Case Study: How America's Top Three Business Schools Are Failing On Facebook

Grade cutoffs According to  U.S. News, 2011’s top three American business schools are:

1) Stanford University— Stanford, CA;  $53,118 per year;  enrollment,  799

2) Harvard University–Boston, MA; $48,600 per year; enrollment, 1,840

3) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)–Cambridge, MA; $50,353 per year; enrollment,  797

For those interested in understanding how U.S. News calculates their rankings, read here. While we won’t be nearly as in-depth at grading the above schools, we hope to shed light on how they’re doing on Facebook based on overall numbers, content, fan interaction, and key analytical comparisons.

The first business school’s FB Page we looked at was Standford Graduate School of Business. Unfortunately, as seen in the screenshot below, that Page wasn’t even set up for “business,” so to speak, as it’s only populated with Wikipedia generated information.

For a school that should be teaching students how to leverage and position every inch of branding out there in our very competitive “real world,” we have to wonder why they haven’t done the same?

Screenshot from Stanford Graduate School of Business's FB Page
stanford mba
Screenshot from Stanford MBA Program's Facebook Page

After another search, we found that Stanford also has a Stanford MBA Program Facebook Page that’s actually fairly active. However, the majority of the posts seem to be similarly formatted program announcements, which get pretty boring after reading the first few. Their “Like” feedback reflects the poorly developed content too.

There have been a couple of cases in which Fans ask questions about upcoming programs, and in response the admin. coldly refer them to web pages; in a way that lacks the ardor and intellectual edge one might expect from a world class operation. The last time they even posted, as of 10/12/11 was last Monday, which is over a week ago! Ideally, Pages should post once or more a day with exciting news and updates–miss a week and everyone assumes you’re out of the game!

It’s also a sad state of affairs to see only 65 fans “talking” on this page too. We’ve seen three times better for local mom-and-pop FB pages who are giving social media marketing a serious effort. The one consolation is that they do have the Page default set to display “everyone’s post,” which indicates some level of desire to be social. As of now they are fairly detached, but perhaps they’ll elevate their efforts in the future. It’s kind of like the student who just turns a test in with only a name scrawled across the top–you hope he or she tries harder next time.

The next business school’s Facebook page we reviewed was that of the venerated Harvard Business School. Everyone knows about Harvard, so naturally they should have a rockin’ Facebook presence right?! Well, we were a bit disappointed there too, but for slightly different reasons than we mentioned for Stanford above.

In the below screenshot of the official Harvard Business School’s Facebook Page, we see there are a total of 18,945 Fans, 760 of which are “talking.” We can also see that their last post was a recruiting call for interested business students. 15 fans “Liked” it, which gives them a 0.0791765% rating–way less than the desired 1%.

harvard business school Facebook
Screenshot from Harvard Business School's FB Page
What’s even more embarrassing is their post (left) about “looking like fall on campus” is “Liked” eight times more than the one above on their upcoming programs. Wouldn’t a top business school at least have the savvy to create better ad. copy for their programs; something that will out-compete a mundane post about the coming fall?

Though Harvard Business School’s FB Page is, like Stanford’s, set to display “everyone’s posts,” it doesn’t seem as if they’ve taken advantage of engaging their audience. Responses to a minimal amount of inquiries seem delayed and canned, and outside of answering programming questions, they really aren’t talking with Fans, but at them; reminiscent of the old school lecturer that never gets to know the students. Today’s education is all about interactive learning–lecture is becoming a thing of the past.

When will they get to this question? (Already been 8 days)

Harvard Business Group Page We can’t say this is the end of Harvard’s efforts though. We did a little more searching and found they do have a MBA Page as well. But the first Page we saw when searching for Harvard’s MBA program Page was a group page (screenshot on the right) that only featured157 members. The Harvard MBA Page is actually listed as Harvard Business School MBA Program under the unique url:

While this Page is branded well around Harvard’s MBA Program, one might wonder why they created a page like this to run parallel to their main Harvard Business School Page (featured above)..they must have wondered that too as you can see in the MBA Program Page screenshot below, the Harvard admins have decided to eliminate their MBA Program Page in an effort to streamline!

Again, one might think the world’s foremost business school brains would have thought of this before attracting 14,623 Fans to the MBA Page!! That’s only 4322 Fans less than their main business program Page has.

Harvard Business School MBA Program

Now, we come to Sloan MIT Sloan School of Management’s Facebook Page. As we can see their numbers aren’t really impressive either; at least for the reputation they have around the world. While they have worse overall numbers than Stanford, they fall short on interaction numbers (65 vs. 99 “talking”)…but when compared to Harvard, it’s really no contest. It’s interesting to note that they don’t have a “Welcome Page” in place (as Harvard does; note: Stanford doesn’t), but limit posting permissions, with only their admins able to post directly to the Page. The content doesn’t seem brilliant either. In fact, the last post memorializing Steve Jobs (in the below screenshot), dwarfs the immediate preceding ones that are more Sloan School of Management related.

sloan management

With no best business practices or industry standards in place or obvious knowledge of current social media marketing strategies, America’s top business schools are really struggling. Business schools are always rumored to be ten years behind the curve, and based on what we’re seeing here, those whispers are beginning to ring true. In order for them to be effective, they should be watching America’s fastest growing brands, like Coca-Cola’s Facebook marketing campaign: Crisp. Creative. Cutting Edge. That’s what America’s top business school need to be, if they want to keep pace in the world’s education race.

To learn more about how universities can get up to speed on social media marketing, watch this FastPivot webinar on social media marketing for universities.

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6 Responses to “Case Study: How America's Top Three Business Schools Are Failing On Facebook”

  1. Jonathan Poston

    Below is a copy of email correspondence in response to this blog:

    On Wed, Oct 12, 2011 at 10:11 PM, Kay wrote:

    This was quite interesting. However, it has tons of flaws. The first is the presumption that it would be cost-beneficial for these schools to use social media to market themselves to any body for any purpose. Frankly, the biggest failure for these schools is that they have bothered at all with FB. Frankly, they should not have wasted their time. Their market is not one they attract via FB. FB is irrelevant to them. If anything, it might be appropriate to create a private group used to communicate with current students or alumni. But, why would/should they bother? Email is more than appropriate for one-way communications. The benefit would be to afford communication among group participants themselves as opposed to the program to or from individual participants. Again, I do not see it as a cost-beneficial use of funds to facilitate (and pay for) this activity via social media. It’s not free to maintain an active presence in social media. What could possibly be the payoff to justify paying someone to full-time keep the page up to date and to respond on a fairly real-time basis? Ridiculous!

    In short, this analysis ignores one of the cardinal rules of marketing. No company built on exclusivity should attempt to market itself to individuals outside of the so-called inner circle. That would , in reality, be a kiss of death.


    FastPivot staff response:

    Thanks for taking a deeper gander…good points. There may be flaws in their marketing strategies, but the article simply points out what they are doing wrong IF they want to market via social. Half-way isn’t good marketing for anyone. How they arrived at the decision to do so and what ROI they get from it is beyond the scope of this piece. Again, one might presume that the best business schools weren’t peer pressured into doing this, and there’s actually good reason. But then again, maybe not, since they’re doing it all wrong, and missing the point of how to market via the platform all together.

    However, luxury brands, outside of the featured universities, are making it onto social media, however reluctantly–many with the idea that they can’t afford not to be there: …so maybe that’s their reasoning, who knows??? Here’s another article that makes me think that’s it…use social, or you’ll be left behind :

    And for many, especially younger generations, who uses email anymore..becoming a thing of the past:

    Harvard, and the rest of them could email ’til they’re blue in the face, but so many kids these days are only checking FB and Twitter, without ever bothering with email.


    Kay wrote:

    I agree that they’re doing a poor job of what they’re doing. And, it is a valid question as to why do something at all if the effort is not going to be a serious one. That’s why I said they should not have wasted their time. And, in wasting their time at all, they ignored good common sense about marketing and they violated the rule of cost-benefit analysis.

    I would argue vehemently that email is not a thing of the past. Perhaps it is for social communication, but it cannot be for business communication. The limitations of Twitter make it an impossible venue for meaningful business communication. Further, neither FB nor Twitter offer the necessary privacy for business communication (although it’s valid to question whether any communication is, or can b,e truly private). These are business schools. They should follow best practices in business schools. One is to know your market. I would suspect that Twitter is frankly a more appropriate venue for them to participate than FB. And, perhaps that should have been investigated as well. On another note, MIT, for example, has an app for its Sloan Management Review. The free portion of the app gives one full access to the current issue. For archived issues, one must purchase the subscription. This presence makes perfect sense. One might ask whether Harvard Business Review has an app yet. If not, that’s a far more valid criticism than the school’s lack of presence on FB. (Again, I’d agree that the school should not be on FB at all if it’s not going to do it right. But, the school could possibly argue that a minimal presence is important to bring users to the school’s website where the “real” information can be found.)

    I also disagree with the comparison of premier academic institutions with luxury retailers. Luxury retailers, while building a brand image of exclusivity, are willing to sell to absolutely any customer willing to pay the price. Hence, using whatever marketing channel is available to reach potentially untapped markets makes sense–especially if sales are down due to economic pressures. Premier academic institutions are not interested in selling their degree programs to any customer who can afford the degree. It’s a completely different product and should have a completely different marketing strategy. That being said, there might well be some sense in building a social media presence for those programs that are being marketed to any person who can pay, e.g., executive education courses, etc. But, then again, I’m not convinced that high middle- to senior-level executives are apt to look to social media outlets to identify potential programs from which they might benefit. That day might come. But, I don’t think it’s here yet.


    FastPivot staff response:

    Again, good points. Without understanding more about their reasoning, we are left to speculate to motive. However, the digital world is prompting organizations of all types to re-consider former strategies and try something new. It is an unparallelled paradigm shift we are experiencing. The implications aren’t just with advertising either, but in the case of education, product delivery distinction. With many classes going online, and students finding that classes are often “canned” with limited instructor interaction, what distinguishes one school from another beside the branding. And if it were added value that build the brand in the first place, universities must look outside of their past playbooks to find a way to stay relevant, and stand out. That’s why we’re starting to see MBA apps. for those who want to learn directly from FB, i.e.

    There are variations in marketing practices among different “luxury/exclusive” markets, but heretofore none of them would be on social media. Now we see a good many of them there–the reason being, that’s where the majority from their target markets (from those who are there) are spending their time. How they ultimately decide to settle and position there will be another story. Harvard may decide that apps, and ads work best. Hermes may decide to hold live sessions via FB with previously cloistered perfumers. It’s hard to say, because we’ve never seen advertising/marketing change this quickly.

    We see the debate everyday with our clients. Many who were the first to be online as an ecommerce store believe social media is worthless. Others pour the majority of their budget into it (design, apps, contests, ppc, etc.. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. But the reason they’re trying is: 1) Fear of being left behind (see Barnes & Noble v. Amazon). 2) Current strategies are no longer yielding acceptable ROIs.

    One thing stills holds true: evolve or die. Now with so many different platforms upon which to advertise there is often no hard and fast way to reach consumers. There is a mass fragmentation, as if someone dropped the glass Christmas ornament containing their niche market. Picking up the pieces isn’t an option—it’s meeting them where they lay.

    Privacy is also becoming a relegated concern. It is security we care most about. Anyone who goes online or their smart phones for that matter has already compromised privacy. Communication is becoming much more context-based. If you need to send a quick thought to someone, you can direct message them on Twitter, text them, message from FB etc. All with the same privacy as email, assuming nothing is essentially private anymore. It’s difficult to swallow, I know. Impossible to imagine our postal system closing so many locations, and the fact that no one wants to call anymore (good read on that too: )….but this is the reality of the next generation. Entrenched brands like Harvard, and others are realizing this, and however they might be fumbling, they are trying. I find it difficult to imagine that they wouldn’t all be there if there weren’t a very good reason…but that’s me assuming that they are the best in the world for a good reason. If they weren’t, why would anyone pay $50+ a year to attend? A brand built on a qualifying exclusivity won’t last long if they lose sight of why people pay to attend in the first place. If they can no longer provide cutting edge knowledge, no matter how strong the brand, they’ll fade out.

    I do agree that it’s not here yet, but the light at the other end of the tunnel isn’t a rolling flashlight.

  2. Jonathan Poston

    Comment via email:

    Hi [FastPivot],

    Thank you for highlighting the page.

    What most important for any business are to find the most effective ways to reach targeted customers. While more Business School increases their teaching in using social media as tool for marketing or promotion, it is only time can tell if the selected tools will be effective in reaching out to the targeted customers; which ultimately translate into sales for the business.

    From a potential student point of view, social media will not be an effective way for me to understand the institution that I am interested in. Official website will be key source for information to understand the institute better and information provided by the institution should be creditable; or at least, the institution must be able to substantiate their claims on their official web page. In short, credibility for the source of information.

    For the top three business school mentioned in the article, student will still be rushing to them even they are “Failing on Facebook”; for a simple reason; because they are the “Top three”!


    Kent Tan
    [Director – Boston Business Management School, Singapore]

  3. Interesting points, however I have to question what is the point for top tier business schools to create a social media plan to the level of a product brand. I recently read an article by Brian Solis ( and feel it can apply to this study.

    The objective of the school is to educate an exceptional student and unless the information is beneficial the participation will be lacking and ultimately ineffective. I imagine that they already have internal email systems and are aware of what’s happening whether a current student or graduate. Remember, these institutions have very integrated alumni organizations that existed before social media was born. Question, if they did not participate in social media would a prospective student not apply?

    • Jonathan Poston

      Thanks for commenting, Michael. Valid point, though it was made in a previous comment…which reinforces the immediate reaction readers are having to this article: Why are these top tier universities on FB in the first place?

      What could they possibly be getting there that they aren’t already. Again, without feedback from them, we are left to speculate (we did post links to this blog to each of their FB pages, just in case). The idea behind this piece was to look at just what they are doing, and grading based on that–it’s all we have to go with. But again, perhaps the most important take away from this “examination” is that maybe social media isn’t where they need to be, especially if they don’t seem to know “who” they’re targeting (Good article you posted on this btw)–and maybe even, not just how many students might not apply because they aren’t on FB, but how many won’t apply because of how miserably they’re doing there.

  4. Shawna W

    This quote really stands out to me: “Business schools are always rumored to be ten years behind the curve, and based on what we’re seeing here, those whispers are beginning to ring true.” This is why I personally see a lot of value in a Communication degree. Pair it with business and you’ve got a perfect “weapon.’


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