Do universities that maintain Twitter pages know what they are doing, or why they are doing it? As Twitter has become a serious force on the internet, universities have, almost without exception, established a presence there. As I am currently looking at the impact of Twitter in higher education, I spent some of yesterday perusing the twitterings of about 50 universities, across several countries. I have come to the conclusion that they are, all of them, completely wasting their time, because they have no idea what Twitter is for. Not one of them.
First of all, the standard university’s Twitter profile is interesting. They all have 2,369 followers, and have published 786 tweets. Seriously, it is extraordinary how similar the metrics are for all universities across the English speaking world. And if that’s the number of followers, what does that tell us? For a start, it tells us that actual and potential students aren’t going there, or the numbers would be much greater. So who are they? Probably a small number of current students, no student applicants, and a number of graduates. Secondly, almost no tweets are replies to anyone’s questions or comments., so it is probable that whatever it is they are publishing is not meeting any interest out there. In fact, almost all tweets are in the form of announcements, either of some research project or other or of something the university wants to sell. Or sometimes they are just opaque. For example, a world famous university recently tweeted:
‘Sex changing lizards match their offspring to the climate’
OK, fair enough. But what on earth is this tweet supposed to do, and how is it helping anyone in the university in question? Unless they are trying to help Stephen Fry get questions for QI.
For me, Twitter has become an unexpectedly vital tool. Having worked out who is likely to give me early and accurate information, or who is likely to stimulate me with an interesting question, or who is likely to amuse me, I have assembled some twitterers to follow and I am better informed, stimulated and entertained as a result. When I look at university tweets I am almost immediately overcome with a massive desire to take a nap. What is clear is that the universities don’t know whom they are addressing, and in consequence don’t know what they should be saying. They should stop what they are doing – all of them – and do some proper analysis of how a Twitter presence might help them. And they should stop boring me.