Abstract: Public communication has become more important to higher education institutions (HEIs), with many HEIs using social media to communicate with stakeholders. However, scholarship on the subject is scarce and mainly based on single-platform studies and small datasets. Therefore, we conducted a cross-platform study to examine the communication of all Swiss HEIs on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The results were based on two datasets: an automated analysis on data for all Swiss HEIs (n = 42) and their social media accounts from 2004 to 2021 (337,232 posts from 207 accounts), and a manual content analysis on 1,500 posts per platform. By including all HEIs in one country, this study allowed for a comparison of the results by HEI type: universities of applied sciences, universities of teacher education, and research universities. Results show that, in recent years, HEI communication increased on Instagram, but not on Facebook or Twitter. Twitter was used the most by research universities, while most Instagram and Facebook posts were from universities of applied sciences. Universities of teacher education were least active across all platforms. The content of communication across all HEI types was primarily self-referential. Our analysis of how well HEIs used the affordances of social media communication relative to hypertextuality and multimodality revealed a generally high level of adaption. Moreover, our data showed no substantial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on posting activities and engagement with social media posts by HEIs for the two first years of the pandemic.
Keywords: higher education institutions; new media technology; public relations; social media; strategic communication; Switzerland; university communication