Facebook Rules and Instagram Rises in Institutional Social-Media Survey

In many ways, the results of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s annual social-media survey offer no surprises. But just because there aren’t major shifts in how colleges use social media to keep in touch with alumni or solicit gifts doesn’t mean that major changes in social media aren’t afoot.

The results of the fifth annual survey, released on Wednesday at CASE’s social-media conference, in Los Angeles, indicate that 98 percent of the nearly 2,000 respondents use social media and that 95 percent of those institutions use Facebook. Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube are the next three most-used social media, at 82, 76, and 68 percent, respectively.

Colleges seeking to interact with their alumni are wise to emphasize Facebook, which is overwhelmingly popular with online adults in all age groups. But institutions’ use of Instagram, the platform based on photo sharing, jumped from 27 percent last year to 42 percent this year. That jump signals growing awareness that Facebook might not always dominate.

Instagram, which Facebook bought for about $1-billion almost two years ago, is increasingly popular among a younger demographic. In 2013, 37 percent of online adults, ages 18 to 29, used Instagram (compared with 84 percent who used Facebook), according to Pew Research. Only 6 percent of online adults, ages 50 to 64, used Instagram (compared with 60 percent who used Facebook).

According to Michael Stoner, president of mStoner Inc., a social-media consulting firm that works with colleges and that conducted the CASE survey along with Huron Education, the rise of Instagram is part of a boom in new platforms and growing demographic shifts in older ones. “Why would a teen want to be on Facebook when their parents are there?” he said. “It doesn’t feel so private anymore.”

Mr. Stoner called the rise of Instagram as a factor in colleges’ social-media plans “an illustration of the volatility in social media” and a future consideration in how institutions can take aim at different segments of their audience. But he also cautioned that, “if you’re just adopting tools because at the moment it seems they’re the tool du jour, you’re not going to be very smart or strategic about what you’re doing.”

“If you’re developing Facebook campaigns for teens, I’d say you’re behind the curve,” he said. “But I also don’t think it’s worthwhile to jump on every new tool that comes out there.”

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