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The Ivy League Twitter Face-Off: Which Schools Shine on Social?

Social media has become a new ruler with which to measure any competitive space.

This week, we’re looking at how Ivy League schools – considered the best-in-class when it comes to higher education in the USA – are making themselves known on Twitter.

Many of these brands use the network as the connective tissue between themselves, current students, prospective students, alumni, and the public at large, so I looked closer at the tactics that are making them successful.

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I did a competitive analysis of Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and Yale for a two-week period between June 24 and July 8 to see what kind of engagement they were seeing and what type of content they were sharing on Twitter. Let’s get our learnin’ on (Sorry, I had to).

Harvard Generates the Most Engagement

Harvard wins the engagement game, with 43% of the relative share of engagement between the rest of the Ivies. Its closest competitors are Princeton and Yale, with 12% of the relative share of engagement each.

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To see what Harvard is doing to generate this engagement, let’s look at their Tweet with the most impressions and their most retweeted Tweet from the period. Here’s the winner for most impressions:

This Tweet garnered 150 Retweets,  128 Favorites, and over 1.2 million impressions – 2% of Harvard’s total impressions for this time period.

What’s working so well here? First of all, the post features a photo, which tends to drive higher than average engagement for Tweets. But, on a more thoughtful level, this post features a highly regarded and inspiring public figure, while simultaneously reminding followers that Harvard is the fertile ground from which such figures spring – a reminder which alumni love and does well for Harvard’s PR.

If I were a Social Media Manager at Harvard, I’d love to dive deeper into the individual user data on this post and see how it matches up with my alumni list, then plan Twitter content and even more specifically-targeted email marketing campaigns around my rich newfound information.

Let’s see what we can learn from Harvard’s most retweeted Tweet.

This post has been retweeted 154 times. It points to Harvard’s — and the Kennedy School’s in particular — status as a respected thought leader, and suggests that content which includes Harvard’s research findings performs very well and should be a top priority for inclusion in future social media efforts. 

UPenn Engages Their Audience At a Higher Rate

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 9.59.20 AMHarvard wins the straight-up engagement game, but UPenn has seen great success when it comes to getting a large percentage of its Twitter followers to engage with Tweets. Dartmouth comes in a close second. Let’s review UPenn’s most engaged-with Tweets to see what they’re doing that gets such a good percentage of their followers to interact with them. Here’s number one:

This post proves that patriotism works — and tying a timely theme back to your own brand gets serious love on social media.

The same is true for tying your brand to inspirational words, as UPenn’s number two post clearly shows:

And, at number three, we have this prestige-driven Tweet:

People love to hear good things about their alma mater.

All three of these Tweets have one thing in common — photos are by far the biggest driver of engagement according to my competitive analysis between all the Ivies.

All three of UPenn’s most engaged-with Tweets included links to content on other social networks, Instagram and Tumblr – a commendable sign of their savvy cross-network social nature and a good way for UPenn to remind Twitter followers that they’re active on those networks.

Yale Drives Site Traffic

Dartmouth and Harvard don’t use links, so they’re out of the running here – but Yale’s 6,179 clicks are an impressive source of traffic, and where they’re directing people with those links is very telling:

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Here’s where Yale is driving followers with all those links:

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A vast majority are being driven to their own site. This is a smart move, and it’s no surprise that the specific links in Yale’s most engaged-with posts highlight its greatest strengths. At number one, as an authority in the field of history:

At number two, as an authority in the field of medicine:

And at number three, as a reminder that the institution and its students are continuing its legacy of innovation:

All these Tweets do well by stating a fact or finding, then linking to longer content on the topic – giving followers a bite, and hoping they’ll opt in for the whole (educational) cookie. This is a tactic that you can learn from, regardless of your industry.

Which School Do You Admire on Twitter?

What can a higher ed institution get out of being active on social media? Is Twitter the best social channel for connecting with alumni, prospective students, and the public at large? How does Twitter engagement relate to fundraising? Let me know in the comments below.

Lucy Hitz

I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.

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