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Editor's Note

A Useful Ranking Tool

University Business, May 2012

After a somewhat slow start, higher education institutions are increasingly taking advantage of social media to market themselves and keep constituents aware of what they are doing. A recent social media adoption study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth shows usage rates are increasing steadily in every year. For example, university Twitter usage jumped from 59 percent in the 2009-2010 school year to 89 percent in the 2010-2011 school year. Similarly, Facebook usage increased dramatically from 61 percent in 2008-2009 to 98 percent in 2010-2011. Blogging—still seen as a solid news distribution platform—has held steady at just below 50 percent usage.

So what’s the return on investment for these social media efforts? How does all that interaction play out as far as brand recognition, or the all-important “buzz”?

The Global Language Monitor’s Trend Topper MediaBuzz sheds some light on the subject. And, as such, it may be the most useful “ranking tool” a school can use in its recruitment, marketing, and development efforts.

The survey uses data from social media, blogs, and more than 175,000 print and electronic media outlets to gauge brand equity of 215 universities and 200 colleges. This information provides near real-time movements of an institution’s reputation or brand equity in the same way that consumer products are gauged. Think Nielsen ratings for higher ed. The result, they say, is “a non-biased analytical tool that provides a gauge of relative values among various institutions, as well as measures of how that value changes over time.”

That’s a useful tool to have, especially when gauging the impact of media attention, like the backlash of a scandal, for example. In the case of Penn State, the school dropped out of its usual top 10 ranking after recent scandals caught the nation’s attention and outrage—but it still maintained a high position on the list. This, perhaps, reflects a level of loyalty that is the essence of brand equity. “Significantly, only 3.42 percent of the global citations were considered of negative sentiment, so Penn State held onto a high ranking,” writes GLM.

In the survey of universities, MIT topped the list, followed by Harvard. “This was the first time a technical institute topped the rankings,” writes GLM, which has conducted the survey for the last eight years. “MIT did so by the largest distance ever measured in the history of the TrendTopper Rankings.”  (Although the report mention’s MIT’s OpenCourseWare platform as a reason for the positive buzz, it is more likely they meant MITx, OCW’s recent successor, which got worldwide attention last month.) Others on the university list included the University of Chicago in third place, Columbia University (N.Y.) in fourth, and University of Wisconsin-Madison in fifth. The full list of universities and master-degree granting institutions can be seen at

On the list of top colleges for social media use, the University of Richmond (Va.) was ranked first, followed in order by Williams College (Mass.), Smith College (Mass.), Bucknell University (Pa.), and Union College (N.Y.). The complete GLM list of liberal arts and colleges focusing on baccalaureate instruction can be seen at

Still, it should be remembered that even the 415 schools noted in the surveys represent about a tenth of all the higher education institutions in the country. The challenge is on for the rest of them to fight their way onto future lists.