A Thematic Analysis of the use of Social Media Marketing in Higher Education


  • Liza Benedict Tarleton State University
  • Lesley F. Leach Tarleton State University
  • Pam Winn Tarleton State University
  • Credence Baker Tarleton State University




A review of the empirical, peer-reviewed literature related to marketing in higher education was conducted to examine the use and effectiveness of social media in higher education institutions. Results from twelve peer-reviewed, empirical studies were thematically analyzed. Findings were outlined in a thematic map with three emergent themes: (a) why social media marketing is used in higher education, (b) the purposes for which social media marketing is being used in higher education, and (c) the effectiveness of the use of social media marketing in higher education. Results suggested prospective students still rely on the traditional forms of marketing, such as institutional web and print materials, although there is some evidence that social media is gaining prominence in their decision-making process. In summary, findings imply university marketers should strategically plan, including assessing student preference regarding social media communication, in order to embed social media marketing as an institution-wide tactic taking into account the collection of measurable analytics on the effectiveness of the effort.


Arnett, A. (2012). Social media gives prospective international college students a sneak peek. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 29(18), 8.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2012). Thematic Analysis. In Cooper, H. (Ed.), APA Handbook of Research Methods in Psychology:Vol. 2:Research Designs (pp 57-71). doi:10.1037/13620-004

*Constantinides, E., & Zinck Stagno, M. C. (2011). Potential of the social media as instruments of higher education marketing: a segmentation study. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 21(1), 7-24.doi:10.1080/08841241.2011.573593

Creswell, J.W. (2012). Educational Research: Planning Conducting, and Evaluating Quantitative and Qualitative Research (4 th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Croke, B. (2012). The social admissions report. Inigral Insights. Retrieved from http://blog.inigral.com/introducing-the-2012-social-admissions-report/ Croke, B. (2013). Social media and student trends: Where are they headed? Uversity. Retrieved from http://www.uversity.com/blog/social-media-and-student-trends-whereare-they-in-2013/

*DeAndrea, D. C., Ellison, N. B., LaRose, R., Steinfield, C., & Fiore, A. (2012). Serious social media: On the use of social media for improving students' adjustment to college. Internet & Higher Education, 15(1), 15-23. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.05.009

Domonell, K. (2012). Admissions goes social. University Business, 15(5), 32-34.

*Fagerstrøm, A., & Ghinea, G. (2013). Co-creation of value in higher education: using social network marketing in the recruitment of students. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 35(1), 45-53. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2013.748524

Fusch, D. (2011a, January-February). Making informed investments in social media. Higher Ed Impact Monthly Diagnostic, 8-11. Retrieved from http://www.academicimpressions.com/news/making-informed-investments-social-media

Gardner, L. (2013). Social-media use grows at colleges, despite little dedicated staff. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/bottomline/social-media-use-grows-at-colleges- despite-littlededicated-staff/

*Greenwood, G. (2012). Examining the presence of social media on university web sites. Journal of college admission, 216, 24-28.

Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K.M., Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: A systematic review. BMC Psychiatry, 10, 113-121.

Harden, A., Brunton, G., Fletcher, A, Oakley, A. (2009). Teenage pregnancy and social disadvantage: Systematic review integrating controlled trials and qualitative studies. BMJ, 339, 4254-4264.

*Hayes, T. J., Ruschman, D., & Walker, M. M. (2009). Social networking as an admission Tool: A case study in success. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 19(2), 109-124. doi:10.1080/08841240903423042

Joly, K. (2009a, February). Social media measurement 101. University Business, 12(9), 54-56.

*Lindbeck, R., & Fodrey, B. (2010). Using Technology in Undergraduate Admission: A Student Perspective. Journal Of College Admission, (208), 10-17.

*Lubbe, J., Roets, L.,Van Tonder, S., & Wilkinson, A. (2013). Social Media: A Method to Recruit Students into Undergraduate Nursing Programmes. Gender & Behaviour, 11(2), 5402-5411.

Mahaney, M. (2012). The effectiveness of social media marketing in higher education. (Senior Honors Thesis). State University of New York, the College at Brockport.

Making the most of social media. (2009). Recruitment & Retention in Higher Education, 23(7), 3.

Masterson, K., & Carew, E. L. (2010). 5 colleges that inspire alumni giving, and how they do it. Chronicle of Higher Education, 56(24), A20.

Morton, R.L., Tong, A.; Howard, K.; Snelling, P.; Webster, A.C. (2010). The views of patients and carers in treatment decision making for chronic kidney disease: Systematic review and thematic synthesis of qualitative studies. BMJ, 340, 112-121.

*Nyangau, J. Z., & Bado, N. (Spring, 2012). Social media and marketing of higher education: A review of the literature. Journal of the Research Center for Educational Technology (RCET). 8(1), 38-51.

*Palmer, A., & Koenig-Lewis, N. (2011). The effects of pre-enrolment emotions and peer group interaction on students’ satisfaction. Journal of Marketing Management, 27(11/12), 12081231. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2011.614955

*Palmer, S. (2013). Characterisation of the use of Twitter by Australian Universities. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 35(4), 333-344. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2013.812029

*Parrot, T., & Tipton, S. (2010) Using social media “smartly” in the admissions process. College and University, 86(1), 51-53.

PBP Executive Reports (2010). Facebook &Twitter: Engaging & recruiting prospective students: A special report for higher education administrators. Retrieved from www.pbpexecutivereports.com

Shields, L.; Pratt, J.; & Hunter, J. (2006). Family centered care: A review of qualitative studies. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 15, 1317-1323.

Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory. London: Sage.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education, mStoner, & Huron Consulting Group, Social Media Survey. (2013). Best practices in social media: Summary of findings from the fourth comprehensive study of social media use by schools, colleges and universities. Retrieved from http://www.case.org/Documents/AboutCASE/Newsroom/CASE-HuronmStoner-SM2013-topline.pdf

*Tkalac Verčič, A., & Verčič, D. (2013). Digital Natives and social media. Public Relations Review, 39(5), 600-602. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.08.008