UA ranked high in social media engagement report

The University of Alabama is known for throwing its weight around on the football field, in the business world and in legal circles. But according to “A Study of Social Media in Higher Education,” released May 28 by College Atlas, the University is also one of the nation’s most influential schools on Facebook.

The report ranked the University fourth in Facebook influence and 13th in the category of “Most Engaged Social Media College Communities.” Branden Neish, vice president of product development at One on One Marketing, which owns and operates College Atlas, and CollegeAtlas.org general manager, said the University scored an A in Facebook, a B+ on Twitter and C+ on LinkedIn. Instagram and Google+ were “Incomplete.”

While there is room for improvement, Neish said making the list at all is a big deal, since an effective social media presence communicates the amount of influence a university can leverage.

“[A university’s] ability to contribute to conversations of importance is amplified by them having a robust strategy behind communication through their social networks and attracting an audience to those networks. I think it’s important that we understand what those schools are saying,” he said. “They’re engaging their audiences in some pretty interesting conversations, sharing interesting research. ...ten years ago, a lot of that stuff was not being seen or recognized nearly as much as it is now.”

Neish noted that UA Athletic’s reputation and social media presence could be chipping away at the University’s “core” profile, a dilemma faced by schools where sports programs are a national brand.

“You can’t not have an Athletics page, so how do you differentiate those? That’s a tough decision. I would definitely be sprinkling Sports stuff on your main page as well and maybe [make] the Sports pages ... sort of for more hardcore fans,” he said. “That way you still get strong engagement on the core page because you’re delivering the athletic content people are interested in.”

University of Alabama director of web communications Andy Rainey said it is always rewarding to hear affirmation and favorable reception of the school’s social media approach.

“Our basic strategy is twofold. One, use social media platforms to share important messages and engaging content, and two, establish and cultivate relationships with students, alumni, supporters and others who care about UA,” he said.

He said the University uses social media in a variety of ways, from sharing important information to featuring multimedia content.

“At the top level, The University of Alabama primarily uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo for its social media communications. Individual colleges, divisions and departments also use these tools and others for their own engagement needs,” he said. “We recognize that each platform has its own unique strengths and characteristics, and we tailor our usage of each to best take advantage of its strengths.”

On Facebook, he said, the audience is largest, so interesting and engaging feature content that highlights The University of Alabama is carefully selected.

“But while Twitter has fewer users in terms of numbers, the platform itself is much more tailored to real-time updates and timely notifications, so our strategy there is to utilize that strength to keep our followers as informed as possible,” he said. “Each platform presents opportunities, and we select platforms and strategies for each based on our communications needs.”

Rainey said the hope is not to break apart social media to its own function but to align it with the University’s mainstream communications.

“From a central university standpoint, social media has certainly become a primary communications platform, and it is closely integrated into many different areas at UA,” he said. “We’d rather see social media viewed as an additional key outlet for how we communicate than as a specialized function that is separate from our normal workflow.”

In the unofficial world of social media, however, the University has developed its own image and presence. Hannah Stephens, known as the UA Sign Girl, garnered national attention with a sign that said “Saban, we’ll stay for 60 if you stay forever,” to which Saban responded, “Sounds like a good deal.”

“As a student, social media helped me network for jobs, and as an Alabama fan, it was an easy way to share team spirit and Bama support,” she said. “I didn’t really get active on Twitter until this football season, and so I would tweet out my signs for the game, and sometimes they would go viral. Social media has helped me gain exposure in my degree field of sports broadcasting and has blessed me with opportunities I’ve always dreamed of.”

Off the field, Stephens said The University of Alabama’s social media presence has also grown tremendously.

“I think the most impressive thing I saw in the social media pages of fans and students was how fast and effectively news spread,” she said. “For example, this year when the tornado threat was high, social media was one of the major tools that kept students updated by fellow students on Twitter.”

The University’s image on social media, Stephens said, is defined as a loyal fanbase.

“When one of our players or students is getting attacked on Facebook or twitter, the support from fellow students and Bama fans is incredible,” she said. “I think Alabama has by far the best and most impressive presence on all social media platforms. We are loyal. We are loud. And we are proud. #rolltide.”

(See also "Presence on social media balancing act for students")

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