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

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
115,985 posts
48,183 posts
29,102 posts
11,254 posts
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)
332 posts
2The University of Kansas
(Lawrence, KS)
214 posts
3University of Wisconsin-Madison
(Madison, WI)
252 posts
4Auburn University
(Auburn, AL)
213 posts
5Clemson University
(Clemson, SC)
321 posts
6Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(Cambridge, MA)
226 posts
7Indiana University
(Bloomington, IN)
182 posts
8University of Phoenix
(Phoenix, AZ)
692 posts
9UC Berkeley
(Berkeley, CA)
291 posts
10Oregon State University
(Corvallis, OR)
119 posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Small (Fewer than 2,500 Facebook fans)

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

March 28, 2012 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Maria 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

September 28, 2012 at 6:42 AM  

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