As Twitter use has exploded, it has become an increasingly important communications tool for organizations of all kinds. To understand the effect it has had on educational institutions, UniversitiesAndColleges.org has conducted a study on the Twitter usage of the top 100 colleges and universities in the United States.
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Data and Methodology
The top 100 colleges were determined by the US News and World Report 2010 College Rankings. Data was collected during September 2009 from Twitter.com with additional statistics calculated using TweetStats. As the data was collected in the past, follower counts and user statistics have since changed. We believe these findings still provide an accurate picture of Twitter usage at top educational institutions.
To narrow the scope of our investigation, only accounts officially affiliated with university administrations were included. This excludes unofficial students groups, fans of sports teams, and the personal accounts of professors, students, and university employees. Limiting our study to official accounts enabled us to examine the Twitter usage of university organizations, rather than the usage of student bodies and the surrounding community.
The data collected on each top 100 college Twitter account was the following:
- User name
- Account type
- Number of followers
- Number of users following
- Number of tweets per day
- Total Number of tweets
From this data, we were able to calculate the following summary statistics for each of the top 100 colleges:
- Total number of accounts
- Total number of followers
- Followers per accounts
- Total number of users following
- Number of users following per account
- Total tweets per day
- Tweets per day per account
For a communications platform that is less than 4 years old, Twitter has seen a remarkable adoption rate amongst colleges and universities. Every school in the top 100 has at least one Twitter account. The uses of these accounts vary, but the vast majority fall into a few categories.
- Official School Account – Nearly every college has an official account that represents the school brand and delivers important news updates.
- Schools and Departments within Universities – Many schools and departments within colleges (business schools, law schools, engineering schools, etc.) also operate their own official accounts for similar purposes.
- Student Services – Important student services organizations such as career services, dining services, athletic facilities, and libraries often operate Twitter accounts to deliver news updates.
- Outward Facing Bodies – Organizations such as alumni associations, admissions departments, and endowments use Twitter to communicate with people outside the university.
- Special Programs and Groups – Such as campus extensions or research organizations.
- University Sponsored Media – The university press, official magazines, and campus TV and radio stations.
Broadcasting Rather than Conversations
As a whole, universities and colleges tend to use Twitter as a broadcasting channel rather than a medium for conversations. Colleges use Twitter primarily to post news updates and official announcements, and utilize the reply feature less frequently than typical users.
Popularity vs. Activity
Colleges with the most popular Twitter presences (measured by number of followers) were frequently not among the most active (measured by the number of tweets and number of accounts following). A high number of followers was generally correlated with an extremely strong academic reputation or extremely large student body. The 10 colleges with the most followers are all either prestigious private schools or massive public universities. The colleges with the fewest followers were generally smaller and lesser known schools.
The total number of Twitter accounts utilized by any one college ranged from 24 (University of Florida) to 1 (University of Denver and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry). The average number of Twitter accounts per school is 8.4. 71% of the top 100 colleges have 10 twitter accounts or fewer. Only 7% have over 15 accounts.
The total number of followers acquired by any given college ranged widely. The runaway leader is Harvard University with 18,955 followers. Stanford is a distant second with 10,873 followers. 18% of the top 100 colleges have fewer than 1000 total followers.
As any Twitter user could tell you, having a large number of followers doesn’t necessarily mean that a user will be inclined to follow a large number of accounts themselves. We weren’t surprised to see that despite it’s 18,000+ followers, Harvard actually follows fewer users than 39 other colleges. On the whole, top colleges aren’t big on following others, with 35% of colleges following fewer that 500 accounts. The active college, in terms of accounts following, is William and Mary, which tracks 6,056 accounts.
Having accounts and followers is all well and good, but the purpose of Twitter is to actually tweet. It turns out that having a large number of followers doesn’t necessarily encourage a college to tweet more frequently. Of the ten schools who output the most tweets each day, none have more than 10,000 total followers. The most prolific tweeter is George Washington University at nearly 58 tweets/day. At the lower end, 9% of schools output fewer than 4 tweets each day. However, there does appear to be a correlation between following other users and actively tweeting. Most colleges who follow many users are also among the most prolific tweeters.
The Early Adopters
The following tables provide details on the colleges that have shown the most enthusiastic adoption of Twitter to date.
Top 10 by Number of Accounts
|College||# of Accounts|
|University of Florida||24|
|University of Georgia||22|
|Carnegie Mellon University||17|
|George Washington University||17|
|University of Michigan–Ann Arbor||16|
|Michigan State University||15|
|Texas A&M University–College Station||15|
Top 10 by Number of Followers
|Johns Hopkins University||9537|
|University of Pennsylvania||9516|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||8650|
|University of Texas–Austin||8643|
|University of Minnesota–Twin Cities||8420|
|University of California–Los Angeles||7683|
Top 10 by Number of Users Following
|College||Total Users Following|
|College of William and Mary||6056|
|University of Southern California||4865|
|George Washington University||4593|
|University of Wisconsin–Madison||4401|
|Johns Hopkins University||4251|
|University of Pennsylvania||4208|
|University of Texas–Austin||4081|
|University of Washington||3760|
|Michigan State University||3507|
Top 10 by Total Tweets per Day
|George Washington University||57.7|
|University of Washington||49.8|
|University of Florida||45.8|
|University of California–Los Angeles||44.3|
|University of Southern California||44.1|
|University of Pennsylvania||39.4|
|Michigan State University||35.9|
|Carnegie Mellon University||35.1|
The following colleges and universities have been slowest to adopt Twitter.
Bottom 10 by Number of Accounts
|College||# of Accounts|
|University of Denver||1|
|SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry||1|
|University of Pittsburgh||2|
|Colorado School of Mines||2|
|Stevens Institute of Technology||2|
|University of California–Santa Cruz||3|
|University of Rochester||3|
Bottom 10 by Number of Followers
|College||# of Followers|
|SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry||104|
|University of Pittsburgh||112|
|University of Denver||170|
|Stevens Institute of Technology||198|
|Colorado School of Mines||262|
|University of California–Riverside||297|
|St. Louis University||301|
|University of Connecticut||333|
Bottom 10 by Number of Users Following
|College||# of Users Following|
|University of Denver||6|
|St. Louis University||25|
|University of Pittsburgh||28|
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||59|
|University of Miami||80|
|University of Maryland–College Park||92|
|University of Alabama||93|
Bottom 10 by Total Number of Tweets per Day
|College||Total Tweets per Day|
|SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry||1.1|
|University of Denver||1.3|
|University of Pittsburgh||3.1|
|University of California–Santa Cruz||3.6|
|Colorado School of Mines||3.7|
|University of Rochester||3.9|
|Stevens Institute of Technology||4.8|