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ONLINE ENGAGEMENT IN HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS:

THE TRIPLE RELATIONSHIP AMONG WEBOMETRICS RANKING,


FACEBOOK AND WEBSITE
Sara Santos, Carlos Brito
University of Porto (PORTUGAL)

Abstract
Reputation is a critical issue for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) that must attract and retain
students in an increasingly competitive market. With the advance of social media is crucial to compare
online engagement of Higher Education Institutions with their position in the rankings.
Purpose: This paper is based on an international research study aiming at analyzing the relationship
between webometrics ranking, Facebook engagement and website engagement in Higher Education
Institutions.
Methodology: Adopting quantitative analysis based on Webometrics Ranking to analyze online
reputation, this paper provides insights of the top 100 universities in webometrics ranking, relation with
Facebook and website engagement of HEIs.
Originality: The originality of this study is demonstrated by the using of Facebook engagement rate in
relation to website and online reputation namely trough higher education ranking Webometrics.
As we can understand is not only important the number of fans or visits to the website but also the
engagement that they have. So, it is crucial to analyze if the level of engagement has a positive impact
on the ranking of webometrics. On the other hand, it is also relevant to understand if the greater
engagement on Facebook also induces a greater engagement on the website.
Theoretical and managerial implications about Facebook engagement importance to HEIs are
provided, leading to directions for future research.
Keywords: Engagement, Facebook, Website, Webometrics, Ranking.

1 INTRODUCTION
The increasingly competitive environment in Higher Education Institutions (HEI) led many institutions
to rethink not only their marketing orientation but also social media strategies. As some authors [1]
emphasize the universities should develop unique marketing strategies with a ‘‘greater focus on the
student / student ‘s oriented’’ [2], because competition among universities is increasing [3].
Being part or have being part of a university reflects feelings of belonging, memories and emotions,
ties that go beyond learning in a higher education institution. However, in the new digital era of
marketing communications little is known about how social media interactions with HEI brands affect
students thinking and feelings about those brands.
Voss and Kumar [4] and Štefko et al., [5] emphasize the need of future exploration of the possibilities
of using online social networks to improve engagement with students in higher education. Also Dennis
et al., [6] consider that future research can analyze the relative difference between online and offline
channels in the development of the institutional brand in Higher Education. Štefko et al., [5] emphasize
the need of future exploration of the possibilities of using online social networks as another e-
marketing tool in higher education. On the other side, website reflects personality of the organization
which is an important tool also in Higher Education Institutions, contributing to build of online
reputation.
Reputation is critical in the process of university selection and evaluation [7] being a crucial contributor
to perceived quality [8] and to reduce uncertainty for stakeholders [9]. In Higher Education, rankings
have become an all-pervasive feature of higher [10], helping on the globalization of higher education
[11].
How universities manage the relationship with the students and how students perceive the institution's
brand can have an impact on the reputation of the Higher Education Institution and in turn on students'

Proceedings of ICERI2017 Conference ISBN: 978-84-697-6957-7


16th-18th November 2017, Seville, Spain 6758
intentions to engage with the university in the future. A well-sustained communication between the
university and its students is the key to create and promote loyalty to the university because student’s
loyalty is a critical success factor for HEI [12].
The purpose of this paper is to understand the relationship among online reputation (through
webometrics ranking), website and Facebook engagement in Higher Education Institutions. In order to
analyse this topic, it is important to review literature based on three areas: social media engagement
(especially Facebook engagement), website engagement and rankings and online reputation in Higher
Education.

2 THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

2.1 Social Media Engagement


The increasing use of digital technologies and the need for social relationships via digital have
suffered constant evolution and are increasingly essential factors in differentiation strategies in a
global and interactive world. Higher Education Institutions are not an exception.
Kaplan and Haenlein [13] define social media as “a group of Internet based applications that builds on
the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and it allows the creation and exchange of
user-generated content.” Thus, users do not consume content passively; it is produced, shared and
consumed actively. Social Media boost and generate brand awareness [14], which contribute to the
formation of brand image, brand equity and brand loyalty [15].
Social media marketing is a reality that has changed the way of thinking, getting engaged and
disseminating marketing messages. However, effects of Online Social Networks and high adoption
rate of social media on consumers’ perception of brands and services is still understudied [16] as well
as engagement of people in brand communities created online on platforms such as Facebook [17].
There are several definitions of engagement. Vivek [18] defines consumer engagement as the
intensity of the participation and connection of a consumer with the offer and / or the activities of an
organization. Bowden [19] considers a necessary condition for the appearance of relevant levels of
engagement, the existence of bidirectional interactions between a subject (client) and a specific object
(brand). On the other side, Hollebeek [20] defines customer brand engagement as the level of
cognitive, emotional and behavioral investment of the user in interactions with the brand.
In online field, Mollen and Wilson [21] define online brand engagement, as “the cognitive and affective
commitment in the active relationship with the brand, personified by a website or other computer-
mediated entities, designed to communicate the value of the brand." Cvijikj and Michahelles [22]
consider that engagement on social networks depends on elements such as: 1) type of content
published, i.e the nature and content of the messages; 2) the format of the publication and 3) the time
of publication, which refers to the chronological or psychological time of the publication.
Therefore, create and maintain engagement as became a crucial activity for organizations and even
Higher Education Institutions. In the educational area, Lefever [23] states that engagement is a key in
the sense of inclusion. By leveraging social media tools, universities can further engage with students
who might not otherwise feel comfortable in the institutional setting and therefore make them feel more
included. This student’s felling of inclusion, belongingness and engagement is crucial for Higher
Educations Institutions (HEI).
However, Higher Education Institutions should not only create content, but also listen and respond to
students. In a recent study of Rutter el al., [24] they demonstrate a positive effect for the use of social
media on brand performance in Higher Education Institutions, especially when an institution attracts
many likes on Facebook and a high number of followers on Twitter. Therefore, social media
engagement could be a strategic tool to fortify brand attachment of Higher Education Educations and
improve student’s loyalty.
In Facebook, Bonsón et al. [25] define the number of likes, comments and shares of brand’s
publications as metrics that reflect the popularity, the commitment and the viral nature of their
publications, it means, the level of engagement with brands. However, it is not enough the number of
comments on the publications of the brands, it is also important to realize the feeling of consumers
towards brands that they follow the social networks, it means that is essential also a qualitative
analysis (positive, negative or neutral) of comments [25].

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However, the percentage of fans who engage in Facebook with the brands is reduced. This
engagement is measured through engagement rate that corresponds to the ratio of likes, comments
and shares, per day and fans over a certain period of time. For its calculation, authors such as Cvijikj
and Michahelles [22] use the following formula:
Engagement rate = [likes + comments + shares divided by the number of fans] x 100
This means that engagement is calculated by dividing the total number of interactions (comments,
likes and shares) made by fans to the brand publications on your Facebook page by the total number
of fans on that page.
The use of social networks is positively related to the online engagement of the company that is
positively related to corporate reputation [26]. Therefore, it will be important to analyze not only social
media engagement but also website engagement in Higher Education Institutions.

2.2 Website Engagement


Most people tend to evaluate the personality of an organization by how its website looks which means
that the personality of the organization is seen through website reflection [27]. For organizations
obtaining a larger audience and visibility on the websites is one of the challenges [28]. However, it is
important to understand what should be measured on a website. General forms of website
effectiveness measurements include duration of session on the site, page views, and bounce rate.
These are usually accepted forms of website data that are used by most of web tracking services [29].
“Page Views per User: Average page views an individual user views on a particular website before
exiting the website. The higher the number, the more effective the website. This metric allows
advertisers and other professionals to determine how inviting the website is.
Time on Site: The average time an online visitor spends on a website before exiting. The higher the
metric, the more effective the website.
Bounce Rate: The percentage of single page visits. This metric demonstrates the percentage of users
who leave the website after the homepage. The lower the percentage, the more effective the
website”.[29]
On the other hand, website traffic is related with visibility of the organization. Drèze and Zufryden [30]
evidence a significate association with traffic generation than either advertising spending or
awareness. This study also suggests specific ways in which a website’s visibility can be improved
(e.g., use of keywords). However, when a visitor visits a website may not be aware of that reputation,
so he inferences about its possible reputation [31].
Therefore, it is important to Higher Education Institutions not only to analyze the number of visitors in
their website but also the engagement created: page views, time on site and bounce rate.

2.3 Reputation and Rankings


In Higher Education, rankings help to develop strategies for fostering the growth and development of
their institutions [32] and to evaluate the trends in higher education systems in the world, as well as in
their own countries [33].
However, there are various rankings that measure different indicators. Aguillo et al. [34] developed a
comparative analysis of global ranking systems based on their rank-order similarity measure. The
study focused on five global rankings, namely ARWU, QS-Times Higher Education Supplement,
Webometrics, Leiden and the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan
(HEEACT) rankings. The authors argued that QS-THE and Webometrics differed from these rankings
as they emphasize other factors, such as the reputation survey in the case of QS-THE, and web
visibility and presence measures in the case of Webometrics.
In webometrics that web visibility and impact of a university is highly correlated with its reputation,
which means that universities with good reputation tend to have more visible web sites, high traffic,
more links etc. [35].
The main feature of Webometrics ranking [36] is wide coverage of universities - more than 20
thousand ranked universities compared to 200 - 800 in other rankings. On the other hand, rankings
QS or THE- compare to HEIs taking more subjective criteria such as opinion surveys on the reputation
and institutional image of universities [37].

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In this context, university's reputation and image of Higher Education is affected by the ranking system
[38] because “rankings make perceptions of prestige and quality explicit” [10].

3 METHODOLOGY
This exploratory study aims to understand the relationship among the webometric ranking, the
engagement in the website and the engagement in Facebook page of universities. Empirical research
is based on a quantitative methodology. The sample is made up of the 100 universities ranked in the
top positions in the world ranking webometrics.
The research problem that leads this study is: Is there a relationship among the ranking of
webometrics, the engagement in Facebook and the website of these universities?
Webometrics is the largest academic ranking of Higher Education Institutions. It is performed by the
Cybermetrics Lab (Spanish National Research Council, CSIC) and provides reliable, multidimensional,
updated and useful information about the performance of universities from all over the world based on
their web presence and impact [36].
For the analysis of engagement in Facebook (engagement rate) were collected data from the online
platform Fanpage Karma (free for the 3-month period) from June to August 2017. The use of this
platform (Fanpage Karma) is justified by the use of other authors of international studies such as [39].
The analysis of the engagement in the website was made through the similarweb platform in the same
period (from June to August).
Authors such [28] evidenced in their studies the use of metrics of website engagement as average
visit duration, pages per visit and bounce rate.
To address the research problem the following hypotheses are formulated:
• H1: The positioning in the highest places in the webometrics ranking is related with a higher
level of engagement in the Facebook page.
• H2: The positioning in the highest places in the webometrics ranking is related with a higher
level of engagement in the website.
• H3: A higher engagement in Facebook is related with a higher level of engagement in website.

H1 H2

Facebook Engagement Webometrics Ranking Website Engagement

H3

Figure 1. Conceptual Model

4 RESULTS
In order to answer the research problem a Pearson’s correlation was performed to explain the
relationship between two continuous variables. A relation is linear when the change in one variable is
associated with a proportional change in the other variable. In this case, we used this method to relate
webometrics ranking and website and Facebook engagement. As well as Facebook engagement and
website engagement.

Hypothesis 1- There is no relationship between webometrics ranking and Facebook engagement rate
in Higher Education Institutions. Therefore, the positioning in the highest places in the webometrics
ranking is not related with a higher level of engagement in the website.

This hypothesis was not supported. The correlation between Facebook engagement rate and
webometrics ranking is 0.176, thus positively and weak (according to Dancey and Reidy [40]) as we
can observe in figure 2.

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Figure 2. Pearson’ Correlation Webometrics Ranking and Facebook engagement rate

Facebook
Engagement rate
Webometrics Pearson's Correlation 0.176
Ranking Sig. (2 extremities) 0.083
  N 98

Hypothesis 2 - There is a moderate correlation between webometrics ranking and website


engagement in Higher Education Institutions through the dimension “pages per visit” (0.398) and
“average duration” (0.389).
Therefore, the positioning in the highest places in the webometrics ranking is moderated related with a
higher level of engagement (pages per visit and average visit duration) in the website.
However, in the dimension “bounce rate” there is a moderate relationship but negative, it means that
the positioning in the highest places in the webometrics ranking is related to a lower number of bounce
rate (fig. 3). In bounce rate, lower the number, better results (100% means that all the people that
lands in website immediately close it).
Thus, this hypothesis is supported.

Figure 3. Pearson’ Correlation Webometrics Ranking and Website engagement

Average Visit Duration Bounce Rate Pages per Visit


Pearson's Correlation 0.389 -0.408 0.398
Ranking Sig. (2 extremities) 0.000 0.000 0.000
N 100 100 100

Hypothesis 3 - There is no relationship between Facebook engagement rate and website engagement
in Higher Education Institutions. Therefore, a higher engagement in Facebook is not related with a
higher level of engagement in website.

This hypothesis was not supported. The correlation between Facebook engagement rate and website
engagement is positive and weak through the dimensions average visit duration (0.080) and pages
per visit (0.130). Also the dimension “bounce rate” as a weak correlation but negative, as we can
observe in figure 4.

Figure 4. Pearson’ Correlation Facebook engagement rate and Website engagement

Average Visit Duration Bounce Rate Pages per Visit


Pearson's Correlation 0.080 - 0.060 0.130
Facebook
Engagement Sig. (2 extremities) 0.410 0.540 0.210
rate
N 98 98 98

5 CONCLUSION
The emphasis on digital marketing and social media is increasingly important. Nonetheless, in Higher
Education the research is still scarce. This study contributes to both academic and professional
knowledge giving importance to Facebook engagement rate and website engagement in Higher
Education Institutions. As Voss and Kumar [4] and Štefko et al., [5] emphasize there is a need of
future exploration of the possibilities of using online social networks to improve engagement with
students in higher education.

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The results of this study demonstrate that there is a moderate relationship between webometrics
ranking and website engagement in Higher Education Institutions, which means that Higher
Educations Institutions that have a better position in ranking also have a better engagement in
website. It could be maybe explained by the reputation of higher education institutions, there are more
people (current or potential students) searching for this kind of top universities and they see more
pages and spend more time in website, it means are effectively interested in the Higher Education
Institution.
However, when analyzing webometrics ranking and Facebook engagement rate in Higher Education
Institutions there is no relationship. This demonstrate that although higher education institutions have
a greater position in Webometrics ranking its students does not engage on its Facebook page, which
complements the study of Rutter el al., [24] about a positive effect for the use of social media on brand
performance in Higher Education Institutions, especially when an institution attracts a large number of
likes on Facebook and a high number of followers on Twitter. It demonstrates that not only the
number of likes matters but also the engagement rate.
When analyzing the relation between Facebook engagement rate and Website engagement there is
not also a relationship, which means that a higher engagement in Facebook is not related with a
higher level of engagement in website. Since social networks are an important tool in promoting
higher education institutions, Higher Education Institutions must develop digital communication
strategies in social networks that promote the engagement of fans. As Lefever [23] states engagement
is a key in the sense of inclusion in Higher Education Institutions and there is a need of explore the
possibilities of using online social networks as another e-marketing tool in higher education [5].

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