The ROI on Higher Education’s Use of Social Media

In post-recession American, the organizational focus on the bottom line and the return on investment has becoming increasingly focused on in an organization’s strategy. Even within the realm of higher education, where we are not necessarily as profit focused as private business enterprises, return on investment is still an important metric of success. According to a recent article featured on Inside Higher Education, college administrators are more confident than ever that social media outlets are useful to achieving institutional goals and that their own institutions have been more successful than ever. However, the exact metrics for measuring this success remain a challenge.

I recommend taking a look at the 2012 Topline report on Social Media & Advancement Research, a study that focuses on how institutions (mainly colleges and universities) use social media related activities. In summation of the report’s key findings, about 96% of respondents agreed that “social media have great potential for achieving important goals in my unit.” An additional 90% responded that their unit’s social media efforts are at least “somewhat successful.” And a promising 86% reported they disagreed that it is “too soon to say whether social media will be useful at all in our line of work.”

For a social media enthusiast like myself, the Topline survey results are a great sign of success – however, understanding the exact “outcomes” of social media efforts and campaigns are a bit more elusive. To give an example, as the Inside Higher Ed article mentioned, most administrators looked to at criteria such as “the number of ‘active’ friends, likes, members, people who post, or number of comments” as metrics for evaluating their social media success. While these metrics are important, they are also a bit crude, in the sense that they represent the most basic of social media activities. This raises the question as to if it is more important to count the number of likes, or focus on the level of influence wielded by those who like your posts.

The quintessential quality over quantity debate.

My opinion is that both matter for different reasons – and even if most of your “likers” are not highly influential, you never know who could find your social media profile through many degrees of separation. However, I do think it is important for higher education institutions to encourage the use of social media in an intelligent and mindful way – and I am not quite sure if a “follow” or a “like” is truly a genuine interaction.

As I also mentioned in a recent post – we are still learning about social media’s best practices and will be for the foreseeable future. If the Topline report results were not enough, for anyone who may need a reminder about the power we posses at our fingertips and laptops screens when we use social media for both personal and professional purposes, I recommend this inspiring video clip.



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