(2011) Case Study: Using Social Media to Promote an Academic Laboratory


Published on

The increasing role of social media has been recognized as an increasingly effective marketing tool for a broad section of enterprises. This paper highlights the first stage of the engagement strategy using social media for an academic laboratory, and provides an insight for others wishing to take advantage of the various social networking tools that are available. The lab engages with different constituencies such as students, faculty, and alumni, industrial and governmental agencies. As these constituents online presence is fragmented over a number of different social websites (Twitter™, LinkedIn™ for example), there is no longer an effective single point of contact to engage them. With that in mind, researchers in the lab created accounts on, and started using Twitter™, LinkedIn™ and SlideShare™. Data about site referrals to the BSPA Laboratory’s homepage was gathered using Google Analytics™, in order to analyze the effects (if any) that social networks might have in promotional activities and increased interaction with the BSPA Laboratory home page (http://www.bspalabs.org/). Although this paper is a preliminary report on a short term progress, the data shows the differences in unique visitors before and after becoming active in social networks and will show data linking specific social network with an effect.

Published in: Education, Technology, Business
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

(2011) Case Study: Using Social Media to Promote an Academic Laboratory

  1. 1. Case Study: Using Social Media to Promote an Academic Laboratory Gregory T. Hales BSPA Laboratory, Purdue University Nathan Price BSPA Laboratory, Purdue University Jurica Seva BSPA Laboratory, Purdue University / Faculty of organization and informatics, University of Zagreb Stephen Elliott BSPA Laboratory, Purdue University Abstract The increasing role of social media has been recognized as an increasingly effective marketing tool for a broad section of enterprises. This paper highlights the first stage of the engagement strategy using social media for an academic laboratory, and provides an insight for others wishing to take advantage of the various social networking tools that are available. The lab engages with different constituencies such as students, faculty, and alumni, industrial and governmental agencies. As these constituents online presence is fragmented over a number of different social websites (Twitter™, LinkedIn™ for example), there is no longer an effective single point of contact to engage them. With that in mind, researchers in the lab created accounts on, and started using Twitter™, LinkedIn™ and SlideShare™. Data about site referrals to the BSPA Laboratory’s homepage was gathered using Google Analytics™, in order to analyze the effects (if any) that social networks might have in promotional activities and increased interaction with the BSPA Laboratory home page (http://www.bspalabs.org/). Although this paper is a preliminary report on a short term progress, the data shows the differences in unique visitors before and after becoming active in social networks and will show data linking specific social network with an effect. 1. Motivation The exponential growth of social media on the Internet has caused nearly every industry and market sector to change their strategies to utilize this phenomenon. Historically, the media (newspapers and television news) organizations provided content provided by professional journalists. More recently, news websites such as CNN, BBC, etc. have asked individuals to send in material and comment on stories, in a form of citizen journalism. Recently, the John Polk Journalism Award was given to an anonymous citizen journalist who recorded an event on a cellphone. In academia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has a group of students’ blog their experiences on the admissions homepage. Recently there have been discussions within our own academic department on the use of social media (namely Facebook™) so that we become more connected to students. For an academic lab, keeping a connection with students and alumni could foster increased collaboration, provide existing students with an established network of contacts. The status quo of email communication no longer applies, as students and alumni become more connected via social networks. Acknowledging that the laboratory was not communicating in an effective way with its constituents, the Biometrics Standards, Performance, and Assurance (BSPA) Laboratory at Purdue University conducted an experiment to utilize social media sites to update, promote, and engage the lab and its research activities with its alumni, students and “non-affiliated” individuals. This case study will provide the initial results of this ongoing experiment, to determine the effectiveness of social media by analyzing the amount of new web traffic to the BSPA lab website before and after the social media has been utilized. The Biometrics Standards, Performance and Assurance Laboratory mission is to excel in the applied research of biometric technologies. The lab works to achieve this mission by creating a partnership between industry and academia, bridging cultures to find solutions to the challenges associated with developing and implementing biometric technologies. To foster this, researchers in the lab undertake a number of different projects either sponsored commercially or internally. Commercial projects include work for a number of major biometric companies across a wide range of modalities. Internal projects typically relate to
  2. 2. undergraduate or graduate projects where there is no commercial sponsor. Many of our internal projects have led to outside funding, as well as publications, presentations and on-demand seminars, and new sub- disciplines within the field. Because our researcher groups interact with a number of different individuals, maintaining and growing our collaborative network is important. So too, is increasing the lab’s visibility, across a number of increasingly complex constituencies. The BSPA Laboratory’s focus has been set to 4 functional areas: • Biometric research, • Teaching, • Standards (US and International Information Technology Standards), • Testing and evaluation, both of new hardware and software products. Each of these functional areas had different needs, either due to the message, or the target audience. 1.1. What is Social Media? There are several definitions of social media or social web, but most of them have a recurrent theme, that there is some element of interactivity in the consumption of the content [1], [2], [3]. Social media has been growing steadily for many years, but since the beginning of 2008 these sites growth has increased at an exponential rate. Facebook™, at the time of this writing, had over 350 million active users throughout the world, with about 50% of the actives logging in on any given day, and more than 700,000 active local business pages [4]. Twitter™ grew at a rate of 1,382% from February 2008 to February 2009, and the number of unique visitors in December 2009 at 22.81 million [5]. The peak number of unique visitors for Twitter™ was recorded in July 2009 at 29.2 million. The LinkedIn™ community represents 170 industries with over 55 million members in over 200 countries and reports a new member joining approximately every second [5]. According to [6], “75% of Internet surfers used social media in the second quarter of 2008 by joining social networks, reading blogs, or contributing reviews to shopping sites; this represents a significant rise from 56% in 2007”. It should also be noted that the growth is not limited to teenagers - Generation X is also increasingly populating social media as well. These statistics all indicate that the time for businesses to utilize social media is now. 1.1. Why is Social Media important? Given the growth of social media, it has now become so integrated with many individual’s online presence, that there has been a shift in the communication power towards an individual centric model. Therefore we now have the scenario where a press release or announcement is re-distributed through networks of individuals rather as well a traditional media source. This interactivity can also take the form of consumer evangelism, with both positive and negative consequences of such activity. Social web applications include outlets such as YouTube™, Facebook™, and MySpace™ have forever altered the way consumers connect with one another sharing opinions and perspectives on nearly every subject. Now, instead of acting as a consumer of content, individuals are creating a relationship with business entities [7]. As Ochinero writes, because consumer interaction is intertwined with experiences, and individuals tend to influence others, social media cannot be ignored by businesses [3]. Utilizing social media to market a company can be as termed viral marketing; that is “marketing techniques that seek to exploit pre-existing social networks to produce exponential increases in brand awareness, through processes similar to the spread of an epidemic” [8]. Viral marketing therefore relies on the use of the social media sites’ users to share information and opinions. According to eMarketer, “more and more, consumers are relying on advice from friends, family and even strangers to make purchase decisions” and “many of them are giving – and getting – that advice online” [9]. Overall, the perception of social media users (especially demographics) is misconstrued by the general public. For example, Generation Y, who are individuals born between 1977 and 1990 are normally associated with those who are the primary users of social network, however, the data would indicate otherwise [10]. The only site that shows more appeal towards a younger age group is MySpace™ [11]. According to Accenture’s 2009 Consumer Electronics Products and Services Usage Report, “Baby Boomers (individuals born between 1946 and 1964) are embracing consumer technology applications 20 times faster than their younger generations and have become the fastest growing segment of the population to use social networking” [12]. Knowing the user community will give any company looking to use social media as a marketing tool a better understanding of how to use the technology and which sites to utilize. As mentioned earlier, there has been a shift in the way we produce, consume and share information. With this new paradigm, encapsulated under the term Web 2.0, a new mass communication model has been identified. This model is shown in Figure 1. It shows the core essentials
  3. 3. of the new media and the relationships between the participants in such a system. The two way relationship is what defines the new media the most, where the flow and accessibility of information increases and contributes to effects such media has on its users. Figure 1. Classic vs. modified communication model [13] Three quarters of adult Internet users under 25 have a social network profile with an increasing number of users across other demographic groups joining too [14]. The same report states that a quarter of social network users check their profile at least once a day, which makes them active users. The research results in the same paper confirm those statements obtained for other sources. So far, the biggest efforts in using social media as a marketing tool have been made in the business world with the education/research facilities slowly incorporating new ways of advertising and connecting with current and possible future partners (students, research partners, other educational institutions etc.). In the last couple of years there has been an increasing number of research and written papers about the impact of social media/social networking sites in various fields. Recognizing this new paradigm in social media and marketing opportunities it provides, there are more than a few “new media marketing” tools available that use the power and the new approach of information sharing. One of them, Social Media Release, is discussed in more detail in [15]. The primary focus of this tool is on the B2B segment, showing yet another segment of human activity where new social media has been accepted. Further, [15] states that “organizations have found that in many instances their best avenues to get their messages to target audiences in a credible way are no longer through traditional media, but by way of blogs and the bloggers who construct them”. In [16], the popularity of all new media tools and communication channels was analyzed and ranked, with results based on 33.22% response to the presented questionnaire (283 responsive subjects). Their results showed that e-mail is still the most popular way of online social interaction with social networking being used by 24% of the subjects putting it in the category of the lesser used technologies, making it opposite then the one stated in [6]. Seeks and Grundin focused on the increasing use of social media and possible implementations in a work environment [17]. Their results show that from all social networks available the majority of people 25 and younger use Facebook™ followed by LinkedIn™ and those older than 25 used LinkedIn™ and Facebook™ in a similar percentage. The results are shown in Table 1. Table 1. Social Networking Software Use (%) by Age [17]. In another study, many non-profit organizations use the social network Facebook™ as a promotional tool. By using data from 275 randomly sampled non-profit organization profiles on Facebook™ and analyzing their content and how they interact with their followers shows that “the most often used message dissemination strategy was to use the discussion boards on Facebook(74%)” followed by posting photographs (56%) and providing link to external news stories (54%) [18]. The authors further state that “non profits have not incorporated the vast majority of the Facebook applications available to them in to their social networking presence”. In contrast to [18], [19] focuses on the use of social media in the field of journalism; a profit oriented field. Using the structured telephone interview technique the authors interviewed 200 business journalists from influential publications, with 73% of them publishing text both in print and online. Only 7.5% of them believe that social media is very important to their work. The authors state that “journalists embrace the concept of social media more
  4. 4. than they enact the practices”. [20] discusses social contract and trust theory to “help us understand how firms may successfully interact with transaction-, interest-, relationship-, or fantasy- oriented communities” and “presents several principles to guide firm participation in virtual communities” participating in the community within the bounds of the social contract being the most important one. If we refer back to the model in Figure 1, we can see that the on-line communication is a two way communication where the information consumer immediately becomes the mediator/creator of information (in a more passive by sharing the available information, making it available to a wider audience). By doing that the consumer is “gaining substantially more power in determining the production and distribution of information due to theflattening of access on the Internet” [21]. Figure 2, presented as one of the results of their study, show the structure of social media represented Google search results. Figure 2 Composition of social media represented in Google [21] 1.2. Use Cases Conclusion The impact of social media and their use by individuals and organizations alike has been proven to exist in a wide variety of fields, as shown in the use case articles analyzed in the previous section. The data presented in referenced papers show a strong increase both of number of social sites (each having a specific role) and the number of users on a yearly basis. 1.3. Case Study – BSPA Laboratory Given the changing landscape of communication that the social media provides, the BSPA Lab became actively interested in the opportunities that social media tools could provide as part of its engagement strategy. One of the reasons to include social media to BSPA Lab’s promotional activities is the ability of the social networks to be able to engage the community in a two way conversation. As [22] noted, social media provides the ability to enable “companies to talk to their customers, and second, it enables customers to talk to one another”. By increasing the two-way communication, there could be benefits to exposing the research in the lab to a wider audience, and to attract future students and research opportunities to the lab. In order to do this, a classification of activities, and metrics were developed. For that the BSPA Laboratory has opened accounts on the social networking sites Twitter™, and LinkedIn™ (the focus of this paper), and also SlideShare™ and Eventbrite™. In developing a social network site, the researchers took the four functional areas and mapped related metrics to them to establish whether there was a change in the traffic levels. This can be seen in Table 2. Table 2. Functional areas and Metric for the Social Media experiment Activity Metric Increasing visibility of its online domain Increase in direct traffic, search engine traffic and referring sites. Broaden its network and foster research collaboration Identify and focus on demographic target groups Number of new connections to the website. Number of hits on social websites relating to research (papers, presentations). This includes followers on Twitter™, LinkIn, and referring sites. Engage industry in its research efforts Number of new contacts with industry, outside of current network With the use of social networks having crossed from personal use and entered the professional daily life in every organization, the effort made by BSPA Laboratory has merit in trying to attract prospective future users of either its educational or research programs. As shown in above mentioned use cases, the use of social networks has been recognized by organizations and they not only accept but also encourage the use of social networks. These changes can be explained by the general shift in overall communication means, described by the web 2.0 dogmas whose guidelines can be taken as the guiding force for those changes. As shown in [17] the choice of LinkedIn™ as one of the social networks utilized in BSPA Laboratory’s effort is justified. Also, the use of Twitter™ as a quick, short news generator can deliver the headlines to a vast number of There was no article relating social media to educational/research facilities
  5. 5. like the BSPA Laboratory. The demographics to this field is very specific and goal oriented, unlike health or travel fields, which makes it harder to collect and analyze based on the information available from basic Internet usage statistics. Nevertheless, next section will tackle the question of efficiency of social media in this field based on traffic and unique visitor information obtained from Google Analytics™ in the period from September 2009 to February 2010. 2. Methodology 2.1 Dataset Description and Life Cycle As this is the first stage of the social marketing experiment, the sole goal as of now is to broaden the labs visibility in the current biometric and educational market. So the data for this paper pertains to any visitor of the website www.bspalabs.org. During the time period of November 23 and November 27, the lab’s website underwent to a complete overhaul, moving from a static series of webpages to a Wordpress™ template. Visual changes were made not only for aesthetic reasons but also to help visitors navigate and interact easier than using the previous website. It was thought that this would be the time to implement newer, more unique promotional strategies. The current social media strategy was implemented during this time period. The new website has built in social network capabilities to a number of social network sites. For organizational purposes, the analytics data was broken up into different subgroups. The months of August, September, October, and the first two weeks of November each represent time periods prior to the implementation of social media marketing. The time period of January 19 thru February 22 represent post implementation. It should be known that during November 27 and January 19 all analytics data was omitted. The primary reason for the omission of data from this time period was due to the continued testing and evaluation of the social media accounts. 2.2 Traffic Sources In order to fully understand and identify the demographic that represents BSPA’s online traffic, many tools where used to monitor and analyze the data that was made available. The software’s main purpose was to monitor and identify these traffic sources. In this research it has been denoted that each type of traffic source has been categorized as either being a referral, search or direct. A referral can be described as a link between two web sources, A and B, where web source B is being accessed from web source A because of information of particular interest to the user. In our case web source B is the index or any other page on the BSPA Laboratory’s site. Referral site information can be used to help visualize visitors and their intentions. For instance if a visitor is referred to the laboratory from a URL that can be linked to an academic institution, such as a Purdue search, you could assume that their intentions would be an educational based inquiry. The largest amount of traffic to BSPALabs.org stems from search engines. Specific searches from search engines produce results that can be very helpful in reaching broad segments in the market. Monitoring the amount of visits that are produced from searches is essential in comprehending and acknowledging trends and segments. Visitors that are directed from search engines are usually in search of specific information. Their keywords are a direct reflection of this. Keywords are monitored and stored by the analytic software to be analyzed. Trends can be found in these searches by addressing specific commonalities in the keywords. Keywords such as Purdue Biometrics and Indiana Department of Corrections are (at the time of writing) at the top of the keyword searches. If BSPA Labs sole purpose was to expand traffic a common technique would be to produce more material pertaining to those keywords. Table 3 outlines these search terms in rank order. Table 3 Composition of Keyword Searches Keywords in rank order (From Google Analytics) Purdue biometrics Indiana Department of Corrections BSPA Labs Biometrics in Healthcare BioAPI Java BSPA Laboratory "Direct Traffic", as it will be called throughout this paper, are limited to users who click on previously saved bookmarks or visited the site by typing in the URL directly into their web browser. This type of traffic is the most basic and usually the easiest to analyze because of its simplicity.
  6. 6. Figure 3 Composition BSPA Lab’s Traffic Sources from August 1 – February 22 Figure 3 above shows the distribution of traffic to the website across direct traffic, search engines, and referring sites. 2.3 Data Metrics and Measurements The process of tracking visitors and their movements within BSPA Labs website was made possible by Google Analytics™. Measurements such as visits, time of arrival, time of leave, bounce rate, page views, referral, and unique visits are all distinctive metrics used to measure site usage. Time of arrival is the simple measurement of when a user gained access to a certain URL. Time of leave, being the opposing measurement, states when a user left the website. Time of arrival and time of leave are very important measurements because they are essential and are included in equations to produce average time. Average time on site is helpful because it helps measure visit quality. If visitors spend a long time visiting a site, they may be interacting extensively with it. However, time on site can be misleading because visitors often leave browser windows open when they are not actually viewing our using the site [23]. Bounce rate is another essential measurement in determining visit quality. A bounce rate measurement is the percentage of single- page visits. For example if a visitor leaves the site after their first page view it is considered to be a bounce which cumulatively produces a rate. High bounce rate usually indicates material not relevant to the visitor causing them to have no further interest in the site. Time on site is the last and most effective way of measuring quality. When visitors spend copious amounts of time on a site it usually indicates extensive interaction. A high average page view results from appropriately targeted traffic or high quality content effectively presented on the site. 3. Results & Analysis The BSPA lab has only been utilizing social media as part of an online engagement strategy for six weeks at the time of writing this article so all results should be viewed as preliminary. For the purposes of this preliminary research the metrics above will be analyzed by comparing the monthly average prior to social media use with the total we have post social media implementation. Table 4. Web Traffic Data before and after Social Media use Metric Pre SM Use Post SM Use Avg. Time on Site 00:01:44 00:02:05 Unique Visitors 411.75 620 Bounce Rate 60.1475% 59.20% Avg. Pages/Visit 2.7175 2.46 Traffic Sources Direct Traffic 257 269 Search Engines 158 401 Referring Sites 165.75 199 The data displayed above in Table 4 shows the monthly average for each metric pre and post social media (SM) use. Out of the seven metrics in this table, the analytics data shows an improvement in six of these. The average number of pages per visit did not improve, but this might be explained by better tagging of results, and better search engine optimization. The largest improvements are in number of unique visitors and in the traffic sources. The number of unique visitors has increased by 50% since initiating the experiment. Further examination of the traffic sources to the website shows that the largest source of traffic was from search engines (46.09% of the total traffic). This increase may be due to several reasons – the initiation of the in social media use, the new website format, interest in biometrics, or the use of Google as an advertising tool. After just a month of use the amount of traffic from referring sites did increase from the monthly average prior to social media use. The amount of direct traffic is pretty comparable with only a slight increase since the online engagement strategy has been put into place. Direct traffic remained relatively stable throughout with the source of much of this traffic being the researchers and other individuals involved with the lab (although Google Analytics did not tally the hits from within the lab itself based on IP range). It should be disclosed that the lab did participate in the Biometrics Consortium Conference at the end of September 2009 where many of the researchers in the lab went to promote the lab,
  7. 7. talk to others in the field, and hand out marketing material. To analyze the quantity of Social Media traffic, Twitter™ and LinkedIn™ data were compared to the lab’s all time site averages. Visual representations of the data are show in Figure 10. Figure 4 show that Twitter™ visitors produced much higher average scores (pages/visit; average time on site; % new visits; bounce rate) when compared to the site’s overall average. With respect to time on site, visitors from Twitter™ stayed roughly three times longer than the average visitor and LinkedIn™ users. Figure 4 Composition of Site Usage (S.M. VS. Site Average) The percentage of new visitors is simply a measurement of unique visitors compared to returning visitors. This is the only metric that suggest Twitter™ is not ideal for growth and expansion of BSPA Labs. It seems that the average Twitter™ user only follows status updates on groups or individuals that they choose to follow. The last metric that was compared to the average visitor was bounce rate. It was stated earlier that bounce rate is a percentage of users that leave the website after the first directed page. It was also stated that this is a very helpful measurement when trying to determine visitor quality. Again this study shows that Twitter users, on average are more likely to be considered quality visitors. These users have a much lower bounce rate than the average. This effect is similar to the average time spent on site. The conclusion is similar because Twitter users are not in search of specific material. 4. Conclusion Since the results of this study are preliminary it is difficult to come to any solid conclusions. The results we have presented have shown that the website appears to be gaining more visitors, with those visitors staying on the site longer. It also appears that the use of social media has given the website more exposure so there is more traffic coming from referral sites and search engines. 5. Future Work Since current available amount of information is not enough for a detailed analysis of the impact each utilized social network has that will be the focus of the follow up work. After we gather more data we will compare the effects each specific social network has on the traffic to www.bspalab.org and the link between activities on the specific social network (e.g. new twitter post) and activities on www.bspalab.org.
  8. 8. Furthermore, the introduction of other social media (Slideshare.net™ and Eventbrite™, will be reported on. 6. References [1] Dictionary.com's 21st Century Lexicon, “New media,” Dictionary.com, 2010. [2] R.J. Larson, “The Rise of Viral Marketing through the New Media of Social Media,” 2009. [3] R. Larson, "The Rise of Viral Marketing through the New Media of Social Media," Faculty Publications and Presentations, 2009. [4] Facebook.com, “Statistics | Facebook,” Facebook.com, 2010. [5] B. Parr, “The Twitter Flatline: Why Doesn't Twitter Grow?,” Mashable: The Social Media Guide, Jan. 2010. [6] A.M. Kaplan and M. Haenlein, “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media,” Business Horizons, vol. 53, 2010, pp. 59-68. [7] D. Hawkins, D. Mothersbaugh, and R. Best, Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy, New York: McGraw-Hill, . [8] P. Datta, D. Chowdhury, and B. Chakraborty, “Viral Marketing: New form of word-of-mouth through Internet,” The Business Review, vol. 3, 2005, pp. 69- 75. [9] eMarketer, “The rising roar of word-of- mouth,” eMarketer.com, Jun. 2007. [10] S. Jones and S. Fox, "Generations online in 2009," Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2009. [11] Quantcast, “Profile of MySpace.com,” Mar. 2009. [12] Accenture, “Consumer electonics products and services usage report,” 2009. [13] D. Hoffman and T.P. Novak, “Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Conceptual Foundations,” 1996. [14] T. Correa, A.W. Hinsley, and H.G. de Zúñiga, “Who interacts on the Web?: The intersection of users' personality and social media use,” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 26, Mar. 2010, pp. 247-253. [15] P. Steyn, E. Salehi-Sangari, L. Pitt, M. Parent, and P. Berthon, “The Social Media Release as a public relations tool: Intentions to use among B2B bloggers,” Public Relations Review, vol. 36, Mar. 2010, pp. 87- 89. [16] N. Eyrich, M.L. Padman, and K.D. Sweetser, “PR practitioners' use of social media tools and communication technology,” Public Relations Review, vol. In Press, Corrected Proof. [17] M.M. Skeels and J. Grudin, “When social networks cross boundaries: a case study of workplace use of facebook and linkedin,” Proceedings of the ACM 2009 international conference on Supporting group work, Sanibel Island, Florida, USA: ACM, 2009, pp. 95-104. [18] R.D. Waters, E. Burnett, A. Lamm, and J. Lucas, “Engaging stakeholders through social networking: How nonprofit organizations are using Facebook,” Public Relations Review, vol. 35, Jun. 2009, pp. 102-106. [19] R.W. Lariscy, E.J. Avery, K.D. Sweetser, and P. Howes, “An examination of the role of online social media in journalists' source mix,” Public Relations Review, vol. 35, Sep. 2009, pp. 314-316. [20] T.J. Spaulding, “How can virtual communities create value for business?,” Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, vol. 9, Jan. 2010, pp. 38- 49. [21] Z. Xiang and U. Gretzel, “Role of social media in online travel information search,” Tourism Management, vol. 31, Apr. 2010, pp. 179-188. [22] W.G. Mangold and D.J. Faulds, “Social media: The new hybrid element of the promotion mix,” Business Horizons, vol. 52, Jul. 2009, pp. 357-365. [23] Google.com, “Analytics Glossary, Google” Google.com, 2010.