Stanford University’s Facebook Profile is One of the Most Popular Official University Pages

With over 35,000 fans, Stanford University’s Facebook Page ranks among the top five most popular Facebook public profiles owned by a US academic institution.

According to PageData, Stanford shares a spot in the top five with the University of Kansas, Ohio State University, Texas A&M, and Indiana University. However, even the most popular university page, the University of Kansas, only has about 40,000 fans – much lower than celebrity numbers we’ve seen. This number makes sense though: colleges and universities are more likely to draw a small, tight-knit group of fans – mainly comprised of students, alumni, staff, and faculty.

How has Stanford grown its audience? Take a look at Stanford’s new fans per day over the past month:

While some spikes may not be within the Page administrators’ control, other spikes are correlated with high-quality Wall posts that are engaging fans. When fans comment or like photos, these stories are featured in the Highlights column to the right of the homepage, encouraging users who aren’t currently fans to become one. For example, the spike around May 8 comes right after a Wall post announcing this month’s Open Office Hours, featuring Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo – a popular story with a lot of viral potential. (Stanford’s Open Office Hours initiative is further explained below.)

Inside Facebook spoke with Ian Hsu, Director of Internet Media Outreach at Stanford University, to find out how Stanford is leveraging its Facebook Page to communicate with the university community.

Before the launch of redesigned Facebook Pages earlier this year, Facebook invited Stanford to test out enhanced Pages as an alpha partner. During this time, the university used each Wall post as a small experiment to gather data (e.g., number of comments, likes, and fans removed) on what types of media forms and topics resonated with fans – and the finding was that fans responded to people-centered content.

With this information, Stanford is the first among universities to build its Page around interaction – not with the university itself, but with the people within it. To create this intimacy, Stanford began a monthly Open Office Hours series that runs exclusively through its Facebook Page. Each office hours begins with a five minute video in which the speaker introduces his/her research and passions. Fans then ask questions via comments, which are answered in two subsequent follow-up videos.

The intersection of academic institutions and social networking sites such as Facebook enables dynamic two-way conversations to take place in a one-to-many virtual format. And this high-reach method of spreading information extends beyond intellectual discourse.

As Hsu shared, “We’re incorporating Facebook (and Twitter) into our emergency communications plans. In the event of an earthquake or other emergency, we’ll be using Facebook as a key part of our communications mix. It may be the case that someday, a communication through the Stanford Facebook Page could help save someone’s life. In order for this to be effective, it’s essential for us to earn a trusted place in our Fans’ News Feeds today and over time.”