are being used which may have previously been regarded, in some areas, as inappropriate for institutional use. This is particularly true of Facebook which has been the subject of criticism for being a ‘walled-garden‘ and for what may be regarded as a cavalier approach to privacy.

But are institutions now making significant use of Facebook because of the benefits it is perceived to bring, such as the large ability to provide marketing to large numbers of users and the ability to embed other services within an environment which many users may be familiar with? Anecdotally we are hearing suggestions of the benefits which Facebook can provide,  such as the recent tweet from Stuart Brown which stated that  “10 course registrations attributable to OU FB apps Course Profiles and My OU Story“.

In order to provide a better understanding of how UK higher education institutions may be using Facebook a brief survey of official usage by Russell Group Universities has been carried out. The aim is to ensure that evidence is available to inform discussions on policies and practices.

Profiling Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities

A recent post summarised “Institutional Use of Twitter by Russell Group Universities“. The twenty Russell Group Universities have also been used for a survey of institutional use of Facebook. There have been suggestions that a more comprehensive survey across all UK Universities would be useful. Whilst this may be true it would be resource-intensive to carry out such a survey. The Russell Group Universities has therefore been selected partly because of the geographical diversity of these institutions, which includes institutions based in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In addition 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 the institutions tom be taking a leading role in exploiting social media to support their activities and provide examples of best practices which the wider community can learn from.

The survey of institutional Facebook usage by Russell Group Universities was carried out on 11 January 2011. The survey used Google to find an official institutional Facebook presence. Note in a number of cases no obvious institutional Facebook page could be found (note that Facebook pages for departments were not included).

A summary of the numbers of Facebook users who ‘liked’ the institution’s page is given, together with the numbers of ‘favourite pages’ the institution provides.   A list of additional pages available via the tabbed interface is also provided.

The results are given below.

Institution/Facebook page and Description Type Nos. of Likes Additional Pages (in addition to Wall and Info)
1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb name: unibirmingham 

Description: “The official page for the University of Birmingham.”

Branded URL 8,558 Welcome, Heroes, Events, Flickr, YouTube
2 Institution: University of Bristol
Fb name: 2202911691 

Description: “For all University of Bristol students, past, present and future.”

Facebook group 2,186 Photos, Discussions

NOTE Appears full of spam.

3 Institution: University of Cambridge
Fb name: cambridge.university 

Description: “We are one of the world’s oldest universities and leading academic centres, and a self-governed community of scholars. Cambridge comprises 31 Colleges and over 150 departments, faculties, schools and other institutions”

Branded short URL 58,392 YouTube, Photos, Twitter, House Rules, Notes
4 Institution: Cardiff University
Fb name: cardiffuni 

Description: “We want you to enjoy using our pages. To improve your experience, commercial posts & URLs are welcome in ‘Discussions’ but we will remove at our discretion anything we think could bring the University into disrepute. Thank you.”

Branded URL 20,035 About Us, Quick Links, Discussions, Photos, Events
5 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh

No official institutional page found (The Edinburgh University page seems to be a student page and the wall contains spam)

6 Institution: University of Glasgow

No official institutional page found

7 Institution: Imperial College
Fb name: imperialcollegelondon 

Description:  “Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research.”

Branded short URL 5,490 Photos, Discussions, Boxes, Video, Events
8 Institution: King’s College London
Fb name: Kings-College-London/54237866946 

Description: None

Facebook page 2,047 Photos, Boxes
9 Institution: University of Leeds

No official institutional page found. A University of Leeds Latest Update application is available but this does not seem to be being used.

10 Institution: University of Liverpool
Fb name: University-of-Liverpool/293602011521 

Description: None

Facebook page 2,811 Photos, Discussions
11 Institution: LSE
Fb name: LSE/6127898346 

Description: “The official page of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). This page will be updated with recent news from the School as well as information about forthcoming public events.”

Facebook page 22,798
12 Institution: University of Manchester
Fb name: University-Of-Manchester/365078871967 

Description: “Britain’s largest single-site university with a proud history of achievement and an ambitious agenda for the future.”

Facebook page 1,978 Photos, Discussions, Events, Video
13 Newcastle University

No official institutional page found

14 Institution: University of Nottingham
Fb name: The-University-of-Nottingham/130981200144 

Description: None

Facebook page 3,588 Photos, Boxes
15 Institution: University of Oxford
Fb name: the.university.of.oxford 

Description: “This is the official University of Oxford Facebook page. Our website is at www.ox.ac.uk

Branded URL 137,395 Boxes, Photos
16 Institution: Queen’s University Belfast

No official institutional page found

17 Institution: University of Sheffield
Fb name: theuniversityofsheffield 

Description: “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.”

Branded URL 6,646 Photos, Events, YouTube, Discussions, Videos, RSS/Blog
18 Institution: University of Southampton
Fb name: Southampton-University/77399508053 

Description: None

(Note as described in a comment the unisouthampton Facebook page was recently created and currently has 71 ‘likes’. This note added on 21 Jan 2010)

Facebook page 3,328 Photos, Boxes
19 Institution: University College London
Fb name: UCL/92637159209 

Description: “UCL is London’s leading multidisciplinary university, with 8,000 staff and 22,000 students. UCL was the first university in England to welcome students of any class, race or religion, and the first to welcome women on equal terms with men.”

Facebook page 977 Photos, Discussions
20 Institution: University of Warwick
Fb name: warwickuniversity 

Description: “The official Facebook page for the University of Warwick. This Facebook page was created and is maintained by the University of Warwick Communications Office and is the only ‘official’ university page.”

Branded URL 8,535 Discussions, Photos, Video, YouTube, Events
TOTAL 286,169

Summary

A summary of the data collected is given below:

  • Nos. of institutions with branded Facebook URL: 7
  • Nos. of institutions with Facebook page: 7
  • Nos. of institutions with Facebook group: 1
  • Nos. of institutions with no easily found institutional Facebook presence: 5
  • Nos. of institutions with neglected (or unofficial) institutional Facebook presence: 1
  • Range of ‘likes’:  2,047 – 137,395

Related Surveys

The popularity of Facebook usage at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge has been confirmed by a recent post on “Top 10 of Social Media in HE” published by the Science Guide blog. The Science Guide survey “conducted research and created a Top 10 list of [European] HE of the best in social media and presents three prestigious universities that lose out in the race for Twitter, Facebook and co“.

The survey went on to point out that:

UK universities are by far outperforming other countries in communicating via social media. More than 60% of all university twitter followers are connected to UK institutions. They also account for 42,4% of all Facebook members.

In addition the “institutions that are widely regarded as elite and prestigious in Europe …  are ranked highest in quality of research, but … still have to find their way into the 21st century” due to very limited or no use of Social Web service did not include any UK Universities.

Such comments suggest that UK Universities should be pleased with ways in which Social Web services are being integrated into existing services. But what additional observations can be made from the survey results published in this blog?

Discussion

How important might Facebook be to institutions?  I heard that at the recent Learning Without Frontiers conference it was suggested that Facebook users find the management capabilities of Facebook valuable as it makes it more difficult for content, such as embarrassing comments and photos, to escape into the wild.  Perhaps the ‘walled garden’ nature of Facebook is being regarded as a positive aspect of the service.

But is Facebook something which is only useful as a marketing  tool to attract new students or might it have a more significant role to play?  And rather than a one-way marketing channel might it have a role to play in facilitating discussions and debate and, if so,  might Facebook prove useful for internal discussions as well as engaging with new students?

I suspect the answers to such questions will be answered by observing patterns of usage, with, despite Facebook’s growth, the service is not liked by many who engage in actively discussions on blogs.  But looking at evidence of evidence of how Facebook is being used, rather than speculating on the relevance of Diaspora “privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network” I feel it is worth looking at the approaches being taken by Cambridge University, with its page on “House Rules” and Cardiff University, who, from the information provided on their Facebook page appear to be positive about the benefits the service can provide.

Is it realistic to argue against the popularity of Facebook (142,176,215 unique visitors according to compete.com) and for institutions, at a time of cuts, to promote alternatives? Or should we be making use of the service to support a variety of institutional activities?   If you feel the latter is a decision  we need to make (and many of the Russell Group Universities already have) then in order to ensure Facebook is being used effectively there is a need to share emerging best practices. Wouldn’t you agree?

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21 Responses to “Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities”

  1. Les Carr said

    Students are much more likely to have a “social engagement” with their department or school, rather than the institution as a whole. So I would look for different evidence of social networking in HE.

  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Bartlett and Brian Kelly. Brian Kelly said: Use of Facebook by Russell Group Universities: Background At a time of flux and upheaval in the higher education… http://bit.ly/g7bw4L [...]

  3. Simon Bains said

    I agree with that point by Les, especially for very large universities. See http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/uoebusiness for more effective use of FB at the school level.

  4. Thanks Les and Simon for your comments.

    If for large institutions such as Southampton and Edinburgh it would be more appropriate for individual departments or schools to provide their own Facebook presence then I guess it will be even more important to document best practices, to avoid, for examples, departmental Facebook pages becoming out-of-date and attracting spam posts.

  5. Helen Pettitt said

    The University of Southampton’s official page has recently been set up and is http://www.facebook.com/unisouthampton

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