Monday, June 4, 2012

Social Media Research: University Engagement

Researchers are poking and prodding social media from all different angles. An article in April 2012 issue of The Journal of Public Relations Research, which looked at social media adoption among university communicators, grabbed my attention. A synopsis of their study and a few rambling thoughts about social media research follows.

Universities and Social Media
Tom Kelleher and Kaye Sweetser interviewed 26 university employees at two universities who were tied to a social media effort for areas like admissions, library services, university relations, and athletics. The major themes emerging in their research were

  • the necessity to be in the same space as current and prospective students
  • sharing information universities have to offer
  • saving money (compared to traditional media advertising), and
  • increasing efficiency and convenience.

Respondents tried social media on a personal level before launching into social media for their departments. Do you think this might limit how much social media a university might try?

Believers and Nonbelievers
An interesting observation they make is that the 26 people interviewed were classified into two groups: believers and nonbelievers. Nonbelievers focus on risks and are skeptical of benefits. They might  use social media to keep up with their university counterparts. Believers, on the other hand, are optimistic about social media and they get excited about two-way communication. The believer/nonbeliever schema merits additional study. Can you think of the believers and nonbelievers in your social media life? 

For those looking to conduct social media research, Kelleher and Sweetser use a communication theory called Diffusion of Innovations as the backdrop for their study. They also referenced Yang and Kang’s scale of blog engagement, if you are looking for an existing scale. 

Diffusion of Innovations
Image used under a Creative Commons license.

How universities are effectively using social media (and not) to communicate with audiences was a discussion I recently had with a social media savvy student. Her question: Should university communication be centralized or decentralized? For example, should a Student Affairs department manage the social media for all of the efforts under its roof, or have several pages? What do you think?

The Journal of Social Media in Society
The Texas Social Media Research Institute will launch its journal devoted to social media later this summer. Watch for an announcement about The Journal of Social Media in Society on this blog. If you have research or book reviews to submit, email us at texassocialmediaresearch @ gmail.com. 

Kelleher, T. & Sweetser, K. (2012). Social media adoption among university communicators. The Journal of Public Relations Research, 24(2), 105-122.
Yang, S.U. & Kang, M. (2009). Measuring blog engagement: Testing a four-dimensional scale. Public Relations Review, 35, 323-324.

Dr. Sarah Maben is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Tarleton State University and a co-director of the Texas Social Media Research Institute.

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