UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2 Aug 2012


On 1 August the 20 Russell Group universities was enlarged from 20 to 24, following the incorporation of Durham and Exeter University, Queen Mary, University of London and the University of York. As described on the Russell Group University Web site “[the] universities are to be found in all four nations and in every major city of the UK. They operate globally, attracting international students and academic staff from many different countries, but also have a strong role and influence within their regional and local community.” But how effective are they in using popular social media services to attract potential students, engage with existing students and staff and with the wider community? In order to provide a benchmark of use of the most popular social networking service a survey of the number of likes for the official institutional Facebook presence has been carried out.

Facebook Usage for Russell Group Universities

In order to gather evidence of use of Facebook in the higher education sector a survey of Facebook usage, determined by links for institutional pages, have been carried out for the Russell Group universities. This survey follows on from previous surveys carried out in January and September 2011 and May 2012 for the 20 Russell group universities which enabled trends to be detected which can inform discussions and policy decisions on institutional use of Facebook. Note that the data provided in the following table is also available as a Google Spreadsheet.

 Ref. No. Institution and Web site link
Facebook name and link
Nos. of Likes
(Jan 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(Sep 2011)
Nos. of Likes
(May 2012)
Nos. of Likes
(Aug 2012)
% increase
since Sep 2011
 1 InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Fb nameunibirmingham
8,558  14,182  18,611   20,756    46%
 2 InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Fb nameUniversity-of-Bristol/108242009204639
2,186   7,913  11,480  12,357    56%
 3 InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
58,392 105,645 153,000 168,000    59%
 4 InstitutionCardiff University
Fb namecardiffuni
20,035  25,945   30,648  31,989     23%
 5 InstitutionDurham University
Fb nameDurham-University/109600695725424
 –   –  10,843    –
 6 InstitutionUniversity of Exeter
Fb nameintouniversityofexeter  exeteruni
 –   –    1,765
 7 InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
Fb nameUniversityOfEdinburgh
(Page URL changed since first survey)
 12,053   24,507   27,574  112%
 8 InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow
Fb Name: glasgowuniversity
  1,860   27,149  29,840 1,504%
 9 InstitutionImperial College
Fb nameimperialcollegelondon
5,490  10,257  16,444  19,020    85%
10 InstitutionKing’s College London
Fb nameKings-College-London/54237866946
2,047   3,587   5,384   7,534   110%
11 InstitutionUniversity of Leeds
Fb nameuniversityofleeds
   899   2,143    3,091    243%
12 InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Fb name: livuni
(Page URL change since last survey)
2,811  3,742   4,410   4,655 5,239     40%
13 InstitutionLSE
Fb name: lseps
Page URL changed for this survey)
22,798  32,290 43,716   50,287    56%
14 InstitutionUniversity of Manchester
Fb nameUniversity-Of-Manchester/365078871967
1,978   4,734   9,356   13,751   190%
15 InstitutionNewcastle University
Fb namenewcastleuniversity
    115      693    1,084   840%
16 InstitutionUniversity of Nottingham
Fb nameTheUniofNottingham
3,588    9,991  14,692   17,133     71%
17 InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
137,395 293,010 541,000 628,000  114%
18 InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Fb nameQueen-Mary-University-of-London/107998909223423
 –   –  13,362    –
19 InstitutionQueen’s University Belfast
Fb nameQueensUniversityBelfast
(Page URL changed for this survey)
5,211   10,063   16,989  226%
20 InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Fb nametheuniversityofsheffield
6,646 12,412  19,308   22,746   83%
21 InstitutionUniversity of Southampton
Fb nameunisouthampton
3,328 6,387  18,062   19,790  209%
22 InstitutionUniversity College London
Fb nameUCLOfficial
977 4,346  33,853  37,493  760%
23 InstitutionUniversity of Warwick
Fb namewarwickuniversity
8,535 12,112 14,472   15,103    25%
24 InstitutionUniversity of York
Fb nameuniversityofyork
 –   –    11,212    –
TOTAL 287,767 566,691 998,991 1,184,958



Facebook ‘Likes’ for Russell Group Universities in August 2012

There are now over a million ‘likes’ for the institutional presence on Facebook of the 24 Russell Group universities.

A post on this blog previously described a significant increase over  a period of eight months in the number of ‘likes’ for the twenty UK Russell Group Universities, which totalled about 999K in May. The current increase over a period of about ten weeks is primarily due to the additional numbers provided by the four new Russell group universities, which come to a total of over 37K likes.

It should be noted that, as illustrated 67% of the likes are provided by just two institutions: the Facebook pages for the University of Oxford (with 628K likes) and the University of Cambridge (168K likes).

Note that a Google Spreadsheet of these figures, together with the accompanying charts, is available.


In some circles providing evidence of Facebook usage is an activity which  people feel should be avoided, since Facebook is a ‘walled garden’ and has a blatant disregard for individual’s privacy.

In the higher education sector I would argue that we have a need for policy decisions to be informed by evidence. There is therefore a need to gather evidence of use of such services in order to inform decisions on their use and also to learn from their strengths and weaknesses and their popularity, so that such lessons can be used in order to make more effective use of existing services and also to be prepared to use new social media service which could replace or complement today’s popular services. Anyone who would like to see Facebook replaced by Diaspora, say (described in Wikipedia as “a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network that is based upon the free Diaspora software … is not owned by any one person or entity, keeping it safe from corporate take-overs, advertising, and other threats“)  would surely benefit from gaining an understanding of Facebook’s popularity.

From looking at the names of institutional Facebook accounts and the corresponding URLs and the popularity of the accounts it would appear beneficial to have an easily remembered name, to avoid fragmentation of official accounts and  to avoid the need to rename an accounts address.

This might suggest that it would be useful for institutions to claim a meaningful name on social networks which may gain in popularity in the future. As suggested in a post on Institutional Use of Social Media in China this has been an approach which has been adopted by 19 of the first 20 institutions with an official presence on China’s Sina Wēibó social media service.

But at a time in which it is increasingly important to be able to justify the return on investment in using new services, it will be important to document the intended purposes of such new services and the benefits which may be gained. Back in May 2007 in a post entitled Something IS Going On With Facebook! I commented on early signals of growth in interest in Facebook following the launch of the Facebook Platform. A few months later, in November 2007 a post entitled UK Universities On Facebook reported that “a Facebook search for organisations containing the word ‘university’ revealed ) a total of 76 hits which included, in alphabetical order, the following UK Universities: AstonCardiffKent and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)” – and it is interesting to note that the links to the Facebook pages for these early adopters still work even though the URLs have changed.

The post generated a large number of comments with Patrick Lauke asking:

so, for those unis who have a “page” (with new revised Ts&Cs) on facebook…what are your strategic objectives? key performance indicators? external target audience, or a mix of internal and external?

Looking back it would be interesting to see if an institutional Facebook presence has supported strategic objectives. Would the 24 Russell Group Universities  have regarded having a total of over a million as providing a proxy measure of some objective? On the other hand, might this be regarded as a failure?  We have five years of experience of institutional use of Facebook, which includes a number of snapshots of quantitative evidence. It will be interesting to see how this evidence of the recent past can shape and inform discussions and decisions on use of social media over the next five years.

I should add that following the survey in May  2012 Tom Wright, Digital Engagement Manager at the University of Nottingham, commented:

Interesting to see these stats, but to gauge how successful universities are with Facebook you really need to look at other metrics around engagement, reach, influence, etc. You can have plenty of likes but very little engagement and measuring likes is very much like judging a web page’s success based on simple page view numbers – a very raw measure that doesn’t tell you an awful lot. 

I would agree with these comments, although I should add that since such information is restricted to Facebook page administrators it is not possible to get a picture across a community.  However a follow-up post which provided a Survey of Institutional Use of Facebook was also published in May which contained information about a survey in which Tom and I invited those involved in using Facebook to support institutional activities to provide details of their work. In order to gain a broad picture of Facebook use across the sector this survey is still open.


5 Responses to “Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities”

  1. Matt Hurst said

    Hi Brian,

    Please note that University of Liverpool’s official Facebook page is found at and not the address featured in your report.
    Please contact us to clarify.

    Matt Hurst, University of Liverpool

  2. […] Institutional Use of Facebook (May 2012) with the final survey in August 2012 which recorded  Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities capturing a snapshot the day after the numbers of Russell Group universities had grown from 20 to […]

  3. […] the surveys was collected on 11 January 2011, 25 September  2011 (estimate),  16 May 2012, 2 August 2012 and 14 July […]

  4. […] Over One Million ‘Likes’ of Facebook Pages for the 24 Russell Group Universities […]

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