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With UK universities allowed to charge up to £9,000 for fees from this autumn, many institutions are likely to have ramped up their marketing in order to engage and attract students.

So how successful have they been in creating a presence on the main social networks?

16 -24 year olds are heavy users of social networks, so you’d expect universities to have been ‘socially active’ by generating and posting interesting, engaging content  (articles, images, video and audio) on their own websites, and then sharing it on social networks. 

As the deadline for most university applications was the middle of January, we thought now would be a good time to analyse this type of university social visibility. 

So we had a go at this using the weekly data that we collate in our social analytics database, examining the leading 20 Russell Group universities

First off, to give you an idea of the overall volume of activity, our data estimates that taken altogether there are roughly 207,900 links every week related to content on the websites of the Russell Group universities posted on Twitter, Facebook (likes, comments and shares), Linkedin, Google+ and social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. 

Here we’re talking about links to the universities’ own web pages which are Tweeted, liked, shared etc by users of the social sites we looked at (this average figure is based on the activity over  an eight week period leading up to mid-January).

Taking a closer look at Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ we found that over the last three years, Facebook has been by far the most important in terms of generating links for the university sites we analysed, representing around 80% of all links.

Take a look at the full breakdown underneath (obviously as a relatively new site you would expect far fewer links on Google+. But bearing in mind Google’s recent Search Plus Your World announcement, this is likely to grow in importance now).

  • Facebook: 80.25%.
  • Twitter: 19.28%.
  • LinkedIn:  0.11%.
  • Google+: 0.35%.

Next, the list underneath shows how our data ranks the universities’ sites in terms of social visibility.

The visibility score we use here is based on the total number of links a web domain has scored on the six social sites, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Delicious and StumbleUpon, while accounting for different weightings we give to links on individual social sites.

Social visibility of Russell Group universities

  1. University of Cambridge. Visibility score: 462,823.
  2. University of Oxford: 442,758.
  3. London School of Economics: 286,859.
  4. Newcastle Uinversity: 186,184.
  5. University College London: 176,202.
  6. University of Warwick: 169,462.
  7. University of Manchester: 143,186.
  8. University of Edinburgh: 131,053.
  9. Queens University Belfast: 118,137.
  10. University of Glasgow: 72,211.
  11. University of Bristol: 70,656.
  12. University of Nottingham: 64,381.
  13. University of Leeds: 63,802.
  14. Imperial College London: 47,321.
  15. Cardiff University: 46,053.
  16. University of Southampton: 44,106.
  17. King’s College London: 31,762.
  18. University of Liverpool: 20,444.
  19. University of Birmingham: 15,873.
  20. University of Sheffield: 9,912.

What types of content are heavily shared? 

Well not surprisingly news page stories about new research studies and initiatives are quite common. While heavily shared links included software simulations, web cam images, jokes and podcasts.

Most universities are very active with numerous social network accounts serving different departments and groups.

Obviously much of the content is targeted at the current university population rather than prospective students, but it can provide some interesting insights to those wanting to know a little more about life at a particular institution. 


Published 31 January, 2012 by Horst Joepen

Horst Joepen is CEO of Searchmetrics and a contributor to Econsultancy.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Jamie O'Connell

An interesting study, it would be cool to see this across all universities not just the Russell Group.

As your conclusion points out this isn't a direct indication of social media activity that will have a bearing on student recruitment. This would be more of interest to the comms team rather than the marketing teams in HE i'd have thought.

It would have been good to include The Student Room in the study, all of our social media monitoring indicates that it is where the majority of social discussion about UK universities takes place.

It is that impartial, student to student conversation about real university experiences that most influences students decisions when researching their choices online.

over 4 years ago


Niall Cook

Be nice to see the data that proves a link between the "visibility" scores here and the metrics that really matter to universities such as application levels or acceptances, otherwise what's the point?

Without this, it's hard to see what visibility really tells us.

Niall Cook, Co-founder, Sociagility

over 4 years ago


Brian Kelly

Thanks you for publishing this work. I have linked to this work in a post on the UK Web Focus blog which provides a summary of "An SEO Analysis of UK University Web Sites" - see

In my post I highlight ambiguities in the survey methodology I used (which was based on use of the Blekko service) and describe the need for open research practices so that the assumptions made in survey methodologies can be open to critical review.

This is also true of your survey: the algorithms used to define a 'social visibility score' are not defined. Could you publish details of the weighting factors you used.


Brian Kelly, UKOLN

over 4 years ago

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