The Social Side of College Admissions

The Most Engaging College & University Facebook Posts & Pages - A Look Back at 2011

January 30, 2012

We've been gathering data for over a year now on college and university Facebook Pages, specifically tracking the likes and comments that all the posts by these pages receive. These efforts help us learn more about what types of content and what topics generate the greatest response from a school's audience on Facebook. As we kick off 2012, we decided to take a look back at data we collected on more than 200,000 posts in 2011.

Throughout this and previous analyses of posts by Facebook pages, we've used a simple measure of engagement:

Engagement Score

Varsity Outreach Engagement Score

Frequency of Posting

We did an initial cut when looking at school-specific data. Our analysis focused on Facebook Pages in our directory that had at least 12 posts (basically 1 post per month) by the page in 2011. We considered this a base-line measure of whether the page was even an active page. This left us with 602 Facebook Pages that we used for our analysis below. If you want a closer look at some of the data, you can access an Excel document with these 602 schools listed along with summary data for each school.

Data on Page Post Frequency

Pages that Posted 12+ Times in 2011:602
Average Posts for 2011:339 or 28 per Month
Top 5 Most Frequent Posters:University of South Carolina
(2,218 Posts = 185 per Month)
Louisiana State University
(2,018 Posts = 168 per Month)
Penn State University
(1,691 Posts = 141 per Month)
Lone Star College-North Harris
(1,671 Posts = 139 per Month)
Louisiana Tech University
(1,396 Posts = 116 per Month)

We wanted to know if post frequency translated into engagement. Below are our findings, with schools grouped by their post frequency ranking (along with the average number of posts for 2011 and the average fan base of the Facebook Page in a particular grouping).

Engagement by Post Frequency

Engagement by Post Frequency

Please Note: For this chart, the average engagement score is represented by the green bars and the average number of posts for a group is represented by the blue line.

Post Frequency Ranking Engagement Score Avg. Number of Posts Avg. Number of Fans
1-501.1431,01745,590
51-1001.56362128,895
101-1501.99146224,662
151-2002.03038241,655
201-2502.29833230,483
251-3002.19429140,923
301-3502.60825521,627
351-4002.33722033,652
401-4502.89718119,412
451-5003.1841537,344
501-5503.6571117,916
551-6023.479546,393

Interestingly, there seemed to be an inverse relationship between frequency and engagement. To be fair, some of the drop-off in engagement may also have to do with fan counts. As you can see, pages with large fan bases tended to post more frequently.

What to Post – A Look at Engagement by Media Type

We then took a look at what types of posts do best. The data is pretty consistent with what we've found in previous studies. Photos generate the most engagement (as measured by likes and comments). It's our hypothesis that photos are more likely to grab a user's attention when viewing the News Feed and are easy to consume (no reading required, just looking at a picture). Conversely, links drive you off the Facebook site and require you to return to the page to comment on or like the post. This isn't inherently a bad thing (obviously generating a new visitor for your site is a plus), but it does likely translate into fewer comments and likes per post.

Media Type Engagement Score
Link1.209
115,985 posts
Status2.879
48,183 posts
Photo3.383
29,102 posts
Video1.944
11,254 posts
Music/Audio0.469
116 posts

The Most Engaging Posts – A Look at the Top 500 Posts of 2011

We decided to do a deeper dive into the top 500 posts of 2011, categorizing them based on what the post was about. We grouped each of these posts into one of 9 categories. Each post was given only one category. We made a judgment call if a post fit into more than one about which aspect of the post seemed to be driving more of the likes and comments (e.g., a post announcing a school winning an athletic championship with a photo of the winning team would have been categorized as a Score / Result / Pre-Game rather than a Photo). If you want to see our categorizations or do your own analysis, we've shared our Excel document for anyone to download.

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 / News / Shout-Outs—Announcing upcoming events, achievements by faculty or alumni, important dates, or general news about the university
Contest—Offering a prize if fans like or post a comment
Photo—Typically a photo of campus, an event, or alumni
Question—Posing an open-ended question or a prompt ("Tell us your favorite...")
Weather / Closure—Alerting students to important weather updates or to the school's status as open or closed due to inclement weather
Stat / Fact / Ranking—Highlighting a school's inclusion in a ranking list (e.g., US News) or a fun fact about the school
Video—Incorporating a video attachment
Miscellaneous—Catch-all for posts that did not neatly fit into one of the other categories

Breakdown of Top 500 Posts by Content Category

Top 500 Posts by Content Category

Clearly, school affinity is closely tied with sports fandom at many schools. More than a quarter of the 500 most-engaging posts related to a school's sports teams. Examples included posts leading up to a rivalry game or highlighting a win over a nationally-ranked opponent.

Not surprisingly, contests accounted for 16 percent of the top 500. A good way to motivate your fans to post and like is to offer them the chance to win something if they do. We all like winning free stuff, right? In fact, nearly a third of the top 50 posts were contests. And, in most cases, these prizes did not have hefty cash values. The prospect of winning a t-shirt or a video game was often enough to rev up a fan base.

When we looked at the media type of these 500 posts, we noticed again that photos definitely help generate engagement. Nearly a third of these posts included a photo.

Breakdown of Top 500 Posts by Media Type

Top 500 Posts by Media Type

The Most Engaging College & University Facebook Pages of 2011

Here are the top 10 most engaging college and university Facebook pages for 2011 by size category. We've broken them up into size categories so the comparison is more of an apples-to-apples one.

XX Large (75,000+ Facebook fans)

RankSchoolEngagement Score
1Texas A&M University
(College Station, TX)
4.457
332 posts
2The University of Kansas
(Lawrence, KS)
3.685
214 posts
3University of Wisconsin-Madison
(Madison, WI)
3.624
252 posts
4Auburn University
(Auburn, AL)
3.281
213 posts
5Clemson University
(Clemson, SC)
2.779
321 posts
6Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(Cambridge, MA)
2.591
226 posts
7Indiana University
(Bloomington, IN)
2.499
182 posts
8University of Phoenix
(Phoenix, AZ)
2.381
692 posts
9UC Berkeley
(Berkeley, CA)
2.289
291 posts
10Oregon State University
(Corvallis, OR)
2.182
119 posts

X Large (20,000-74,999 Facebook fans)

RankSchoolEngagement Score
1University of Nebraska-Lincoln
(Lincoln, NE)
5.268
306 posts
2University of Iowa
(Iowa City, IA)
4.633
630 posts
3North Carolina State University
(Raleigh, NC)
4.422
154 posts
4Johnson and Wales University
(Multiple Locations)
4.185
16 posts
5Southern Illinois University Carbondale
(Carbondale, IL)
3.670
318 posts
6California State University, Northridge
(Northridge, CA)
3.548
208 posts
7SMU
(Dallas, TX)
3.330
258 posts
8Georgia Southern University
(Statesboro, GA)
3.255
375 posts
9Walden University
(Online)
3.200
372 posts
10Old Dominion University
(Norfolk, VA)
3.076
367 posts

Large (7,500-19,999 Facebook fans)

RankSchoolEngagement Score
1Siena College
(Loudonville, NY)
8.599
78 posts
2Wellesley College
(Wellesley, MA)
6.599
255 posts
3University of St. Thomas
(Saint Paul, MN)
6.314
354 posts
4The University of Montana
(Missoula, MT)
5.584
53 posts
5Ross University
(Multiple Locations)
5.418
93 posts
6Brigham Young University - Alumni
(Provo, UT)
4.906
301 posts
7Smith College
(Northampton, MA)
4.630
493 posts
8UT Arlington
(Arlington, TX)
4.508
76 posts
9St. Olaf College
(Northfield, MN)
4.388
160 posts
10University of Nevada, Reno
(Reno, NV)
4.316
199 posts

Medium (2,500-7,499 Facebook fans)

RankSchoolEngagement Score
1Merrimack College
(North Andover, MA)
10.926
84 posts
2Shaw University
(Raleigh, NC)
7.983
97 posts
3Buena Vista University
(Storm Lake, IA)
7.982
124 posts
4California Lutheran University
(Thousand Oaks, CA)
6.966
25 posts
5Drexel University
(Philadelphia, PA)
6.689
163 posts
6Kalamazoo College
(Kalamazoo, MI)
6.684
165 posts
7The Citadel Alumni Association
(Charleston, SC)
6.441
159 posts
8Susquehanna University
(Selinsgrove, PA)
6.346
146 posts
9University of the South
(Sewanee, TN)
6.201
257 posts
10Taylor University
(Upland, IN)
5.911
95 posts

Small (Fewer than 2,500 Facebook fans)

RankSchoolEngagement Score
1Indiana University Kokomo Admissions Office
(Kokomo, IN)
14.872
41 posts
2VCU School of Business
(Richmond, VA)
13.875
106 posts
3University of Minnesota Rochester
(Rochester, MN)
9.461
151 posts
4Holyoke Community College
(Holyoke, MA)
8.512
430 posts
5Neumont University
(South Jordan, UT)
8.394
180 posts
6Dallas County Community College District
(Dallas, TX)
7.957
188 posts
7Saint Joseph's College
(Rensselaer, IN)
6.767
35 posts
8Hesston College
(Hesston, KS)
6.683
26 posts
9California State University, Chico
(Chico, CA)
5.914
156 posts
10Waynesburg University
(Waynesburg, PA)
5.802
23 posts

Research Note: While we have made efforts to include a wide range of schools, we do admit that our directory is not an exhaustive list of college and university Facebook Pages. If your college or university is not in our directory and you'd like it to be included, simply contact us and provide a link to your official Facebook page. We're happy to add you to the directory and include your school in future studies.

Please Note: If you take a closer look at the top 500 posts as well as the most engaging pages, you may notice that not all of the engagement was positive. A few posts and a couple pages made these lists because they ended up serving as lightning rods for criticism of the school.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Whitney Anderson said...

How did you determine the number of comments and likes?

March 28, 2012 at 4:30 PM  
Blogger Varsity Outreach said...

We pulled the data from Facebook's Graph API periodically. We go back 30 days with each pull. You can read more about the Graph API here:
https://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/api/

March 28, 2012 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Cosmo-Tante said...

I really like the work you did! The results are really interesting! Just one question: Why don't you consider "shares" in your equation? Best, Maria

September 28, 2012 at 5:32 AM  
Blogger Varsity Outreach said...

In our newer research, we do. Shares have not always been available via the API.

You can see the latest research at http://blog.varsityoutreach.com/2012/09/most-engaging-facebook-pages-and-posts.html.

September 28, 2012 at 6:42 AM  

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