Written by Phil Baty 1 April 2013
Data from social media, including You Tube viewing figures, Twitter follower counts and accumulated "likes" on Facebook will be developed into a new reputational indicator for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, it was confirmed today.
The magazine said the move is designed to reflect the growing influence the internet has on a university's reputational standing, and to recognize the key role social networking has in reflecting student opinion and influencing their study choices.
Phil S Batty, editor of Times Higher Education's rankings, said: "We are living in a fast-moving information age, when a university's reputational standing around the world is heavily influenced by its presence and its activities on the internet. It is time that global rankings reflected this reality. Social media is one of the most effective ways of capturing student views on institutions, and measuring an institution's popularity."
Speaking at the official launch of the plans on 1 April at the central circle of Silicon roundabout, London's new high-tech business hub in Shoreditch, Batty confirmed that the magazine would be consulting on the exact range of social media to be included in the study, but he confirmed that You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest would be used. He declined to confirm if Chat Roulette and Grindr would also feature. Unofficial social media or videos would be included in the data collection, he said, to reflect popular and public perceptions of an institution.
The move was expected to be greeted warmly by the University of Texas at Austin, which features in a Harlem Shake You Tube video which at the time of going to press had been viewed 9.5 million times. In contrast, a similar video filmed in a lecture theatre at the University of Guelph had attracted only 500,000 views.
A "Gangnam Style" video by the marching band at Ohio University had attracted almost four million views as THE went to press, which would provide a significant boost to the institutions' reputational ranking.
Boston University's popular "lip dub" video, featuring students miming to hit songs by the Jackson 5, "I Want You Back" and "ABC", has been viewed more than 800,000 times on You Tube.
Challenged on the validity of the new initiative Batty pointed out that there was already an established global university ranking - Webometrics - based entirely on a university's internet visibility produced by the Cybermetrics Lab, a research group belonging to the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), the largest public research body in Spain.
"What we are planning is not much different to that, really," Batty insisted.
He added that the data collection and weighting scheme would be determined only after high level consultation with global university leaders and leading intellectuals. Noam Chomsky, who famously featured in a "Gangnam Style" remake created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology viewed 4.7 million times has been invited to join an advisory board which is also expected to include South Korean singer and rapper Psy, who first performed "Gangnam style", Dominic Shellard, vice chancellor of De Montfort University and popular You Tube lip dub artist, the "Britain's Got Talent" TV show judge, Alesha Dixon.
Batty suggested that if universities were able to get their names or news stories "trending" on Twitter, they may receive extra bonus points. Twitter "trends" highlighted as Times Higher Education went to press included "Lady Ga Ga", "Justin Beiber", "One Direction" and "Sir Alan Langlands".
"Popular social media legitimately reflects an institution's general popularity - high You Tube views are often a reflection of the creativity of a university's students and staff. Universities that "trend" on Twitter are "trendy" among the youngsters in real life. Social media is also a useful indicator of an institution's wider social 'impact', encouraged under current government policy. That's something to be recognized. I say today on 1 April 2013 that we'd be fools not to reflect this in rankings," said Batty. "And universities would be fools not to take this very seriously - total fools.
Ivor Binhad, head of thinking, search engine optimisation and office services at the web marketing consultancy Itzah Jaok, based in Dalston, London, said: "Universities are just so 12th century, man, with their ivory towers and all those dusty books and old people sitting around. It is time for them to saddle up and straddle the information bridle path, whatever brand hurdles they may encounter on the way. I confidently predict that the Internet's time has come, so bring your e-stirrups."
Please note: the above article, published on April 1, is an April Fool’s Day joke. THE has no plans to add social media metrics to its prestigious World University Rankings.