Archive for the 'Social Networking' Category

How do I ‘like’ your course? The value of Facebook recommendation

For the JISC Winter Fayre I was asked to fill in for a last minute drop out. My only brief was that the title – though not necessarily the content - should be a reworking of that shown in the programme: ‘CREATE, Reach and Engage’. Following recent conversations/presentations with/from Tony Hirst and Pauline Randall, I already had some ideas floating around about ‘search’ and ‘recommendation’ and their potential effect on course discovery and enrolment. The crystalisaton of these ideas came together in my presentation: ‘Cost, Reach and Engagement’.

Here’s the slidecast:

If you prefer to read rather than listen, here’s an overview of what I said (incorporating some new material towards the end of this post, with a survey of RSC Scot N&E supported institution websites and … my recommendations for what you might want to do):

In the beginning

The tools for Internet search actually predate the web itself. Tools like Archie could extract information from file servers, generating searchable indexes of stuff. At around the same time, directories of websites also emerged. Some of these were curated lists, others automatically generated, or even a hybrid of both.

A big turning point in web search was the increasing use of algorithms to rank the relevancy of results. Google’s PageRank method has arguably received most of the recent attention, using a wide range of factors including the number of inbound links, click-throughs, even page-load speed to rank search results.

More details of the specifics of this can be found on the Wikipedia page on the history of search engines.

Recommendation: trusted and crowdsourced

Recommendation is an incredibly powerful way to influence action. It’s even more powerful when it comes from a trusted source. Personal recommendations are probably the most powerful, people being more likely to accept a recommendation from a friend than a stranger. Other forms of recommendation include advice from an independent source like the consumer protection site ‘Which?’, and more recently ‘crowdsourced’ reviews which are commonplace on sites like Amazon and are at the core of sites like, where trust is replaced by volume.

Another way to receive recommendations is through social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin. In some cases these recommendations are explicit- Linkedin allows an option to recommend directly to your colleagues - but they are also implied, ‘I liked this, so might you’.

Recommendation has always been and continues to be an important part of how businesses and institutions market themselves, but what is the value of recommendations made via social networks?

The value of Email, Share, Tweet and Like

I’m sure you’ve seen these four buttons appearing on various websites including this blog. These buttons send out notifications via your social networks (if you are enrolled) to your followers. Media sites like the BBC use them mainly to get you to share news stories around your networks. But it doesn’t end there, manufacturers and utility companies are also using these types of buttons to get you to do their marketing for them, for you to make a recommendation about their product or service to your network.

Is there any value in this type of recommendation? Fortunately online event promotion and administration site Eventbrite has revealed the value of those four little buttons. Eventbrite make money by charging a booking fee for paid for events (2.5% of ticket value + $0.99 per ticket with a maximum fee of $9.95), as Techcrunch revealed in October 2010: For Eventbrite, Each Facebook Share Is Worth $2.52. Update: Revised figures have been published by Mashable in Facebook “Likes” More Profitable Than Tweets [STUDY].

$2.52 is the average return to Eventbrite each time that someone clicks the Facebook ‘Like’ button! The second best return is on email which has an average return of $2.34 per click, followed by Linkedin ($0.90) and lastly Twitter ($0.43). So assuming that the majority of paid-for events hits the maximum booking fee ($10) then someone clicking the Facebook ‘Like’ button has a 1in 4 chance of getting someone else to buy a ticket.

Quickly looking at what I think might be happening here: email is a highly trusted recommendation source but is usually a one-to-one distribution. Facebook is a less trusted source as your network can be diluted to a degree, but clicking the ‘Like’ button makes it visible to your network (one-to-many). Networks like LinkedIn and Twitter probably have less social cohesion, Twitter in particular will have more accounts designed to market businesses and brands, so while they are potentially bigger networks they aren’t as trusted.

How do I ‘like’ your course?

So for Eventbrite there is a demonstrable value in incorporating these buttons into its service, providing a mechanism for people to easily recommend events to their friends, thereby generating sales. So are institutions missing a trick? If I went to your institution’s website is there an easy way for me to recommend courses to my friends?


I’ve carried out a quick survey of institutions supported by our RSC and below is a table of the results. As can be seen, whilst the majority of them have a social media presence, only a minority have implemented a share button within their course information - and these are generally pushed inconspicuously to the page footer or sidebar. In a number of cases, even if there was a share option, bad meta tagging of the page name (which is often used by these buttons to classify what is being shared) meant that what was being shared was often meaningless. (As shown in the table, AddToAny and AddThis are share/ bookmarking services which provide widgets for your website with a collection of social media sites for the user to choose from when clicked upon).

Survey of social media presence and course recommendation buttons for institutions supported by JISC RSC Scotland North & East
InstitutionSocial Media PresenceCourse Like/Share ButtonsProspectus Like/Share Buttons
Adam SmithNoneNoneNone
Angus CollegeFacebook, TwitterEmailVia Scribd
Banff & BuchanFacebook, TwitterNoneNone
BordersFacebook, TwitterNoneNone
CarnegieFacebook, TwitterAddThis * **Via Issuu
DundeeNoneFacebook, Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon, Delicious * ***Buttons in footer
Edinburgh’s TelfordFacebook, TwitterNoneNone
Forth ValleyFacebookAddThis ***None
Inverness CollegeNoneNoneNone
Jewel & EskFacebook, TwitterNoneNone
Lews Castle CollegeNoneNoneNone
Moray CollegeNoneNoneNone
Newbattle AbbeyNoneAddToAnyNone
North HighlandNoneNoneNone
Perth CollegeFacebookNoneZmags
Sabhal Mòr OstaigNoneAddThis ***None
ShetlandFacebook, TwitterNoneNone
StevensonFacebook, TwitterNoneNone
West LothianNoneNoneNone
Edinburgh College of ArtNoneAddThis ***AddThis ***
Queen Margaret UniversityFacebook, TwitterAddThis * **Yudu
Scottish Agricultural CollegeFacebook, TwitterDelicious, Digg, Facebook, Reddit, StumbleUpon ***None
University of the Highlands and IslandsFacebook, Twitter, LinkedInNoneNone
* Page <title> doesn’t reflect page content - remains static
** Buttons in sidebar
*** Buttons in the footer

Surveyed 14th March 2011 – Data available in this Google Doc

My Recommendations

  • Go for full buttons and make them prominent

For reference, I’m talking about the course/prospectus parts of your website. For other parts of your site you might prefer the more subtle AddToAny/AddThis et al. widgets, but for selling/promoting your courses I think you have to be more brazen about it. The institutions that did have social media share buttons on their sites had them hidden away in the footer or sidebar. To maximise the potential of them being clicked I would prominently place the buttons next to the course title or at the end of the entry. Because sites like Facebook and Twitter want you to share information around their network (its precious data for them to target their own marketing), they all provide easy ways to incorporate their buttons. Here’s the page for creating Facebook ‘Like’ buttons and here’s the page for Twitter’s Tweet button

  • Deuce Email/Facebook Like or trips Email, Tweet, Facebook Like

Right now I think there are two clear options for education in terms of button choices. The one you go for is probably dependent or your institution’s existing social media presence. For example if you don’t extensively use Twitter in your social media strategy you probably don’t want to use it as one of your share buttons as it’s harder for you to track comments. With regard to email, there are various options for sending via a webpage. The option I’ve gone for on this blog is to use the ShareThis Email chicklet, mainly because their popup window has the option to pull contact email addresses from Google and Yahoo. [You’ll notice I don’t use ShareThis for my other buttons. This is because their code requires an additional layer to get to the Facebook and Twitter pages]

At this point you might be asking why I include other share/bookmarking options in my blog. The decision to include other services is in part informed by CMO’s guide to the social media landscape which I picked up in Mashable’s article on Which Social Sites Are Best for Which Marketing Outcomes? [INFOGRAPHIC]

  • Get some insight – Facebook Insights, ShareThis

So you’ve invested a day or so implementing share/recommendation buttons into your course catalogue, how do you monitor their use before sending that memo to senior management to argue for more money for website development now that you’ve attracted students from around the world to study at your institution? I imagine most of you are already using some basic analytics to monitor page performance. Well similar tools exist for Facebook, Twitter, and, if you use it, the ShareThis email button.

Twitter’s official analytics service has been announced but isn’t available for general use yet, but fear not as there are a whole host of 3rd party Twitter analytics tools (Crowdbooster and TwitSprout are my current favs). More impressive is Facebook’s Insights for Websites which not only gives you an overview of how many clicks your Like buttons are getting, but also includes demographic information on age, gender, language and country (more information on this in Real-Time Analytics For Social Plugins)

So hopefully some Like buttons are going to start popping up at our supported colleges and universities (and if you’d like help or further advice on how to do this get in touch).

One final reflection is that this post began by looking at the history of Web search. That history continues to be written. Google’s recognition that recommendation through social networks is a very powerful way to leverage content is highly significant. Why rely on machine recommendation when your friends can do it for you? This is why Google recently announced that its search results will include data based on the indirect recommendations of friends (See An update to Google Social Search). Not only does this create an opportunity to improve search relevance, but it is another reason for including Like/Share buttons. If it is difficult for someone to share your course with their friends, potentially there is a negative secondary effect which means it might not be included in Google’s socially-enabled search results.

Final finally, would you recommend or share this post with your network ;)

Your Inbox: Getting More Social

I feel bad for not blogging recently so I’m going to cheat a bit. Today BBC News – Technology had a story about Outlook gets Facebook integration, which talks about the MS Outlook Social Connector. Originally I was just going to ‘tweet’ a link to the story with a related link to something I had written on this area in March, but then discovered I wrote it for our RSC NewsFeed blog. So I’m going to repost Your Inbox: Getting More Social here updating with a plugin I use with Gmail called rapportive.

Some of you maybe sick of the ‘social’ tag being used on virtual every new website start-up, and you maybe about to get sicker when you find out software developers want to ‘socialise’ your inbox.

Microsoft Outlook 2010

First we have Microsoft’s Social Connector add-on for Outlook 2010. This allows users to view and use information from other Microsoft products and third party sites (so far Linkedin, Facebook and MySpace), as part of you inbox. The video below demonstrates the features of the product:

Click here for more information on Outlook Social Connector

Google Buzz

A couple of weeks ago we also highlighted Google Buzz = New Way to Organise Social Information on the Web, which again allows you to integrate a whole host of social networking sites. It is probably a stretch to say Buzz ‘integrates into your inbox’, sitting as it does in a separate tab within Google Mail. There is however some integration by using @reply to post directly to someone’s inbox.Click here for more of Google’s top Buzz tips.

Google Buzz @reply screenshot 
Google Buzz @reply screenshot

Mozilla Thunderbird/Raindrop

Mozilla is the home of the Internet browser Firefox and other open source projects including their e-mail client Thunderbird and the more experimental communication tool, Raindrop. Just like Firefox Mozilla’s philosophy is to make it as easy as possible for third party developers to create additional functionality to their applications via add-ons. Social networking integration in Thunderbird is a little thin on the ground two example I’ve come across are WiseStamp – Email Signature and RapLeaf 4 Thunderbird add-on by DanielT. WiseStamp enables you to pull your existing social network information dynamically into your email signature, while the other integrates with the RapLeaf web service allowing you to see the senders registered social networks within the preview pane. Before you go rushing to sign up for Rapleaf their business is selling user behavioural patterns, which you can read more about in Mashable’s How Companies Are Using Your Social Media Data

RapLeaf 4 Thunderbird integration
RapLeaf 4 Thunderbird screenshot

Raindrop is perhaps more promising, but still in early development:

Raindrop is an experiment in designing for today’s messaging habits by collecting conversations from important messaging sources (email, twitter, …), understanding them, and organizing them for the user based on this understanding.


Rapportive are a UK based startup who have developed Firefox and Chrome plugins which replace the advert bar on Google Mail with information about the sender from a combination of sources (Gravatar, Plancast, Rapleaf and Twitter). Users also have an option to add their own notes about the sender (the CRM part). The main way I use this is to filter re-follow notification from Twitter, but  this is probably more a reflection on the fact that my Gmail is a personal account and I’m sure I could get a lot more from this service.


Final thoughts

Your inbox is undoubtedly evolving, and reflects wider developments in the semantic web. As the world strives towards greater “data, information and knowledge exchange” communication tools like email will become enriched with information both purposely and surreptitiously pulled from the web. It should however be remembered that whilst many of us our inbox as the centre of our daily activities, can the same be said for students?

9 (+1) alternatives to Ning (suggested by ALT Members and Champ’s List) [Social networking]

The ALT (Association for Learning Technology) ALT-MEMBERS and CHAMP-CURRICULUM JISCMail lists have had a flurry of emails recently discussing alternatives for the social networking platform Ning. If you are a Ning user working out where they go or you are considering using social networks in education for your next academic year here are some solutions mentioned by ALT and Champ members (to make this post a quick turnaround where indicated by [G&B] I’ve used descriptions produced by Robin Good and Daniele Bazzano’s ‘Ning Alternatives: Guide To The Best Social Networking Platforms And Online Group Services’ (made available under Creative Commons)):


tools_Groupsite GroupSite is an online social collaboration tool that you can use to create your own social network. Free to use (but ad-supported) or starting from $29 per month, GroupSite tries to take the best out of social network applications and collaboration services while merging the best of the two worlds: customizable member profiles, group blog, discussion forum, photo galleries, videos and shared calendar are all standard features. Other core characteristics that make GroupSite stand out are: file sharing, members endorsement, analytics, permission controls, readily-available templates, email digest and more. [G&B]


tools_Spruz Spruz allows you to create free websites enhanced with social networking features. Blogs, video sharing, photo galleries, forum discussion, shared calendars and member profiles are all standard features of Spruz. Advanced features include: file sharing, permission controls, readily-available templates, chat, analytics, and much more. Your website will also be completely customizable with a drag-and-drop interface and greater control over the appearance of your social site. To ease the transition for former Ning users, Spruz offers a migration script that allows you to transfer your Ning community to a brand new Spruz website. [G&B]

There is a long list of Spruz features here (it is worth checking the free features at the end of this page to make sure it has everything you need). For examples Spruz in education/classroom they have a directory of school/college sites

WordPress (with BuddyPress)

tools_BuddyPress BuddyPress is a plugin for the WordPress blogging platform that allows you to create an online social network. Free to use, BuddyPress enhances your standard WordPress blog to support common standard features of an online community service like Ning: customizable member profiles, blogs, a discussion forum, photo galleries and videos. By using one of the many WordPress plugins available you can also add a shared calendar to BuddyPress and track group activities and events. Other core features of BuddyPress include: activity streams, file sharing and private messaging. To style your BuddyPress-powered social network you can choose among several readily-available templates and assign your social network a unique domain name for a small fee. [G&B]

BuddyPress is a self-hosted solution i.e. it runs off your institutional servers although it wouldn’t be surprised if someone has a hosted solution (at a price). Examples of BuddyPress can be found in their showcase, you also might want to see the Digital Learning Network.


tools_Elgg Elgg is an open-source social platform whereby you can create your own online social network. Elgg comes in two flavours: a hosted solution priced between $29.95 and $49.95 per month and a free alternative that you can download and install on your own web server. Whatever option you go for, here some of the basic characteristics of Elgg: member profiles, blogs, discussion forum, photo gallery and video gallery. A shared calendar can also be added by using one of the many user-contributed plugins available. Other standard features of Elgg include: private messaging, file sharing, the ability to create and run a wiki, permission controls social bookmarking, activity streams and more. [G&B]

There are a number of examples of institutional rollouts of Elgg. In 2007 [email protected] won the JISC Outstanding ICT Initiative. (In our region I also know about UHI Communities – there are probably more)


MoodleMoodle is better known as a virtual learning environment used for managing and delivering courses rather than a social networking platform, but its ‘focus on interaction and collaborative construction of content’ makes it possible to use it in this way. If your institution already uses Moodle then the immediate advantage is it should be an environment users are familiar with (and potentially one less login). There are some limitations in what students can do, for example there may be restrictions on file uploads, but the basic set of social networking features (profile, forums, wiki) exist. There is also the possibility of integrating with other platforms like the Mahara e-portfolio system (Mahoodle) or even Second Life (SLoodle).

LearnCentral from Elluminate

LearnCentral is perhaps not as main of the social networking features as other hosted platforms but being ‘sponsored’ by Elluminate it is not surprising that there is integration with Elluminate’s other collaboration services (online meeting etc). LearnCentral describe itself as “more than a social network or a learning community, this free, open environment represents the next logical step of combining asynchronous social networking and the ability to store, organize, and find educational resources with the live, online meeting and collaboration provided by Elluminate technology”. From what I can see LearnCentral is being used more to support educators rather than student networks but there maybe activity going on in the paid for ‘private communities’.


Edmodo is regularly described as a micro-blogging service for educational use, but there is a lot more to it than that. Edmodo say their “free network offers a safe and easy way to post classroom materials, share helpful links and videos, and access homework, grades and school-wide notices”. The interface is a cross between Facebook and Twitter and is ad-free. Features which might be of interest to educators include managing closed groups, assignments, files and links and running polls. Designed perhaps more for schools and college students it might also be of interest to HE. If you claim your community, Edmodo allows you to monitor student usage and measure classroom participation as well as customising your community web address.


tools_SocialGO SocialGO is a web-based service that allows you to create your own social network. If you are familiar with Facebook, you will find a similar interface and many Facebook-like features. SocialGO comes in two versions: a free, ad-supported solution with standard features and an ad-free alternative priced at $29 per month. The premium solution of SocialGO allows you to run your own ads and other advanced features like adding widgets to your website and using live audio / video chat. Personal and group blogs, each member has a wall where people can comment and post media, photo and video sharing capabilities, customizable member profiles, discussion forums and shared calendars to keep track of group events. Other features include: activity streams, file sharing, permission controls, readily-available templates, API, Facebook and Twitter integration, email notifications, and more. [G&B]

SocialGo appears to be focused more on the business market than education, particularly with the option to monetize your network with member billing, advertising and reselling (SocialGo is also a UK start-up).


CrowdVine comes in two flavours one for conferences (used at ALT-C) and the other for groups. The main difference is with the conference version there are specific features for programme management, feedback and a ‘want-to-meet’ feature. CrowdVine for Groups can be created for free and are ad supported, or ad-free by paying $24/month per thousand users. A nice feature of CrowdVine are the customised profile questions, which could be used to nurture early network cohesion. An example of this can be seen in the Stanford Stats 252 CrowdVine.

The final suggestion wasn’t mentioned on the ALT Member list, but I would like to throw it into the mix is Facebook.

Facebook have come under fire recently over their over complicated privacy settings but I still think it is an option worth considering. A number of institutions already use Facebook to market/support  their institutions, services and courses. A common concern I hear when considering Facebook is the social/work divide. That is the perceptions that students prefer to keep their social life and studies separate. Facebook is one of the few platforms where I see research on its use in education (most recently AJCann highlighted recent work from Leicester on student retention and Facebook). Importantly it should also be remembered Facebook was originally created by students for students!

Not surprisingly there is a Facebook in Education page on … Facebook

Twitter integration for marketing higher education

Recently I’ve been rediscovering twitter, this was largely instigated by the discovery of a nice little application which allows me to monitor tweets from the comfort of my desktop. The application in question is called Twirl. I had previously tried another desktop client called TweetDeck but didn’t find it particularly intuitive and felt it took over my entire desktop. One of the reasons I lost touch with twitter was I didn’t have a mechanism for alerting me to new tweets. Twirl not only allows me to review my twitter feed but also pops up notifications of new messages in the corner of my screen allowing me to keep a passing eye on what is going on in the ‘twittersphere’. 

The value of twitter is still a hot debate. Moving away from a pure educational use, which I covered in Twitter in higher education, I’ve been recently interested in its use as a marketing tool. This was started after I found Heather Mansfield’s ‘10 Twitter Tips for Higher Education’ on University Business (a site for those interested in higher education management). These tips are for institutions interested in marketing themselves via twitter.

Before designing your institutional twitter campaign there are a couple of demographics you should be aware of. Firstly, How Many People Actually Use Twitter? The answer, approximately 6 million registered users (compared to Facebook’s 200 million). Also the demographic for a twitter user, as highlighted in a recent Pogue’s Post is “older, better educated and higher-earning. About 80 percent … are over 25, and two-thirds of us have college degrees”.

Secondly, who knows about twitter? According to a recent LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll over two-thirds (69%) of consumers say they “say they do not know enough about Twitter to have an opinion about it”.

So with such a tight demographic is a institutional twitter presence worthwhile? I think so but I would want to be clever about it. To add to Heather Mansfield’s tips I would add something on integration.

There are a number of ways that you can intelligently integrate twitter into your existing marketing campaigns. At RSC Scotland North & East (@rsc_ne_scotland) we use twitterfeed,which is a free service that automatically turns RSS feeds into tweets. This service has some very useful features allowing to control what is tweeted. For example you can prefix/suffix rss feeds before they are tweeted making it easier for people to scan/search. We use this on rsc_ne_scotland to separate news and events. We also use a keyword filter to be more selective in what we tweet.

I would also look at how twitter can be integrated into other ‘status updating’ services. For example Facebook uses ‘the wall’ to allow users to essentially tweet what they are doing. If your institution already has a Facebook presence I would want to sync my Facebook and Twitter updates. As it happen this is very easy to do because twitter have developed the Twitter on Facebook application.

If your institutions social network presence extends beyond twitter and Facebook you might want to look at This service is allows you to post updates to over 40 social networking sites from one site.

List of HEIs in Scotland N&E I’m following:


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

mhawksey [at] | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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