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Objective: The purpose of the following study is to examine the approach to social media of European and North American higher education institutions ranked in the Top100 on the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). Data regarding the number of publications and the number of followers of each social media were analysed.
Methodology: The present study is quantitative in nature. The sample consisted of the European and North American universities and colleges listed in the Top 100 of the ARWU 2017: in total, 48 institutions in the United States and 35 in Europe were identified. To analyse the official social media sites used by each higher education institution, the links presented on the Homepage of the universities’ website were followed. Data was collected between the 27nd of August and the 2nd of September 2018. Two different types of variable groups were defined: 1) the number and type of Universities’ publications, and 2) the number of followers on each social media. For benefit of the research the authors considered Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Weibo and VKontakte as social networking sites; Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr and Snapchat, as photo sharing platforms; Youtube, and Vimeo as video sharing platforms, and finally Twitter and Tumblr as microblogs.
Findings: European and North American universities and colleges invest in marketing activities in social media. Regarding the number of social networking sites, content sharing and microblogging platforms no significant differences were found between means of the two independent samples. The most popular social media used are Facebook and Twitter ex-aequo, followed by Youtube, Instagram and LinkedIn. Concerning the number of publications on these media, significant differences by region are present for the variable number of photos and videos on Facebook, number of Instagram posts, and tweets. Furthermore, on all the prominent social media, North American universities and colleges benefit from a substantial higher number of followers than their counterpart. European users favour Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and only then Instagram. Participation in G+ is marginal. In the United States the preferred social media are Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, Twitter, and Instagram. Regarding user engagement, measured by the number of followers, equality of means between the two independent samples were found for Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr and Youtube. Differences exist for the social media: LinkedIn, G+, Instagram, and Twitter. G+ is quite popular in the United States, but not in Europe, and Twitter attracts visibly more followers too.
Value Added: The contribution of this research paper consists in better understanding, from a quantitative point of view, differences between the use of social media as a marketing tool by the European and North American higher education institutions listed in the Top100 of the ARWU 2017. Regional differences exist, even though universities and colleges compete on a worldwide basis.
Recommendations: From an academic perspective, a qualitative study approach is advised to better understand the concurrence of the number of publications and followers on the different social media, since significant Pearson correlations between variables were identified. As practical implications, marketers from the European higher education institutions should invest more in posts, uploads and tweets. For both regions, the social networking site LinkedIn has been neglected, despite the high number of followers.
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