The Social Side of College Admissions

An Analysis of One Week of Posts by 601 College Facebook Pages

September 24, 2010

We've been working hard to prepare for our educational session, Facebook 101: Practical Tips for Using Facebook in Admission, at the upcoming NACAC Conference. As part of this preparation, we decided to run a quick analysis. We took a look at all the posts for a single week made by the 601 U.S. colleges and universities in our Facebook Page Directory. We wanted to see what sorts of patterns we could uncover about these posts and their engagement levels.

What We Measured

The 7-day period we selected was September 9-16. For each of the 601 Facebook pages, we specifically focused on engagement (i.e. the number of likes and comments). We really liked the simplicity of the BlueFuego formula for engagement, so we borrowed it with a slight tweak. We gave comments double the weight of "likes", believing that actually typing in a comment represented a greater level of engagement than simply liking something. We then multiplied it by 1,000 so we were dealing with more manageable numbers (not 5 decimal places). Ultimately, you end up with an Engagement Score per 1,000 fans.

So here's the details of how we calculated our Engagement Score for each Facebook post:

Engagement Score

Varsity Outreach Engagement Score

Our Findings of Facebook Page Engagement

First, let's look at how many Pages had a post and how many posts they had.

Pages that Posted: 494 out of 601 (82%)

Average # of Posts per Page: 2.3 (only includes the 494 Pages that posted)

Pages w/ 15+ posts: 55 (The University of South Carolina had 93 posts)

In addition to analyzing the Engagement Score of each post, we broke the results down based on the media attachments included in each post. Those posts containing a photo had much higher Engagement Scores. Posts containing video also performed well.

Average Engagement Score

All Posts:2.27
Posts with a photo attached:3.62
Posts with a video attached:2.99
Posts with no media attached:2.35
Posts with a link attached:1.67
Posts with music/sound file attached:1.14

A Look at the Most Engaging Posts

We wanted to better understand what was the "special sauce" that made something highly engaging. To do that, we decided to take a closer look at the top 100 posts based on Engagement Score for September 9-16. We categorized them based on their content. Each post seemed to fall into one of 8 categories.

100 'Most Engaging' Posts by Category

100 'Most Engaging' Posts by Category

Score / Result / Pre-Game – Relating to a school's athletic teams, whether it was a score, an upcoming game, or a big win over a rival
Announcements / Shout-Outs – Announcing upcoming events, achievements by faculty or alumni, important dates (Because of the week we selected, several posts related to 9/11).
Photo – Typically a photo of campus, an event, or alumni
Stat / Fact / Ranking – Highlighting a school's inclusion in a ranking list (e.g., US News) or a fun fact about the school or an alumnus
Question – Posing an open-ended question or a prompt ("Tell us your favorite...")
Link – Linking to an outside news story or press release
Video – Incorporating a video attachment
Giveaway – Offering a prize if fans take some action or post a comment

A Look at the Most Commented-On Posts

We don't want to discount "Likes", but we believe that a comment is a more desirable reaction to a post from your Page. It not only signals engagement, but it adds new content to your Page and can propel the conversation among your Pages' fans forward. Because of this, we also decided to look at the posts that had the most comments per 1,000 fans (We used this measure so we didn't end up analyzing posts just from the largest Facebook Pages).

100 'Most Commented-On' Posts by Category

100 'Most Commented-On' Posts by Category

While there is definitely overlap with the Top 100 most engaging posts, you'll also notice a shift in the breakdown by categories. Sports-related posts figure less prominently in this list, while posts with questions make up a much larger share.

Fostering Engagement among Your Facebook Fans

We only took a look at one week's worth of data, but some trends do start to appear.

Visual posts are more effective at grabbing your fans' attention. When possible, consider attaching a photo to the posts on your Facebook Page. One of my favorite campaigns is the O-H-I-O campaign on Ohio State's Facebook Page. It basically consists of photos sent in by alumni forming human O-H-I-Os in tons of exotic locales and in unusual ways (e.g., Old Faithful forms the "I" in one picture).

Don't just push out information to your fans. Solicit their feedback and responses. Posting a question can be a really effective way to get your Facebook fans involved and take some of the burden of creating new content off your shoulders.

Hopefully, this data will help a little as you continue to refine your school's Facebook strategy and create a more engaging experience for your fans. If you're going to be at NACAC in St. Louis, we hope to see you there!

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Blogger Varsity Outreach said...

FYI -- We made a correction to this post. Initially, the post mentioned 656 colleges, but the analysis was only done on the 601 colleges and universities from our directory located in the US.

September 24, 2010 at 4:13 PM  
Blogger Inga said...

Great study! This is exactly the information I was eager to get! Just curious - how did you calculate when link was combined with a shout-out/fact/etc? Or when a question was combined with a giveaway? Would be also interesting to know at how many posts per week the engagement rate started to fall?

September 24, 2010 at 4:27 PM  
Blogger Varsity Outreach said...


We assigned a post only one category. Some posts could have been placed under multiple categories, but we decided which one fit best. If you want the raw data, we're happy to send it to you and you can do further analysis.

Just use the "Send Us an E-mail" link from our homepage to contact us.

September 24, 2010 at 5:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This is great data and absolutely dovetails with what we see on that Questions and Answers (perhaps the Rankings/Facts category in this study) receive fantastic and meaningful engagement, as opposed to giveaways. Looking forward to your presentation!
Brian Carr

September 28, 2010 at 9:55 AM  

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