In higher ed, reputation is an institution’s number one priority. The problem is, it’s not totally in your hands. Public perception is reality and anyone who has an opinion can share it online for the world to see. There’s a trust problem in our country, especially in higher education.
The Edelman Trust Barometer has collected data about trust around the world for over a decade. According to their 2018 research, the second most trustworthy person in this country is “a person like me,” who comes in just behind an academic expert. They regained the most trustworthy position after being tied for first in 2017’s report.
While you can’t control the narrative about your campus, you can and should be aware of the conversation—use it as a source of intelligence for how you interact with the marketplace and, of course, participate in the conversation. Social listening isn’t just a part of your brand strategy—it should inform your brand strategy. Strategic social listening is:
Real life: transcribed, categorized, and analyzed to provide your institution with the insights it needs to support data-driven strategies.
When strategic social listening aligns with established campus goals, it results in outcomes such as increased conversations with prospective students, more effective marketing materials for your target audience, or increased alumni engagement and giving. Our strategic approach to higher ed social listening illustrates how to use data analysis to explore campus goals and develop actionable outcomes and impacts.
This spring we had the opportunity to present at the CASE District 3 Annual Conference on this very topic—how social listening can help you understand brand perception and inform marketing and communication strategies. We shared how we used data analysis to help Spring Hill College (SHC) better understand the conversation about their brand.
#SHCFamily—An Organic, Unforced Brand
Campus Sonar and SHC partnered in 2017 with the goal of understanding how others identify with SHC’s brand. Campus Sonar used social listening as a research tool to understand the prevalent themes in SHC’s online conversation over the previous three years (2014 to 2017). SHC wanted the organic, real conversation that was out there, not only from constituents (students, alumni, friends, faculty, and staff) but also from potential students and parents, and their own community in Mobile, AL. With marketing driven by admissions, we pay fast attention to what is said about Spring Hill College online and in the media.
As the Director of Media & Public Relations for SHC, I’m a firm believer that you can’t create a brand and force your audience to identify with it. This is where our work with Campus Sonar was integral. SHC is small, but we’ve developed a large number of alumni and others who have a close relationship with the college over the past 189 years! But we didn’t know what these people were saying and how we could incorporate it into our message so we mirrored what our constituents said.
From Campus Sonar’s conversation analysis, we found that SHC’s people love SHC as much as SHC loves them. The most organic theme we found over the three-year analysis is that people think of their experience and the people at SHC as their family. For me, this was the most duh / ah-ha moment I’ve had since joining SHC. Of course we are! And we knew that but … we didn’t? I’ve joked with Liz that our social listening experience with Campus Sonar is basically me saying we realized that “we know that they know that we know what they know.”
Based on the analysis, we didn’t need to develop a whole new brand … our brand was right in front of us. Instead, we gave our brand a glow-up using either the word “family,” the idea of family, or sometimes both. We took the brand and ran with it.
- We created admissions packets that incorporated the hashtag and new brand identity.
- We used the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to increase student engagement.
We want to welcome three St. Scholastica Academy (Louisiana) seniors to the #SHCFamily! Katie Collura (cross-country/track), Katherine Kelly (soccer) and Lauren Madden (cheerleading) recently signed their letters of intent. #purpleup https://t.co/b1FTcJhuim— Spring Hill College (@sprhill) March 1, 2019
- We used it to further define our brand outside of social media, using the hashtag on our website and as a tagline.
- We incorporated #purpleup with #SHCFamily so our audience thinks of them both when they post to social media.
Ultimately, there are always opportunities for SHC to use the idea of family or the closeness of our campus community. The brand and messaging are so organic and they just work with the hashtag and our social listening. SHCFamily is a movement that will continue for Spring Hill College.
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Campus Sonar CEO Liz Gross collaborated with Ashley on this blog post.