Friday, August 25, 2017

2017-08-25: University Twitter Engagement: Using Twitter Followers to Rank Universities

Figure 1 Summing primary and secondary followers for @ODUNow

Figure 1: Summing primary and secondary followers for @ODUNow
Our University Twitter Engagement (UTE) rank is based on the friend and extended follower network of primary and affiliated secondary Twitter accounts referenced on a university's home page. We show that UTE has a significant, positive correlation with expert university reputation rankings (e.g., USN&WR, THE, ARWU) as well as rankings by endowment, enrollment, and athletic expenditures (EEE). As illustrated in Figure 1, we bootstrap the process by starting with the URI for the university's homepage obtained from the detailed institutional profile information in the ranking lists. For each URI, we navigated to the associated webpage and searched the HTML source for links to valid Twitter handles. Once the Twitter screen name was identified, the Twitter GET users/Show API was used to retrieve the URI from the profile of each user name. If the domain of the URI matched exactly or resolved to the known domain of the institution, we considered the account to be one of the university's official, primary Twitter handles since the user had self-associated with the university via the URI reference.

As an example, the user names @NBA, @DukeAnnualFund, @DukeMBB, and @DukeU were extracted from the page source of the Duke University homepage ( However, only @DukeAnnualFund and @DukeU are considered official primary accounts because their respective URIs, and, are in the same domain as the university.  On the other hand, @DukeMBB maps to, which is not in the same domain as, so we don't include it among the official accounts. Ultimately, we delve deeper into the first and second degree relationships between Twitter followers to identify the pervasiveness of  the university community which includes not only academics, but sports teams, high profile faculty members, and other sponsored organizations.

We aggregated the rankings from multiple expert sources to calculate an adjusted reputation rank (ARR) for each university which allows direct comparison based on position in the list and provides a collective perspective of the individual rankings. In rank-to-rank comparisons using Kendall's Tau, we observed a significant, positive rank correlation (τ=0.6018) between UTE and ARR which indicates that UTE could be a viable proxy for ranking atypical institutions normally excluded from traditional lists.  We also observed a strong correlation (τ=0.6461) between UTE and EEE suggesting that universities with high enrollments, endowments, and/or athletic budgets also have high academic rank. The top 20 universities as ranked by UTE are shown in Table 1. We've highlighted a few universities where there is a significant disparity between the ARR and the UTE ranking which indicates larger Twitter followings than can be explained just by academic rank.

University UTE Rank ARR Rank
Harvard University 1 1
Stanford University 2 2
Cornell University 3 10
Yale University 4 7
University of Pennsylvania 5 8
Arizona State University--Tempe 6 59
Columbia University in the City of New York 7 4
Texas A&M University--College Station 8 39
Wake Forest University 9 74
University of Texas--Austin 10 16
Pennsylvania State University--Main Campus 11 24
University of Michigan--Ann Arbor 12 10
University of Minnesota--Twin Cities 13 16
Ohio State University--Main Campus 14 22
Princeton University 15 4
University of Wisconsin--Madison 16 14
University of Notre Dame 17 46
Boston University 18 21
University of California--Berkeley 19 3
Oklahoma State University--Main Campus 20 100

Table 1: Top 20 Universities Ranked by UTE for Comparison With ARR

We have prepared an extensive report of our findings as a technical report available on arXiv (linked below). We have also posted all of the ranking and supporting data used in this study which includes a social media rich dataset containing over 1 million Twitter profiles, ranking data, and other institutional demographics in the oduwsdl Github repository.

- Corren (@correnmccoy)

Corren G. McCoy, Michael L. Nelson, Michele C. Weigle, "University Twitter Engagement: Using Twitter Followers to Rank Universities." 2017. Technical Report. arXiv:1708.05790.

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