Websites are a key mechanism for communicating with an audience or group of users. And, to that end most organisations have complemented their online presence by using set of social networks to reach their audiences. One element of the social media conversations comprises sending out posts, tweets and pins of interest. In effect, broadcasting and initiating conversations and participating in the ensuing reactions and responses.
Another element of the process comprises visitors and other audience members arriving on a site and finding material to share with their networks and, thus, bring attention to the site and its messages. Perhaps, there is an argument can be made that content sharing may be more effective, as it comes across as authentic and spontaneous.
Social media networks, and Facebook and Twitter in particular, recognise and support the ready sharing of content on their networks. In 2010 Facebook introduced Open Graph, a mechanism for better integrating content for sharing on Facebook's network. Facebook took the approach of including meta tags (or structured markup) encoded in the <head> section of a web page to describe to Facebook and other applications how to 'process' relevant page content.
Twitter recommends using a similar set of meta tags to ensure that material shared on its network is formatted correctly. However, in practice, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn will all recognise Facebook Open Graph meta tags and process shared material accordingly. If you are unfamiliar with this approach he’s an example of what you would encounter if your checked the <head> portion of a site:
In our opinion, a well-structured web page will include all the relevant structured meta tags to ensure that content sharing works as easily as possible. In the example above the tags are also being used to provided unambiguous product details.
Given the importance of content sharing, the lengthy period that Facebook Open Graph has been available and its acceptance by other social media networks, we decided to check to higher education adoption rates. We surveyed 206 Canadian post-secondary education websites and checked the source code for implementation of the following:
Our survey shows that just over 20% of the websites had the relevant meta tags/markup present in the <head> section code of their web pages. We note that many sites have implemented social sharing buttons to share content from blog posts and similar pages, but fourth-fifths of our survey sites do not readily facilitate content sharing from every page. For those sites that have implemented markup/meta tags, the most supported social network is Facebook, followed by Twitter and Google+. We have carried out separate research on the adoption of social networks by post-secondary education institutions and we will be publishing extracts of our findings shortly.
Graph 1 shows the proportion of sites that have all three implemented meta tags/markup for Facebook, Twitter and Google+. It also shows the proportion of sites that have implemented two of three and sites that have implemented any one of the three and, of course, the sites that have yet to implement any meta tags/markup to facilitate content sharing.
Graph 1: Canadian Higher Education Institution's Use of Social Media Mark-up/Content Tagging
We reviewed 150 Canadian higher education websites to determine what proportion of these support content sharing with the tagging recommended by Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The most commonly implemented tagging is Facebook's Open Graph, which is used by about 40% of sites. Twitter recommends its own Twitter Card encoding scheme, which about 20% of sites have implemented. In the absence of Twitter Card encoding, applications default to Facebook's Open Graph, if available. None of the sites we reviewed had implemented the Google+ recommended encoding - even those sites that have Google+ accounts. About 60% of higher education websites have yet to implement social media content tagging. As a result, any content sharing made from these sites isn't optimised for Facebook or Twitter, is unlikely to provide a high quality visitor experience or display the content to social media users to the standard that most organisations aspire. Fortunately, the solution is simple.