Yesterday a tweet from Aline Hayes caught my attention. She was asking what the hashtag was for an event she was attending. The event was the UCAS Social Media conference and the event’s hashtag, I discovered was #ucassm.  The event seemed intersteing so I created a #ucassm column in TweetDeck so I could observe the discussions.  I also looked at the event’s programme and discovered several talks of interest, including  talks on “Social media market trends, statistics and conversion rates” and  “Using apps as a marketing tool” and workshop sessions on “Yougofurther social media website:  How to target students in a growing social media market” and “Facebook: How to maximise the exposure of your institution“, “Why Twitter should be a key part of your institution’s marketing strategy“, “YouTube Education/iTunes U (to be confirmed)” and “Social media ROI – what’s in it for me?“.

As I tweeted yesterday I suspect some of my Twitter followers would not agree with the areas being addressed in these talks – talks about the ROI of social media and, as one person tweeted, turning fans and followers into customers.  Isn’t Twitter, for example, supposed to be about the individual and have a radical edge, rather than being used as a mainstream marketing channel.

By view is that social media can provide both roles and if university marketing people are using social media to attract students then I would welcome this – after all such approaches can be more cost-effective than printing glossy prospectuses and launching TV ad campaigns. But note that I’m saying “can” – there’s a need to gather evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of such approaches. After all, when we hear the amount of the cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review tomorrow we will be even more conscious of the importance of using our fundings in an effective way.

But was this conference exploiting the expertise in social media which is available within the sector.  Looking at the programme it seems that many of the speakers were from the commercial sector. And although I’ve nothing against such links I would be concerned if funding provided to higher education left the sector and failed to tap into the expertise we possess.

This occurred to me last night when I received a couple of tweets from Tony Hirst (@psychemedia).  I had created a Twapper Keeper archive for the #ucassm tag (I was surprised that this hadn’t been done already) and, order drugs no prescription during the day (while I was on the train to London and observing the #ucassm discussions on my mobile phone) tweeted various statistics relevant to the discussions, including providing a link to the Summarizr statistics for the #ucassm tag (there have been 218 tweets from 48 Twitterers; the top Twitterers were ucassm (63 tweets),  EddieGouthwaite (20), andyheadworth (16) and  Aline_Hayes (14)).

Recent developments to the Twapper Keeper Twitter archiving service have been funded by the JISC and the Summarizr service was developed  by Andy Powell of Eduserv: the sector does have a strong interest and expertise in developing and using tools which can be used to gather and interpret evidence of usage of social media services.

Tony Hirst’s tweets provided further evidence. He provided graphical interpretations of the event’s hashtag community (he has previously described the tools and methodology used to do this)  and followed this up with an analysis of possible spam followers – clearly if you want to demonstrate ROI you’ll want to be able to remove spam followers and bots which are unlikely to decide to attend a University!

What is to be done in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort within the sector, minimise flaws in data analysis and ensure that the sector can exploit existing tools? As I was travelling to London yesterday I went to the Russell Hotel in order to make contact with the conference organisers – but they had all gone by the time I arrived. I’ll try and make contact by email. I’d also welcome comments on the content of the UCAS Social Media conference. Are there significant differences of opinions between the developer and marketing sectors – or are we moving towards a consensus on the importance of gathering evidence and use of the social media by institutions?

Note that I should add that the final few tweets of the day were very positiove about the conference: “Very glad to be home at end of long but enjoyable day. #ucassm conf was inspiring but also daunting: so much to do.“” and “Feeling inspired by today’s #ucassm (social media) conference. Looking to get our students involved in lots of Facebook & Twitter projects!” One talk in particular which went down well was the one on “Social Media ROI – What’s in it for me?”. I was pleased that a number of the talks have been uploaded to Slideshare including this one, which is embedded below.

[slideshare id=5371428&doc=socialmediaroi-whatsinitforme-101006080152-phpapp01]