Executive summary

This project describes how Italian universities use social media, with a focus on Facebook and Twitter. Data was gathered using several qualitative and quantitative techniques, including automatic collection, ad-hoc Application Programming Interface (API) queries and information obtained from the university personnel managing the accounts. The results of the ‘SocialUniversity’ project show that most Italian universities have active social network accounts; that Facebook is the platform of choice to answer the students’ questions, while Twitter serves mostly as an online news channel; that Italian universities on average use social media platforms generally better than the Italian public administration.


Social networks are part of everyday life for many Italian: according to a CENSIS survey, 47% of Italians were active on a social network in 2012 and various research institutes found higher rates in 2013. Social media are also important for the formation of opinions: the CENSIS study estimated that 61 % of young people were using Facebook as a source of information.
Public agencies consider Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms (SMPs a cost-effective method to reach large audiences (Bertot et al., 2010, Ab Hamid et al., 2007). Universities do not represent an exception: their communication strategies, in fact, increasingly rely on social media to complement the traditional communication channels.
When #socialUniversity was initiated, assessments of the use of social media by universities were starting to appear (Aquilani and Lovari 2009, Aquilani and Lovari 2010, Giglietto and Lovari 2012, Jeopen 2012), but the topic was still largely underexplored and a systematic analysis at national level was missing in Italy.


It is in this scenario that the search # socialUniversity the Nexa Center for Internet & Society at Politecnico di Torino (Department of Control and Computer Engineering ) analyzed the presence of 96 Italian universities on social networks, focusing on two main platforms : Facebook ( first network for popularity , with 75 % of Italians are equipped with Internet access subscribers , representing 45 % of the population) and Twitter (8 % of Italians with internet access, equal to 5.4 % of the population).

During the following report of the Italian universities were divided according to their mode of management , namely:
– 67 universities ‘ public institutions of which 6 are special research ;
– 18 private universities do not telematics ;
– 11 private universities telematics.


The data collection for this research took place from June to October 2013

To start the data collection process, we listed the Twitter and Facebook accounts of most Italian universities. Then we used the Social Proxy SMP data collection platform, developed by Net7, as well as ad-hoc API queries, to monitor the online activity of the universities’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. In parallel, we contacted the people in charge of managing such accounts, to gather qualitative data. Finally, in some cases, we manually inspected the accounts to collect data that we could not collect automatically.
The data shows that on average Italian universities are well aware of the potential of SMPs; in fact, some universities even have people whose only job is to manage the university’s online accounts. The data shows that, while Facebook is used for counseling and answering to student’s questions, Twitter is used primarily as the official, online news channel. Also, even though few Facebook accounts post – on the average – multiple times per day, the vast majority of them updates their timelines less than once per day. Another insight is that private universities (typically small, selective and well-funded) and Superior Graduate Schools are relatively more popular than large public universities (which in recent years have been affected by steep cuts in both funding and staff).
To better understand the extent to which Italian universities use well the SMP channels, we compared their online behavior to the previously studied behavior of the Italian public administration; also, we compared the online behavior of a few, selected Italian universities to the behavior of few, selected European universities. For the former comparison, we used the latest #socialPA report data (Arata, 2013) as a benchmark, while for the latter comparison we used data specifically collected for this case study. Compared to the public administration, the universities seems to be more aware of the SMP channels best practices and features (e.g., 44% of the universities already use hashtags on Facebook, despite their recent introduction). Compared to the European universities selected for this study, Italian universities are on average less popular (in terms of the audience weighted for the number of students). However, there are Italian universities that, like the European ones, have multilingual accounts.

Related Publications


Oppici Fiorenza; Simone Basso; Juan Carlos De Martin

How do universities use social media? An empirical survey of Italian academic institutions Conference

CeDEM14 Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government, International Conference for E-Democracy and Open Government 2014 2014.

Abstract | Links | BibTeX