Jerusalem – With the release of the 2014 Financial Times Global MBA Rankings, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem analysis of previous Financial Times data illustrates the major role that word-of-mouth (WOM) plays in academic reputation and MBA rankings. The researchers recommend that traditional ranking methodologies incorporate new highly informative and easily available parameters not previously available.

The researchers, Tony Gutentag and Dana Leikehmacher from the Jerusalem School of Business Administration at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, under the guidance of Dr. Renana Peres, analyzed data from the Nielsen-McKinsey Incite Buzzmetrics tool about international business schools’ word-of-mouth volume, such as blogs, user forums, and Twitter messages, for over a year.

By mining this data, they found that after The Financial Times business school’s ranking was released online, business school word-of-mouth volume raged. Publication of rankings increased word-of-mouth volume about MBA programs even if messages did not relate specifically to the Financial Times ranking.

Moreover, they found that word-of-mouth is fundamentally different for top-ranked schools (“winners”) and bottom-ranked schools. Top-ranked schools enjoy a “rich-get-richer” virtuous cycle in which they are highly discussed, the discourse about them centers less in the ranking itself, and they show less shifts in their ranking positions from year to year.

On the other hand, bottom-ranked schools seem to be trapped in a vicious cycle in which they receive much lower word-of-mouth volumes and the discourse about them typically centers around the ranking itself. They also show many shifts in their ranking positions from year to year.

The researchers also demonstrated that WOM volume is an effective proxy for determining the ranking of an MBA program: in the same way that a higher ranked business school will generate more WOM volume, so too greater WOM volume can be used as a stand-in for determining how well a school is ranked.

As for how to enhance word-of-mouth, the authors identified several Financial Times business school ranking criteria that are most strongly associated with prolific word-of-mouth volumes. These are: higher weighted salary of alumni, higher alumni recommendations of the school, higher research rank of the school, higher percent of women on the school’s board, and a higher percent of international faculty. That is, better paid and more satisfied alumni, more diverse board and student body, and a research reputation make an MBA program more talked about online.

According to the researchers, “The study offers several insights to MBA managers and marketers who want to understand how to unleash conversations about their MBA program. For example, the data show that increasing the number of women on the school’s board might help business institutions generate more online discussion, and potentially even create a path out of the vicious cycle.”

The researchers added: “MBA rankings publishers who wish to keep their methodology updated should include word-of-mouth as another factor in their ranking process. Thanks to the new and improved data mining tools, measuring the online word-of-mouth volumes has never been easier. Moreover, even a student enrolling to a MBA program can use word-of-mouth as a proxy for the academic institute’s place in the ranking.”