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The Missing Link In Social Media Use Among Top MBA Programs: Tracking Prospects

The Missing Link In Social Media Use Among Top MBA Programs:
Tracking Prospects

Conducted by:
Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph.D.(
Stephanie L. Jacobsen, MBA (


The Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth recently conducted an in-depth and statistically valid study on the usage of social media by the top MBA programs in the United States.  

This new study builds upon the Center’s stream of social media research that has been ongoing since 2007.  Previous studies have examined social media adoption and use by the Inc. 500, Fortune 500, Forbes list of the 200 largest charities and US colleges and universities.  All social media studies can be found at

Although social media adoption in US colleges and universities has been studied by the Center, these studies have been limited to use in undergraduate admissions offices. Graduate programs using social media have not yet been explored. 


The list of top MBA programs in the US, for the purpose of this study, comes from the 2012 US News Best Business School Rankings. US News surveyed 441 MBA programs in fall 2011 and early 2012 to get the information used to determine their 102 top ranked schools. For more information, full rankings and detailed methodology used by US News please visit

Data for this study was collected through telephone surveys with the 102 top ranked schools. Seventy schools participated in our phone interviews.  Schools in this study are diverse in affiliation, geography and size and include the University of Chicago, Columbia, Rutgers, Yale, the University of Kentucky and Georgetown University. Fifty-six percent of the schools in our sample are public and 44% are private schools. For a list of participating schools, please see the last two pages of this report. 

All interviews were conducted with the MBA Director, Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies or someone holding a similar position.  The survey included questions on the use of social media expressly as a marketing strategy for the MBA program.  Social media usage, measurement, monitoring and tracking at each school were queried along with how the social media function is implemented in the MBA office.  All respondents were asked their level of agreement with statements related to the social media efforts of their school.  Highlights of the study are followed by a detailed report of the findings.

Key Highlights

  • All 70 schools studied are currently using at least one social media platform or tool to market their MBA program. The top three tools used by MBA programs are Facebook (100%), Twitter (96%) and LinkedIn (87%). Three quarters of the schools maintain an MBA blog.  Some programs reported using Flickr (30%), Google+ (16%), mobile apps (14%), and Foursquare (13%).
  • While only 16% of schools are using downloadable mobile app’s, these are rated among the most effective tools studied.
  • 65% of schools using social media to market their MBA programs do not track the number of perspective students using social media who in turn complete applications. 
  • 41% of these top MBA programs describe social media as playing a critical or major role in their MBA marketing efforts. 42% have no written policy governing the use of social media for their program and 29% do not use any monitoring tool to track buzz or conversations about their program.
  • Most MBA programs studied plan to increase their investment in social media in the next year (82%) and every school agrees that social media is worth the investment they make in it. Less than half of the schools, however (44%) feel social media cuts the cost of traditional advertising or marketing for their programs 
  • 94% report recruitment is the number one goal of their social media efforts, yet the top 4 measures of effectiveness do not include tracking prospective applicants.

Summary of Findings

Every school in our sample is currently utilizing social media to market their MBA program. The majority of MBA Programs (61%) are currently using 5 or more social media tools.  The Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona is using 14 different social media tools. University of Virginia and Pepperdine are using 11 and 10 respectively.

Social Media Tools Used

The most commonly used social media tools in top MBA programs are Facebook (100%), Twitter (96%), LinkedIn (87%), YouTube (77%) and Official Blogs (74%). More than a third of the schools report using Flickr and podcasting. Google+ is now used by 23% of the schools. Message boards/forums (24%), Mobile apps (16%), Foursquare (14%) and Texting (10%) are among the least used.  (See graph below)

Respondents, including both those who are currently using social media just for their MBA program and those who are not, were also asked which social media tools they plan to use in the future. Sixty-four percent of respondents plan to add or begin using at least one new social media tool or platform in the future. The most common tools respondents plan to add or begin using are Twitter (50%), Blogs (48%), LinkedIn (46%), YouTube  (29%), Mobile Apps (25%) and Pinterest and News feeds each at 7%. Twenty-four percent reported using some other social media tools.  Those cited most often include Digg, Delicious, Picasso, and Skype.

Respondents were asked which social media tools they viewed as the most effective.  It is interesting to note that usage does not necessarily correlate with perceived effectiveness except in the case of Facebook.  Facebook is the most widely utilized social media site and also perceived to be the most effective.  

Mobile Apps are currently used by only 16% of programs, but are seen as effective by 82% of them. Conversely, Twitter is being used by 96% of the MBA programs, but only 62% rate it as an effective tool. A similar result is shown for LinkedIn.  Foursquare is used by 14% of programs studied but rated as effective by 40% of them.  (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image1

Reasons for Social Media Use and What Role it Plays

This study also examined the reasons behind social media use and how central a role social media plays in marketing and recruiting efforts.

The findings revealed that schools are using social media for many different reasons. Most respondents said they were using social media for student recruitment (94%), alumni relations (83%), student communication (82%), public relations (82%) and student retention (65%).  LinkedIn is used almost exclusively for alumni relations.  (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image2

Respondents were also asked to identify additional uses of social media for their program. The most common responses were related to branding, community building, engagement and event promotion. Additionally, respondents were asked if they agreed that top MBA programs are expected to be using social media and 70% did agree that there was such an expectation among applicants.

Forty-one percent of respondents described social media as playing a critical or major role in their marketing efforts. Fifty-eight percent describe it as playing a moderate or minor role.  There is clearly some difference of opinion, which may be related to the program’s ability to measure the outcomes or effectiveness of their efforts. (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image3

Measuring, Monitoring & Tracking

Virtually all respondents (97%) do currently measure the effectiveness of their social media efforts. While fans, followers and hits are among the most common measures used to assess effectiveness of social media programs, these measurements will not accurately calculate how many prospective applicants apply to a school as a result of using their social media.  Other tools such as a “how did you hear about us” on the application, as well as software packages, allow schools to measure if social media is actually improving recruitment efforts.

It is widely believed that listening to online conversation is equally as important as participating in online conversation.  Only by being aware of conversation regarding your school or program, can you quickly and appropriately respond and encourage or discourage trending discussions.

Respondents were asked if their MBA program tracks online buzz, posts, conversations and news using a monitoring tool or automated alerts. The majority of respondents (65%) are currently monitoring buzz on their school/program but 1 in 3 do not.  This could put a school at a disadvantage if negative or inaccurate information is circulating online and goes unchallenged. (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image4

Additionally, respondents were asked if they currently track the number of applications for their MBA program that come from perspective students using social media. Only 24% of respondents report tracking applications. (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image5

Management & Policies

The social media efforts of 50% of respondents are managed entirely by the MBA office, the efforts of 44% are managed by an external consultant/agency, the efforts of 5% are managed entirely by another office on campus and 1% are managed entirely by another on-campus office. (See graph below). 

Social Media Missing Link Image6

Respondents were also asked how their MBA office staffed their social media efforts. The majority (76%) have retrained or repositioned full-time employees, 35% employ students, 17% employ new social media hires, 15% do not employ anyone in the MBA office, 14% employ external consultants and 4% of respondents did not know or have some other arrangement. Private schools are more likely to employ external consultants to manage their social media presence than public institutions. (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image7

When asked if they had a written social media policy to govern their program’s online efforts, 47% reported they do have such a policy.  Forty-two percent do not have a social media policy and 11% did not know if any policy exists at their school.

It appears that the top MBA programs have embraced social media tools to help recruit, but may still be learning to master measuring, monitoring and tracking their online efforts.  In addition, all schools should consider having a written social media policy given that so many schools have students help with their online efforts.

Future Investment

Sixty-two percent of respondents reported that their investment in social media is definitely worth it although when asked if social media cuts the cost of traditional advertising or marketing for their MBA program, respondents were evenly split.

This finding may indicate that while some schools are utilizing only free social media tools and making minimal investments, others may be paying for premium account subscriptions, advanced analytics, dedicated employees, external resources and/or paid social media advertising. 

Forty-one percent of respondents will increase their MBA program’s investment in social media over the next year by 20%-50%, 29% will increase their investment by less than 20%, 12% will increase their investment by more than 50%, 12% will remain the same. Only 2% will decrease their investment in social media. (See graph below) 

Social Media Missing Link Image8

Those respondents who said they would increase their MBA program’s investment in social media over the next year were asked how they plan to increase their investment. Thirty percent plan to make new software purchases, 28% plan to invest in new training, 22% will make new hires, 11% plan to dedicate more staff time and money to social media, 6% plan to add apps or pages, 6% plan to hire outside consultants and 31% will invest in other ways. (See graph below)

Social Media Missing Link Image9

The most common other ways respondents plan to increase their MBA program investment in social media are by increasing social media advertisements, looking for better analytics and investing in more content and videos.

Impact & Conclusion

It can be concluded from the findings of this study that the top MBA programs in the US are actively using social media to market their MBA programs. Recruitment is their number one objective.  Those who are currently using social media do believe it is worth the investment they make in it and that it has a valuable impact on their MBA program.   Seventy percent plan to increase their investment in this area over the next year.  

The missing link appears to be tracking those who first become interested in the program through one of the program’s social media sites.  Being able to measure whether these prospects actually apply to the program is something schools may be looking to do, but have not yet mastered. Without this piece of information it is difficult to really assess the effectiveness of the social media plan and to know where future investments should be made.

Measuring, monitoring and tracking appear to be areas where schools need to focus along with creating social media policies.  These MBA titans have embraced the tools and now will compete to master and assess the impact of them.  In this case, the winner may not only end up with the best students, but also those that are engaged in the program’s vision, its people and its brand.

Participating Schools

2012 US News Rank

College Name



University of Chicago (Booth)

Chicago, IL 


Columbia University  

New York, NY


Yale University  

New Haven, CT


Duke University (Fuqua)  

Durham, NC  


University of Michigan - Ann Arbor (Ross)

Ann Arbor, MI


University of Virginia (Darden)  

Charlottesville, VA  


University of Texas - Austin (McCombs)  

Austin, TX  


University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flagler)  

Chapel Hill, NC  


Emory University (Goizueta)  

Atlanta, GA  


Indiana University - Bloomington (Kelley)

Bloomington, IN  


Georgetown University (McDonough)

Washington, DC  


Rice University (Jones)  

Houston, TX  


Ohio State University (Fisher)  

Columbus, OH


University of Notre Dame (Mendoza)  

Notre Dame, IN  


University of Wisconsin - Madison

Madison, WI  


Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Nashville, TN


University of Minnesota - Twin Cities (Carlson)  

Minneapolis, MN  


Arizona State University (Carey)

Tempe, AZ


Georgia Institute of Technology  

Atlanta, GA  


Texas A&M University - College Station (Mays)

College Station, TX  


Brigham Young University (Marriott)  

Provo, UT


University of Washington (Foster)

Seattle, WA  


University of California - Davis

Davis, CA


University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL


Boston College (Carroll)

Chestnut Hill, MA


University of Texas - Dallas

Richardson, TX  


Boston University

Boston, MA  


Purdue University - West Lafayette (Krannert)

West Lafayette, IN  


University of Maryland - College Park (Smith)

College Park, MD


Pennsylvania State University - University Park (Smeal)  

University Park, PA  


Wake Forest University (Babcock)

Winston-Salem, NC


University of Florida (Hough)

Gainesville, FL  


University of Iowa (Tippie)  

Iowa City, IA


University of Arkansas - Fayetteville (Walton)  

Fayetteville, AR


Case Western Reserve University (Weatherhead)

Cleveland, OH


Temple University (Fox)  

Philadelphia, PA

2012 US News Rank

College Name



Southern Methodist University (Cox)  

Dallas, TX  


University of Missouri (Trulaske)

Columbia, MO


Babson College (Olin)

Babson Park, MA  


Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey – 

New Brunswick and Newark  

Newark, NJ  


University of South Carolina (Moore)

Columbia, SC


Iowa State University

Ames, IA


University of Tennessee - Knoxville  

Knoxville, TN


Baylor University (Hankamer)

Waco, TX


University of Pittsburgh (Katz)  

Pittsburgh, PA  


Syracuse University (Whitman)

Syracuse, NY


College of William and Mary (Mason)  

Williamsburg, VA


University of Miami  

Coral Gables, FL


DePaul University (Kellstadt)

Chicago, IL  


Texas Christian University (Neeley)  

Fort Worth, TX  


Bentley University (McCallum)

Waltham, MA  


Thunderbird School of Global Management  

Glendale, AZ


Claremont Graduate University (Druker)  

Claremont, CA


Miami University (Farmer)

Oxford, OH  


North Carolina State University (Jenkins)

Raleigh, NC  


University of Alabama (Manderson)

Tuscaloosa, AL  


Pepperdine University (Graziadio)

Malibu, CA  


Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge (Ourso)

Baton Rouge, LA  


St. Louis University (Cook)  

St. Louis, MO


Virginia Tech (Pamplin)  

Blacksburg, VA  


University of Utah (Eccles)  

Salt Lake City, UT  


University of Oklahoma (Price)  

Norman, OK  


University of Colorado - Boulder (Leeds)

Boulder, CO  


University of Buffalo - SUNY

Buffalo, NY  


University of Kentucky (Gatton)  

Lexington, KY


Rochester Institute Technology (Saunders)

Rochester, NY


Clarkson University  

Potsdam, NY  


Rollins College (Crummer)

Winter Park, FL  



The Missing Link In Social Media Use Among Top MBA Programs: Tracking Prospects (Infographics PDF)

The Missing Link In Social Media Use Among Top MBA Programs: Tracking Prospects (DOC)