Colleges with many Twitter followers don’t always engage

Most-mentioned schools mostly using Twitter to broadcast university and industry news

Colleges and universities with the most Twitter activity are missing out on engaging prospective students via the platform, according to new research from Brandwatch, a social media monitoring and analytics firm.

The analysis used a Thomson Reuters list of the top 10 U.S. university mentions on Twitter from January 31 through March 31. The big finding: The main Twitter handles of these schools were used mostly for broadcasting university-specific and industry news, according to the research.

Seven out of the top 10 universities had a less than 10 percent engagement rate—the percentage of total tweets that used an “@” symbol to mention or reply to others—for their tweets. Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Columbia sent out no tweets directly to other users throughout the period. UCLA had the most recruitment-related chatter around its main Twitter handle, with approximately 600 posts in the two-month time period. Collectively, the top 10 universities have nearly 1.1 million Twitter followers.

“These universities’ main Twitter handles have huge followings, but don’t direct message or tweet to other users,” says Dinah Alobeid, public relations manager at Brandwatch. “This was especially surprising since the study was done during a time when high school seniors are either applying to or trying to decide which schools to attend.”

Why is there a lack of engagement on the schools’ main handles? It could be that they also tend to have admissions-specific Twitter handles that drive more interaction but are sometimes hard to find, Alobeid says.

Administrators wanting to keep their institution’s main handle focused on promoting the brand still have options. They can privately message students with answers to admissions questions, direct them to another Twitter handle or hold Twitter Q&A events, Alobeid says. “Overall, when schools add that human element when responding to students, it makes them feel special while getting the information they need to possibly make their decision to come to that school.”

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