Brian Kelly has a post about UK universities on Facebook. He states that the OU is the most popular university on Facebook:
"The Open University Facebook page is the top of all University pages, with 7,539 fans (with the University of Michigan way behind in second place with 5,313 fans (up from a count of 2,874 a month ago). The other most popular UK Universities are Aston University (2,976 fans), Royal Holloway (1,765), Aberystwyth University (1,655 fans), University of Central Lancashire (1,475 fans), Keele University (1,420 fans), Cardiff University (1,357 fans) and the University of Surrey (1,166 fans)."
Now we might quibble whether number of fans equals most popular, but certainly if having student use Facebook were a goal (or, even better, if it was linked to funding), then the OU would be doing well.
I think there are three possible reasons for this:
- The size of the OU student body - we have more students, so you'd expect more Facebook fans
- Being distance education, the use of networks such as Facebook to connect with each other is more of a motivation for OU students
- The Facebook apps that Liam, Tony, Stuart and I developed (may seem immodest, but bear with me, there is a point beyond ego massage).
Now the first two aren't factors other universities can do much about, they are intrinsic to the nature of the OU. But, if they wanted to have a reasonable Facebook presence (a debatable goal), then is the last one relevant? Does creating University applications increase your Facebook presence?
I'm afraid we can't answer this with any solid research, but here's some thoughts. I reckon the presence of our apps has three functions:
- They make Facebook more useful to OU students. Well, obviously, you'd hope so, but by being able to find students on your course (through Courses Profile), share stories (through My OUStory), find someone to study with (through StudyBuddy), etc, the applications take a lot of the difficulty out of using Facebook as a supplementary study tool.
- They help create an OU community. The tools facilitate students making connections and dialogue. This provides a motivation to return, and to share with other OU students who may not be on FB. It makes the adoption of FB a viral process amongst students.
- It shows that the OU itself endorses (although it was only a semi-legitimate project) the use of FB as a study tool and thus eases some anxieties around this.
So, my hunch is that the OU applications have contributed to the OU's popularity on Facebook, but it is difficult to quantify this (unless someone wants to give me lots of money to research it).