Has Twitter Hit A Ceiling in Higher Ed?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 14-10-2010-05-2008

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The other day, Evan Williams from Twitter commented that ‘Twitter will get to a billion members‘.

I’ll talk to that in a moment, but I want to give you some background on my thought process first. If you want to skip straight to the data, see the lower sections.

Why don’t you tweet anymore?

I get asked about Twitter a lot. Sometimes in regards to my personal (declining) use of the tool.  Often, it’s about Twitter for marketing or recruitment.  I used to be excited about the possibilities of this tool but as of late, it’s probably apparent that I’ve dramatically changed my thoughts on it.

There are a few simple reasons why I’ve cut back.  For one, I have thoughts longer than 140 characters that I want to share. Tweets can quickly get taken out of context at this character limit, so I find myself expressing thoughts and opinions on other platforms instead, where I have more room. I also think that ‘sharing’ can be beneficial, but in a large group it hampers innovation. And that’s what I often see on Twitter. (Which, ironically, was my last blog post here in August.) You can be “working” all day, and yet not accomplish anything at all.

I’ve also read a few books that have made me re-think a lot of my digital life. Here are a few quotes that resonate with me:

–” The more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live.”

– “We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth.  Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do.  Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.”

– “The goal is not longer to be ‘in touch’ but to erase the possibility of ever being out of touch. [...] Although we think of our screens as productivity tools, they actually undermine the serial focus that’s the essence of true productivity. And the faster and more intense our connectedness becomes, the further we move away from that ideal.  Digital busyness is the enemy of depth.”

– “When a crowd adopts a point of view en masse, all critical thinking effectively stops.”

– “By virtue of its interactivity, the digital medium is a source of constant confirmation that yes, you do indeed exist and matter. Thus we’re forced to go back again and again for verification. Who dropped my name? Are there any comments on my comments? Who’s paying attention to me now?”

Quotes from Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

There’s quite a bit to unpack here.  But it boils down to this for me: I’m in the knowledge industry. (You probably are too.)  My job to think and implement.  When I impede the process of thinking and learning, I become less valuable.  The opportunity cost of spending excessive amounts of time on Twitter is too great. It took me nearly a year to learn this. To paraphrase another great book, I want to go where my competitors don’t go and read what they don’t read.  That just doesn’t happen on Twitter. I no longer look there for verification either. I don’t care how many people follow me (although we will look at this data next). I also don’t care how many RSS subscribers I have.  I want deeper, more meaningful thoughts and interactions instead. I seek verification through a successful client project, not a single tweet.

Depth.

On a side note, I’d also encourage you to take a moment to read what Joel Goodman says about the state of higher ed web. There is great value in contrarian opinions.

Has Twitter Hit a Ceiling?

Now, to finally expand on the original topic of this post.  Twitter and 1 billion members. My response? Not Likely, and only if the growth is in international countries.  At a conference earlier this year I responded to a question about Twitter’s growth as follows:

You’re either on Twitter, or you’re so sick of hearing people talk about it that at this point, you’ll never join it.

This would not be the case in countries where Twitter has not taken off, leaving  potential growth there.

We know Twitter is great for one-to-many communication. And breaking news. And listening to your customers. I get all that.

Facebook sits at 500 million users, with approximately 70% of users outside of the USA. Twitter sits at 100 million users, and I honestly see no direct way for them to reach 1 billion members. Realistically, I think Twitter is approaching the end of its growth cycle.

That’s the world.  Let’s talk about Higher Ed.

My follower numbers on Twitter have essentially crawled to a halt. It might be because I don’t use it as much, or because I don’t seek validation there, but I think the biggest reason is that Twitter has hit a ceiling in higher ed.

[I'm talking about professional/personal usage by employees in the industry here, not our audience's usage. But on that side of things, BlueFuego tracked nearly 2,500 higher ed accounts in 2009 and many were seeing 50-100% growth month over month over month. We stopped research in early 2010 because growth was slowing very rapidly.]

2009 was a huge year for Twitter usage/adoption in the higher ed community. But, I think everyone who is hereis here. This is our community. There will be some people that filter in and out of the industry, but for the most part, we are our audience at this point. We’ll slowly grow, and may actually decline, but the cast has been set.

To confirm my thoughts, I started looking at data of other users in higher ed.  I pulled the 3 month growth rate of the 50 most influential people in higher ed (determined by WeFollow.com) using TwitterCounter. I also split the audience into 3 areas: Student Affairs, Marketing/PR, and Blog/News/Company.

You can see all of the data here

The list shows that higher ed blog/news/company accounts continue to see strong follower growth (an average of 17%).  There is the underlying incentive for them to grow an audience: more traffic, more ads, more business, etc.

The student affairs crowd in higher ed has seen an average of 11% growth since July 15th. And for good reason.  They are a very strong group.  #SAChat (article) is allowing student affairs professionals to find each other and connect.

Then, we have “the rest of us”.   The marketers, the bloggers, etc. Average growth for us: 5%.  We’re a bit different than student affairs.  SA already has their students and wants to help each other communicate with them better.  We… well, we’re competing for students and might not want to share quite as much to everyone. :)

If we haven’t hit the ceiling yet, we’re approaching it.  Either fewer people are joining, or we’re less likely to follow others.  I acknowledge that there are a wide range of variables that come in to play, but I think it’s quite clear that we’re at the top of the rollercoaster ride, and it’s only a matter of time until it heads back down the slope.

I’ll never have 4,000 followers on Twitter. I might never even reach 3,500. And you know what? I’m fine with that.

Because I need to do a better job at connecting with the 3,300 that are already there.

Which makes me think about my (your) job.

At what point do we stop investing all our time and resources in growing these new online communities and focus more on who’s already listening?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Bird on a Wire?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 13-05-2010-05-2008

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This is an article that I wrote for the May/June 2010 issue of CASE Currents, and it has been republished with their permission. Would love your thoughts and comments. Enjoy!

—-

Bird on a Wire: Twitter the next big thing or dead on arrival?

By Brad J. Ward

The baby bird has officially left the nest.

Since its launch in 2006, the social media tool Twitter has grown from a “wait-and-see” communications site to a mainstream media darling. Last year was the tipping point for this site, which is as easy to use as it is to confuse. As its popularity has grown, there has been a shift in the way Twitter is used. Early Twitter adopters would follow thousands of users they’d never met, but as the platform has become more mainstream, the norm has changed.

According to a recent report from media analysis firm Sysomos.com, 92.4 percent of Twitter users follow less than 100 people. New users are more reserved, tweet less, and follow a more select group of people that they know. This means that institutions need to provide value in their Twitter feeds, or they simply won’t be followed by the audience they want to reach.

While Twitter can be effective, its traffic still falls far behind other social Web platforms in the United States. According to Compete.com, Facebook’s traffic is 467 percent higher than Twitter’s, with YouTube seeing 314 percent more use, and even MySpace getting 115 percent more traffic.

Regardless of the hits that each site receives, many institutions are launching official Twitter accounts. According to a March 2009 study conducted by BlueFuego, only 9.4 percent of 1,387 alumni association home pages had social Web page links. In December 2009, the number had risen to 34.8 percent, with the presence of a Twitter callout on alumni home pages increasing 327.8 percent since the initial study. LinkedIn increased 12.5 percent, and Facebook increased 5.1 percent.

What type are you?

BlueFuego wanted to dig deeper, so in April 2009, we began classifying more than 2,000 higher education Twitter accounts to better understand how colleges and universities are using the tool to interact with their followers. All accounts were divided into five categories based on the type of updates that they publish. (See charts on page 34.)

Type 1 accounts (32 percent of higher education accounts) provide only news and do not engage in conversation with their followers. These accounts use tools like Twitterfeed.com to push an existing news feed of information to Twitter. Their accounts consistently tweet links that take followers back to their .edu site or an institutional Facebook page. Updates are typically about press releases and events.

Type 1 accounts regularly push out more updates than other accounts. This is due to the publishing of an RSS feed, which results in several updates daily. On average, these Twitter accounts push out 40-60 updates per month. (By comparison, our research of 1,300 Facebook pages in higher education shows an average of 22 updates per month, two to three times less content.)

Type 2 accounts (15 percent) are similar to Type 1 but interject occasional conversation into their tweet streams. If someone were to send an @reply, he or she would likely get a response. About 75 percent or more of the time, however, a Type 2 account is still just pushing news updates.

Type 3 accounts (22 percent) provide limited information but do not share links or attempt to engage with others who follow them. They may offer updates on the institution’s cafeteria menu or list the admissions counselors’ travel schedules, but little more. Type 3 accounts appear to have been created so that the institution has a presence on Twitter. On average, these accounts have fewer followers, follow less people, and have the least amount of updates.

Type 4 accounts (11 percent) are somewhat conversational–they occasionally interact with followers but generally just share 140-character updates about what’s happening on campus. Whereas Type 2 account updates consist primarily of links that send followers away from Twitter, Type 4 accounts do not link away from the site.

Type 5 accounts (20 percent) are very conversational. It’s obvious that staff members are actively monitoring the account and sharing a wide range of information through updates, including links, photos, and videos. They retweet information from other followers and provide varied information to their audience. Type 5 accounts average the most followers and follow back the most, a testament to having a person or team of people actively monitoring the account and engaging with followers.


The 50:25:25 rule

We recommend that our clients adopt a 50:25:25 model when communicating on social Web platforms. Try to make 50 percent of your tweets informational: deadlines, links to press releases and events, and other information that needs to be shared.

The next 25 percent of your tweets should focus on conversations about your brand. Engage your audience with questions or statements regarding your institution, such as: “Snow Day at State! How’s the weather where you are?”

For the remaining 25 percent of updates, engage your audience with conversations that are not about your brand. These updates can be about pop culture, world news, interesting events, and more. The goal is to get them to interact with your institution, but not necessarily about the institution.

The conversation myth?

“Social media gurus” have long argued that Twitter is about the conversation and that accounts that strictly share links aren’t effective. However, our research shows that these assumptions aren’t necessarily true.

Within the five types of Twitter accounts, we further segmented the groups according to who maintains them: admissions, alumni relations, athletics, PR/news, general institution accounts, and an individual college or department within an institution.

Athletics and PR/news have the highest percentage of Type 1 accounts–those only sharing links–at 58 percent and 55 percent, respectively. When looking at the accounts that average the highest number of followers, PR/news is at the top. Athletics averages the most updates per month and follows the most people.

These data show us that Type 1 accounts certainly have a place on Twitter. The audience doesn’t necessarily want to engage or interact with each of your accounts directly and might just be interested in receiving your content in their tweet stream.

However, accounts run by admissions and alumni relations, areas that tend to be more relationship-focused, average more followers and updates when they fall in the Type 5 category, as they are strengthening relationships through conversation and have more to talk about with more people.

Twitter for institutional advancement

Many institutions are now interacting with students in ways that would not have happened pre-Twitter. For example, Abilene Christian University in Texas (www.twitter.com/acuedu), which has a Type 5 account, was actively monitoring a situation in which an enrolled student would occasionally mention on Twitter that she was having a poor experience at ACU. The student’s updates escalated one day, and she exclaimed that she couldn’t wait to transfer.

Scott Kilmer, director of new media, had been monitoring these tweets and stepped in to reply to the student from the ACU Twitter account, saying, “Sorry you’re having a bad day. Send us an e-mail to feedback@acu.edu to let us know how we can help.”

By that afternoon, the student had e-mailed and was referred to student services to talk about how her experience could be better. Later that evening, her Twitter update read, “ACU has the best people. Beth and Haley are two of the most loving people ever.” She was referring to the student services manager and a retention officer that Kilmer put her in touch with after the initial contact.

“Using Twitter to listen to our constituency has been a great way to understand customer feedback,” Kilmer says. “With access to this kind of information, we can identify areas of need and act on them with a certain amount of validation from the average customer.”

Other successful Twitter accounts

Twitter can also help create stronger bonds with followers who have a pre-established affinity for the institution. It didn’t take long for Tim Cigelske, communication specialist at Wisconsin’s Marquette University, to see the value and take advantage of his institution’s Twitter presence.

Marquette (www.twitter.com/marquetteu) is a Type 5 and is one of a handful of accounts to fall in the top 10 percent of higher education institutions in the nation for number of followers, number of accounts followed, number of updates, and number of @mentions. The school recently launched the “Give Marquette” campaign, which was promoted through all institutional media, including Twitter.

One alumnus, who was one of the first and most active followers of @MarquetteU, stepped forward to donate after seeing a tweet about the campaign.

“He direct messaged Marquette via Twitter and asked how he could donate, so I connected him with someone who could work with him personally,” Cigelske explains. “In this case, he was looking to specifically support families and students [who] are ‘working their butts off to send their average-grade students to Marquette,’ since that was the case with him and his family. We gave him information on a fund that would do just that, and it worked out beautifully.”

Twitter can also be used to garner press, as Indiana University East has quickly learned through its @IUEast account. Nasser Paydar (www.twitter.com/paydar), IU East’s chancellor, was one of the first institutional leaders on Twitter, tweeting as early as January 2009. Sending out updates about topics such as campus events, student life and athletics, and the daily life of a chancellor, he is focused on making connections with the local community.

Shortly after Paydar started tweeting, the local newspaper’s education reporter wrote a story about it, and in the process created a Twitter profile for himself. The reporter now follows several official IU East Twitter accounts, which has led to an increase in coverage for the institution.

The future

Even though institutions are finding success with Twitter, the platform is not without its weaknesses. To put the site into perspective, there are more people playing the online game FarmVille on Facebook than using Twitter. Traffic has stalled in recent months (up only 2.5 percent in the past eight months), leaving many to wonder what is next for the site. It’s in an extremely volatile position, and 2010 will be a make-or-break year.

Furthermore, a January 2010 study of Twitter by Sysomos.com found that 50.88 percent of Twitter users and 56.59 percent of tweets are from people living in the United States. Compare this with Facebook, where 70 percent of traffic is outside the United States, and YouTube, where 76 percent of video views are from outside the United States, and it is clear that the international reach of Twitter is limited. An earlier 2009 study by Sysomos.com also revealed that 5 percent of Twitter users account for 75 percent of updates, which also shows that there is a limited audience engaging on Twitter.

Regardless of Twitter’s future, the shift in communication methods and preferences that the platform has created will last beyond Twitter itself. While Twitter is not, and will never be, a magical tool to solve all advancement communications issues, it can still be effective in communicating to your audience.

Shorter, asynchronous updates have become the norm across the Web, as people and brands share more frequent updates with their audiences. The one-to-many communication method allows institutions to reach a larger audience more quickly, but it also requires more time if an institution responds to each person and interaction.

Twitter should not be at the core of your university’s marketing strategy, but it is definitely a tool to be considered when developing your overall plan.

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Brad J. Ward is the CEO at BlueFuego Inc., an international higher education consulting firm specializing in new media marketing integration.

Copyright ©2010 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education; reprinted with permission from the May/June 2010 issue of CASE CURRENTS. All rights reserved.

Strategies for using Facebook Groups and Pages to Yield Students

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Recruitment, Research, Speaking, Webinars | Posted on 14-01-2010-05-2008

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I’m really excited about my upcoming webinar, Strategies for using Facebook Groups and Pages to Yield Students, on Thursday January 28th from 2-3:15pm!

The webinar is $199, and half of the proceeds are going directly to Hope for Haiti, a 501(c)(3) organization that’s using 100% of all  donations to help those affected by the recent earthquake.

We’re going to be discussing all of the changes that have been made to Facebook since the Class of 2013 came through.  Learn more about how you can leverage the updates to Groups to build community and help yield students for your incoming class.  Get informed about the recent changes to Pages that will help you segment and target your messages better, and what trends are coming out of BlueFuego’s research of over 1,200 higher ed fan pages.

I have many key learning objectives for participants of this webinar, including:

- Learn the key differences between Facebook Pages and Groups, and which you should use.

- What to do when students (or spammers!) have already started your Class of 2014 Group or Page.

- How to successfully join and contribute to the community and discussion on Facebook.

- Measuring outcomes: How to track and gauge success of your yielding efforts.

- Targeting messages:  Why the kids in Wichita don’t care about the yield event in Cleveland!

- Social Web Callouts and .edu Integration: How schools are promoting their presence on Facebook.

- Q&A Time: Get specific with your institution’s situation!

Learn more and Register today! Click here.

Before taking on that new project in 2010

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Marketing, Research, Technology, Thoughts, Web | Posted on 11-01-2010-05-2008

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Some questions you might ask before that you start that new project in 2010.

It’s always good to ask questions, both of yourself and others involved. It’ll likely make the project a little easier for you to implement and manage.

  1. Is it realistic?
  2. Do we have the staffing to manage it for long-term?
  3. What is our goal for this? Are we chasing tools instead of goals? (hat tip to @howardkang)
  4. Is this the right tool to make it happen?
  5. What other projects and initiatives will have to sacrifice from the time I need to invest into the new project?
  6. How many other schools/competitors are already doing this?
  7. Can we do it better or differently from them?
  8. Will I have the support I need to get it to a finished project?
  9. How can I document the success of this for my boss?
  10. Who could help me look at this with fresh eyes and give an alternative perspective?

Skydiving into the Social Web

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Higher Education, Marketing, Research, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 06-01-2010-05-2008

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A couple of months ago I had a spare day on a client trip.  I went to on Tripadvisor.com to see what there was to do in Wollongong, Australia.  The number one result?  SkyDive the Beach. I decided to take the plunge and it was pretty amazing. (Video here.)

I’ve reflected back on that event many times in the past weeks, thinking of the rush, the thrill, the adrenaline (and more importantly, the landing!). I believe that skydiving can be a great metaphor for how we jump into the social web and use it. Stick with me.

Skydiving

Tandem Skydiving starts with some initial training.  Here’s how you jump out of the plane, and here’s how you land.  That’s it. Nothing can truly prepare you for what’s about to happen in a few short moments.

From there, you take a slow, spiraling plane ride up to 14,000 ft and you begin to see the world from a much broader view. Before you know it, you’re getting shoved out of a plane and you’re free-falling at 120+ miles per hour towards the earth.  You do this for about 9,000 feet, and then, hopefully, your parachute deploys.  It’s a violent jerk that lasts for a few seconds.  Your head is still spinning, but you start to feel a sense of calm.  And for the next 5,000 feet, you’re gliding and gently coasting through the air, still taking in the scenery, but from a much smaller perspective. You view of the world shrank from 15,000 to 5,000 feet.   You then zone in on your landing point, the end goal, and begin floating towards it.  You pull the strings to line yourself up, you get closer and closer, and you finally touch down to the ground, reaching your goal.

Social Web

The Social Web is a lot like Skydiving.  First, you hear about it. (We’re pretty much all past these first few stages, so reminisce for a bit.)  You look into it a little, and it seems fun. You sign up for it, and search around for some initial training.  Blogs, podcasts, and books provide you some general information of what you can do and what to expect.  But like skydiving, nothing can truly prepare you for what’s about to happen.   For example, there are intrinsic values of community managers and marketers that aren’t easily trained.  Like skydiving, a lot of learning comes from doing.

So you become ready to take the plunge.  You’re at the top, with your 15,000 foot view of the Social Web.  (And someone has probably shown you an image of the Social Media Landscape, a Conversation Prism, or an Ohio State Social Media Butterfly at this point.)  You have this great view of what’s possible, and you’re able to see it all.  It’s overwhelming, but thrilling.  It’s daunting, but it seems doable.

Next, you jump.  The freefall begins.  Your heart is racing, the new sites, tips, tricks, blog posts, links, tweets and tools are flying by you faster than you can consume them.  The first 9,000 feet go by so quickly you hardly have time to take it all in. You’re scrambling to make sense of what’s happening with it all.

Before you know it, your parachute springs opens at 5,000 feet. You now have a much smaller view of the world, a more targeted view. Your end goal is closer and much more visible, and you’re able to focus on it and move towards it more carefully and methodically by pulling the right strings in the right direction.

Where are you at in your jump?

I’m going to assume that for most of you, the parachute has deployed or you’re ending your initial free-fall.  You’re able to breathe a little more and you’re not looking at the 15,000 ft view of the social web anymore.  You’re down around 5,000 feet, focusing on a smaller landscape of tools and sites to work with.  Are you focusing on the goals more carefully now? Do you know where you want to land with your project?  And when you get there, are you ready to take it all on again?

If you haven’t deployed your parachute yet, maybe you’re thinking it’s time to settle in and focus on a few that work best. If you’re still freefalling, you might still be trying to decide how much is manageable and where it all fits in.  Regardless of where you are, know this:  many others have gone before you, many others will jump after you.  And for the most part, we’ll all survive. :)

Oh, and one more similarity. For both skydiving and the Social Web, you’ll definitely run into someone who says “I cannot believe you are doing this. You’re ridiculous.” Ignore them. Both are a blast. :)

Differentiation in Higher Ed Marketing

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Branding, Concepts, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Thoughts | Posted on 16-12-2009-05-2008

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There are countless blog posts about differentiation and standing out from your competitors. Rather than try to brush broad strokes about what I think schools should do differently, I think I’ll paint a different picture on this one.

Over the past two days I’ve been updating BlueFuego’s Social Web Research, which has exposed me on over 3,000 URLS for admissions, alumni, and .edu homepages of 1,000 university and college sites (400 sites to go!). I continue to see the same boring story again and again. So I decided to set up some advanced searches on common quotes and sayings that continue to pop up.

A Google search for “professors who know you” on .edu domains returns 14,000 URLs.
A Google search for “you’re a name, not a number” on .edu domains returns 18,200 URLS.
And to complete the Trifecta, a Google search for “not just a number” +”professors” +”small class sizes” returns 5,120 URLS.

(And if you want prospective students to “Become a VIP“, there are 16,799 other URLs just like you.)

Are you really that different?  Have you taken the time to look at your 10 most frequent cross-app schools to see what students see there?  I’d venture to guess there are more than a few similarities. I think back to this blog post, Give Them More Than The Expected, and encourage you to look outside of the basic/expected product and give them the Wow Factor.

Good luck. :)

Are Teens on Twitter? My 2 Cents.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Concepts, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 31-08-2009-05-2008

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Another week, another blog post about the continuing debate of the question “Are Teens on Twitter?”

We first heard from Mashable, who reported in early August that the “Stats Confirm It“.  Then, the phrase ‘Teens Don’t Tweet’ was a trending topic all day long. Not because of the usual Mashable RT crowd, but because of teens coming out of the woodwork. At any given moment, search.twitter.com results would resemble something like this that day:

So the latest ‘research’ comes from a TechCrunch post, and it’s again spreading like wildfire. Don’t miss the first line of the article: “This guest post is written by Geoff Cook, cofounder and CEO of social networking site myYearbook.”

This research (or is it just a well-positioned promotion for MyYearbook??) is now causing people in higher ed to exclaim on Twitter that “More teens tweet than Facebook“.  False. Absolutely False. According to the post, a higher percentage of twitter users are teens than the percentage of Facebook users who are teenagers. But when it comes to straight numbers, teens on Twitter don’t even compare to teens on Facebook. Not yet, anyways.

Looking at Quantcast.com data, 22% of Facebook’s 98.7 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger.  That’s 20,614,000 teens.  On the Twitter side? 9% of Twitter’s 28.0 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger. That’s 2,520,000 teens. According to that count, there are 818% more teens on Facebook each month vs. Twitter. More teens tweet than Facebook? Hardly.

Are they on Twitter? Are they not? What should we do?

Here’s the thing.  Twitter should not be at the core of your marketing strategy. Yet. But should you have a presence? Absolutely. Do you need to know how to use the site? Yes.  Are you building your presence and community as the site grows? I hope so.

If you use Twitter, remember the last time you complained about a bad experience with a company or site and they weren’t there to listen online?  What about your favorite brands that you desire to interact with online and receive valuable information from?  What do you think of them when they aren’t on Twitter, ready to listen? It’s a huge customer service opportunity. Conversations about your institution are happening all the time online, and in increasing frequency on Twitter.

Apply the same thought to your institution or office.  Twitter is not going to solve all of your goals and objectives.  But there are teens out there ready to engage and interact with you.  They want to connect with you, and if you are not there, you’ve missed an opportunity.  (Or worse, someone else takes over your brand/identity and runs with it like many universities we see in our research.)

Final Thoughts

The research is nice. But how much weight should you actually put into it? My challenge do you is this: do your own research.  Throw a quick survey together and integrate it into first week activities.

IU East did, and found out that 67% of incoming students are on MySpace, while only 60% are on Facebook. (Twitter? 6%.) If IU East had just ‘followed the research’, they’d be listening to everyone who says MySpace is dead and missing out on reaching a large percentage of their student and alumni base.

Almost a year ago I reminded everyone to do their homework after a conference.  The same thing goes for any research online.  If you’re changing your entire marketing strategy based on what Mashable or TechCrunch posts on their site, you’re going to have some issues. And if you’re retweeting and spreading this information without even reading or confirming it… please stop.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the research that’s out there? Disagree? Indifferent?  Let me know below in the comments!

2009 Digital Readiness Report

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Marketing, Research, Strategy, Web | Posted on 10-08-2009-05-2008

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Here’s a recent report that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers in the higher ed arena.

The 2009 Digital Readiness Report, a study conducted by Eric Schwartzman with the support of online newsroom provider iPressroom, Korn/Ferry International, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and Trendstream, also identifies which new media and social media communications skills are most important to today’s hiring decision makers.

(Don’t want to give your contact info? Here’s the direct link.)

The Digital Skills Rank, in order, for Academic Institutions is:

1. Blogging/Podcasting
1. Social Networking
2. Media Relations
3. Microblogging
4. SEO
5. Content Management
6. Email Marketing
7. Social Bookmarking

How would you rank these 8 items within your office?  Keep in mind this is from a PR perspective, but I certainly didn’t expect email marketing to fall slightly above Del.icio.us.

The Anatomy of #WatchItSpread

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Viral, Web, Webinars | Posted on 06-08-2009-05-2008

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A few weeks ago, while preparing for a webinar on Twitter (Missed it? Here’s your 2nd chance.) With nearly 75 schools in attendance, I thought it would be cool to actually show off the power of Twitter. Little did I know it would become a trending topic and travel all the way around the world in 24 hours!

The Anatomy of the Tweet

As simple as the update seems, there is quite a bit of strategy built into it. First is the core of the message on Twitter, “What are you doing?” Well, I am showing a webinar audience how quickly a message can spread on Twitter. Sounds fun, right? Next is the call to action: Would you please RT? According to Dan Zarrella’s The Science of the ReTweets, the four most common words in a retweet are:  You, Twitter, Please, and ReTweet.   (Check, Check, Check and Check! Was not planned, but interesting to know.) By asking someone (You) to RT (Retweet), I was asking for a simple moment of their time, and nothing more.

Finishing the tweet is the #watchitspread hashtag.  Any viral effort on Twitter should include a hashtag, because people know what it means and it helps organize the results/answers. Finally, the length of the update.  By leaving enough room for RT @bradjward I made it easier for people to RT the information without having to cut/shorten words to make it happen. Easier = better. And a final thought on retweets.   You’ve surely seen people (maybe even me!) send an update “I’m showing twitter to my boss/friend/wife/dog, say hi!”.  Effective, but nowhere nearly as viral.  Why?  Because if I send that message, it stays rather limited to my network.  On Twitter, if I @reply to someone and you don’t follow that person, you won’t see my update in the message.  So after the initial people say hi to me, it does not spread past me into their network.  Very limiting.

Sending the Tweet Out

During the webinar, I shared my screen, let them watch me type the message in to Twitter to show how easy it is to update, clicked Update and resumed the webinar. I planned to come back to a live screen share at the end of the webinar to show the spread of the message on Twitter. I figured anywhere from 30-60 retweets would be cool enough for the audience to see

About 30 minutes later, I paused to ask if there were any questions.  One school replied ” I want to see how our experiment is going.” Excited that they were into it (webinars = talking to yourself for 90 minutes and wondering what the 200 people on the other end are thinking/saying/doing), I decided to pull it up then.   To my surprise and excitement, there were nearly 750 retweets in the first 30 minutes. Wow!  I think the audience was sold on the power of Twitter at that point.

The Tweet Spreads

By the end of the webinar, Search.Twitter.com was showing around 1,500 updates in the first hour. (I incorrectly said 1,500 in 90 minutes in a twitter update after the webinar because I subtracted from the time the webinar began (1pm), not the time I sent the tweet (1:21pm). From there, it continued to spread. Quickly

Mistake #1: For this social experiment I should have put a timestamp on it. (Before 2:30pm EST, etc.) Then again, that would have limited the viral spread of the tweet.  But for the next 2-3 hours, my @mentions was rendered useless due to the volume of tweets coming through with @bradjward in them.

From there, the tweet evolved.  I eventually got dropped off of the tweet as people retweeted people who retweeted people, other @names because the original @RT.

Tweets containing #watchitspreadstarted taking on social issues such as AIDS and Swine Flu, Urban Etiquette and ‘underage girls having too many babies’. Another great point: You don’t control the message. You just share it. :)

The Results

By the end of it all, the total numbers of #watchitspread tweets totally nearly 10,000.  It bounced across the US, down to Australia, up to Southeast Asia, across Europe, and hit back on the east coast the next morning.  As a result, I was ranked #2 on ReTweetRank.com, above everyone on Twitter except @TweetMeme. With RT’s definitely playing a role in the algorithm on twitter.grader.com, I bumped up to #796 of 2,844,018 ranked people on Twitter. (I’m usually in the top 1,500.  Interestingly, I went on vacation the day after #watchitspread, and was silent on Twitter for a week.  It affected my rank greatly, going all the way back to nearly 40,000. I’ve since bounced back to around 1,500.) I also picked up about 200 followers in the 24 hours, a nearly 10% increase in followers.

The best part: @RainnWilson later that night posted a simple update: “DO NOT RETWEET THIS.” It instantly shot to #1 on the Trending Topics list. Why? Because everyone retweeted it.  Irony, gets me every time.

And no, I won’t be doing this for future Twitter webinars.  Instead, I’ll point back to #watchitspread as the example of how something can spread so quickly across Twitter.

Robots are invading your web presence.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Research, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 05-08-2009-05-2008

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Robots by Dan CoulterI’ve noticed a disturbing trend recently across many campuses.  Social web presences for colleges and universities are being operated by robots… or so it seems.

As schools grapple with more, more, more and even more places on the social web to interact/update/moderate/maintain/upgrade, they are quickly losing the personal touch with their audience.  Tools are available to make it easy to spread information out to multiple platforms, but every website is different. Every community is different.  And, with a few exceptions, every update you post should be different.

Your audience on Facebook is different than LinkedIn. And that crowd is different than Twitter. 1 message does not fit all. A ‘Social Media Marketing Checklist‘ is not going to make you do things better, but it is going to inundate you with endless tasks that make you lose sight of what’s important in your marketing strategy.

Keep it simple: Be human, interact with others, and keep your institution on their mind. Don’t get stuck in the rut of ‘I have to do this on Monday, this on Wednesday, this twice on Thursday….” Be flexible and be a part of the community.  Our research is proving it, being human wins every time.

Start by taking an honest look at your audience and how they want to get your information, and serve that audience first. (Alumni, Young Alumni, Current and Prospective students might all differ.) Ask them, like the FGCU Alumni Office did.  Take a look at this response. And the same with University of Miami when they asked “Facebook or Twitter?” Then build your presence from there, adding in what you can manage.