Denison Freshmen, Facebook Groups, and First Impressions: A Guide to Success

By Oliver Gladfelter

From advertising for upcoming events to buying and selling textbooks, Denison students are increasingly using Facebook as a way to connect with the greater campus community. In fact, this begins for most students before they even step onto campus for Aug-O. As prospective students are accepted, they are added to their own “Denison University Class of ___” Facebook group. Here, potential Denisonians have their first opportunity to introduce themselves and begin developing their social network with what I like to call a “nice to meet me” post.

The “nice to meet me” post typically consists of a few things: your name, where you’re from, what you might want to study, and letting everyone know that you’re excited and can’t wait to meet them in the fall. This one post is basically your first impression to the student body. Clearly, you have to get it right. And how do you judge that? By how many likes it got, obviously! Getting a lot of likes is the clearest indicator that you made a good first impression. And how many you get will most likely determine what your four years at Denison will look like. How many friends you have, what kind of grades you get, and probably even your first post-grad job will all be predetermined by this one number.

Don’t worry, I’m just kidding. But still, it is an interesting thought – which intro posts get the most likes, and why? To explore this question, I scrolled deep into the Denison University Class of 2020 Facebook group and performed a content analysis on nearly 200 posts published between Denison’s acceptance day (March 1st, 2016) and the national decision day (May 1st).

 Figure 1 – Most Posts Garnered Between 20 and 50 Likes


The average amount of likes for posts was 34.7, with a standard deviation of 14, meaning most (⅔, that is) were liked anywhere between 20 and 49 times. Interestingly enough, every single post got at least 10 likes – the class of 2020 did a good job at showing support for one another. So what exactly contributes to getting more likes?

Timing plays a critical role in how many likes a post gets. The vast majority of “nice to meet me” posts are made between acceptance day and decision day. From the day acceptance letters go out, more and more students commit to Denison with each passing day and head to the Facebook group to announce their decision.[note 1] Thus, as decision day nears, the overall buzz of the Facebook group steadily increases with enrollment. As such, the average like count grows steadily over time and peaks on decision day (see Figure 2). So if you’re trying to get as many likes as possible, patience is the name of the game!

 Figure 2 – Like Momentum Builds as Decision Day Nears


Interestingly enough, as soon as decision day comes and goes, the average amount of likes quickly shrinks. Just as the day after any major holiday is usually fairly depressing, once the national decision day holiday passes excitement seems to dwindle…that is until housing placements go out! So if you’re going for the record, make sure you don’t miss the boat.

Beyond timing, we can look at the actual content of individual posts to see what tended to attract likes.

Was there a tyranny of the plurality? Out of all the possibilities, nearly one in five posts mentioned they were from somewhere in Ohio. So I figured Ohioans would all benefit from liking each other’s posts more than others. Not the case – an average post authored by a Ohioan garnered 35.8 likes, while all others averaged 34.4 – an insignificant difference. Another plurality came out of intended majors – 32.3% of posts indicated they were planning on majoring in a hard science at Denison. So maybe the science kids would all give each other more likes? Nope.

In reality, the actual descriptives of a post – such as major and hometown – rarely mattered in predicting likes. Rather, it’s simply a matter of whether certain content was included – those with a list of interests, those stating they were committed to Denison, those indicating they’ll be participating in varsity athletics, and those mentioning they were looking for a roommate all averaged significantly more likes than those without those items.[note 2]

Figure 3 – How Interests, Commitment, Athleticism, Room Searching, and Date of Posting Affect Likes


So interests, commitment, athleticism, and roommate searching together make up the “Holy Quadral” of content that attracts likes. 22.2% of posts in the group suggested they were looking for a roommate. These posts averaged 5.27 more likes than the vast majority of posts that didn’t mention anything about roommates. 27.7% of posts indicated they would be playing on a Denison varsity team, which matriculated 5.06 more likes than non-athletic postings. 64% of posts indicated they either had decided to come to Denison or had already enrolled. This clear commitment typically garnered an extra 4.51 likes. Finally, 77.8% of posts included a list of interests, generally in the form of likes and dislikes. Telling hundreds of strangers what makes them tick earned incoming students an average of 4.75 extra likes.

On average, the class of 2020 included just under 2 of the “Holy Quadral” in their posts. It’s worth mentioning that the like-garnering effects of these elements are additive – each additional element added raises the total like count at a consistent rate.

Number of “Holy Quadral” Elements Average Amount of Likes
None 25.6
One 30.5
Two 35.4
Three 40.3
All 45.1

So the key to getting more likes isn’t just dropping one of these significant elements into your post…it’s including as many as possible! On a related note, the average word count for posts in the Class of 2020 group was about 93 words. If we see that average increase for the Class of 2021, I think we know who to blame…

Social networks are built by declaring yourself as a member of the community and getting involved – the same way students do on the hill. So, in a way, posting in their Facebook group is how incoming students begin to develop their Denison network. When two people meet here, they usually exchange three basic pieces of information – their name, their major, and where they’re from. Well, we know major and hometown don’t make much of a difference in terms of Facebook likes. But what does matter is including your interests, campus areas you’re going to be involved in, etc. So take a lesson from how Denison students interact with one another in Facebook groups; next time you meet someone new, don’t start by asking where they’re from – a̶s̶k̶ ̶w̶h̶a̶t̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶i̶r̶ ̶p̶a̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶s̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶  ask if they’re searching for a roommate. Cuz, you know, that gets likes on Facebook.

Oliver Gladfelter is a huge advocate of procrastination and spends most of his time finding new ways to waste time. He also studies political science on the side.

A number of students helped collect data for this post. Thanks to: Andrew Boyle, Emma Kopp, Jake Dennie, Kassie Ortega, and Mike Angelo.


1. There’s a very strong relationship between the amount of comments and likes a post gets (p-value<.01). Every time a post is commented on, that post is “bumped” to the top of the group, allowing more people to see it and like it. Somehow managing to get more comments almost always generates more likes. Therefore, my regression model controls for the number of comments.

2. The relationship between indications of commitment in posts and the date has a p-value

One Comment Add yours

  1. Eugene Wales says:

    in figure 2 u say that like momentum builds. couldn’t it just be that more students are joining the group and then posts are getting more likes? would it be better to look at this as a ratio of likes and total number of people in the group? thx – eugene


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