CommonSense Blog

Ranking the Top 100 Colleges and Universities Online

By Chuck Hemann | May 01, 2013

If you work in analytics or data sciences or customer insights you know that one of the more fun aspects of the job is discovering new trends about your key stakeholders. Part of that discovery is also finding new techniques to gather and analyze data, or even taking an existing data set and coming up with a new way to analyze it. The most common of those methods is taking an existing list, and developing a new methodology in order to re-rank and provide a new list.

Lists are fun. They get everyone talking. Granted, sometimes that talking is bad, but at least it stirs up a debate. We do these kinds of lists all the time at W2O Group for fun. Why, you might ask? The answer could be that we have a lot of geeks on our team (I say that in the nicest way possible – we cherish geeks here). The real answer though is that we love the process of taking existing methodologies — say the U.S. News World Report Top Colleges and Universities list — and trying to apply some of our social and digital analytics approaches to it. That is what we have done here.

Utilizing one of the algorithms we have developed internally, we took the list of the top colleges and universities and tried to understand the ranking if we looked only at each school’s social and web presence. How did we do that? Using a weighted index approach, we looked at the primary university social accounts (no athletics, or other school-related functions) on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We then factored in the primary .edu website for each of the schools. There are dozens of metrics that go into this sort of ranking so I wont list them all here, but I will say that the metrics fall into one of two buckets:

  1. Overall page reach – It wouldn’t be a ranking of this sort if we didn’t look at top-level page metrics like fans, followers, subscribers and unique monthly visitors. There are others, to be sure, but those are some of the high level metrics.
  2. Content performance – In our view a list like this would fall flat if we only looked at how the page itself was performing. We need to analyze how the content is performing as well to understand each school’s social health. When we are analyzing content performance we look at things like sharing, liking, commenting and retweeting. Again, there are others, but those are some of the bigger metrics.

So with that as a backdrop, here is the list of the top five universities based on their social and web presence. We’ve also included a note or two as to why each of the institutions ranked where they did.

  1. Harvard University – The former school of Mark Zuckerberg comes in at #1. Why? Aside from the school’s nearly three million fans on Facebook, they do an excellent job of providing consistent content to their followers. That content largely consists of highlighting academic achievement by professors and students.
  2. Stanford University – While Stanford’s Facebook presence falls short of Harvard’s, they more than make up for it with their website and YouTube presence. A strong number of unique monthly visitors and inbound links vaults Stanford up near the top of the list.
  3. Texas A&M University – Sporting the second highest rated Facebook page on the list, Texas A&M comes in at third overall. One of the reasons why their Facebook page scored so highly is the introduction of sports-related content. Given that the school currently hosts the Heisman Trophy winner, this ranking is less of a surprise.
  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – MIT had the second highest ranked YouTube presence with over 50m total video views, and a high level of engagement per video.
  5. Carnegie Mellon University – Carnegie Mellon was somewhat of a surprise on this list, but the university does an excellent job on Twitter and Facebook of highlighting the work of their professors and students.

Here is the rest of the ranking (Apologies for the formatting. If you click on the image you should be able to see the entire list):

Social Health of the Top 100 Universities

So there you have it. What do you think? Where does your school rank? A special thank you to Jessica PiƱa for helping to put this list together, and to Drew Carls for inspiring the idea to rank these schools.

  • Thanks, Chuck! Great to see an analytics ranking on higher education institutions.

  • OK, mildly interesting info, but not very surprising. And I question what we can learn or extrapolate from this info. New York Times is always going to have more traffic than my community newspaper, but that doesn’t mean NYT has better quality reporting or a more loyal customer base. In the same way, Harvard will always have more traffic than a local community college, but that doesn’t mean Harvard is more successful (proportionally) at social media.

    • Aaron – Fair comments to be sure, but what you’re highlighting there is the inherent problem of focusing on only the page’s reach, which we haven’t done here. In fact, we look very closely at how content is performing. How much (or little) people are engaging with it. There’s a heavy qualitative and quantitative bent.

      • But content is going to perform “better” on pages with more followers. Watch me try to get 1,000 “likes” on a post to my page with 10,000 fans…probably not going to happen. But Harvard can post a blurry picture of a squirrel and get 1K “likes” from their 2.5m fans. I hope your algorithm measured some kind of proportionality; but from results, I don’t see any indication that it did…?

        • To your credit (and my correction), I do see, for example, that Marquette somehow rocked it at #9. Props to them. And you must have allowed some way for the underdogs to rise up…

          • It definitely allows for that sort of thing, yes. Two other things to keep in mind: This is a weighted approach. Not every metric or even channel is counted equally. We tend to give more weight to content performance. Second, it’s not a given that because you have 2.5m fans you get more engagement. Appreciate your interest in the list, Aaron. Thank you.

  • CG

    Is this just for universities? I don’t see a lot of top liberal arts colleges that are very active on social media