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How to Compare Online Conversation About Your Campus to Peer Institutions

As soon as we decided to start Campus Sonar, I committed to providing social listening benchmarks for the higher education industry. This was a direct response to what I heard from campus-based professionals at conferences and during research conversations. While the concept of social listening was intriguing, administrators weren’t sure how much conversation they should expect to find about their campus. Once they looked and knew how much conversation there was, the first question they had was “is that normal?” This is why we released our 2019 Online Conversation Benchmarks study—I wanted every college and university to be able to measure their online conversation and know how it compared to their peers. 

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This study is the result of collecting and analyzing more than 13 million online conversations from a representative sample of U.S. four-year colleges and universities. It’s packed with new information for the industry, including:

  • How often campuses are talked about, and when
  • Who talks about them and where
  • Sentiment analysis
  • How what a campus says about itself influences conversation from others
  • How often prospective and admitted students talk about institutions
  • How often alumni are mentioned
  • The impact of athletics on the conversation

For all of these metrics and more (a total of 19), our study provides comparative analysis, insights, and benchmarks for the following institutional characteristics.

  • Control: Public, private nonprofit, private for-profit.
  • Size by Enrollment: Very small, small, medium, large, exclusively graduate.
  • Program Type: Art/music/design, BA, professional, doctoral, faith, masters, health.

Benchmark Your Online Conversation

Work with Campus Sonar

If you’re just testing the waters and don’t conduct strategic social listening on your campus yet, you may not know your institution’s stats for any of the metrics we benchmarked. That’s okay! Campus Sonar can conduct a Free Social Listening Snapshot to provide you with six of the 19 metrics from the study in a free report that’s yours to keep.

  • Total Annual Conversation
  • Number of Unique Authors
  • Month with Most Conversation
  • Month with Least Conversation
  • Owned Conversation
  • Earned Conversation

Free Social Listening Snapshot iconDuring your Free Snapshot review call, you’ll also walk through your social listening dashboard and see live data, getting a sneak peek into other metrics from the benchmarking report. 

On Your Own

If you’re already conducting strategic social listening on campus, you can compare your data to our benchmarks if you work at a four-year institution* located in the United States. For many metrics, our benchmarks list both the median and the range, so you can approximate how you compare to your peers. No matter what social listening tool you’re using, you should be able to benchmark at least eight metrics: total annual conversation, unique authors, month with most and least conversations, sentiment (positive, neutral, negative), and number of owned authors.

Note: We benchmarked total annual conversation without athletics. If you’re collecting all conversation, including athletics, multiply the total annual conversation metric by average increase in total annual conversation with addition of athletics to get a comparable benchmark.

Average increase in total annual conversation with addition of athletics multiplied by total annual conversation metric equals comparable benchmark

Identify Your Institutional Characteristics

First, know how your institution would be categorized in our study for each of the three institutional characteristics. You’ll need to know how your institution was reported in the 2015 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education ® (CCIHE) .

Institutional Control

Control is pretty straightforward; you’re either public, private nonprofit, or private for-profit.

Size by Enrollment

For Size by Enrollment, consider the student population as reported to the CCIHE data set (we used the variable SIZESET2015) and find your appropriate category.

  • Very Small: Less than 1,000 students (SIZESET2015 values 6–8)
  • Small: 1,000–2,999 students (SIZESET2015 value 9–11)
  • Medium: 3,000–9,999 students (SIZESET2015 value 12–14)
  • Large: 10,000+ students (SIZESET2015 value 15–17)
  • Exclusively Graduate (SIZESET2015 value 18)
Program Type

To determine Program Type, we created seven categories based on the following Basic2015 values in the CCIHE data set. It’s possible your institution’s program type isn’t included; we chose to benchmark the program types that were most representative of four-year U.S. universities*.

  • Art/Music Design: Basic2015 value 30
  • BA: Arts/Science, Diverse, BA/Associates (Basic2015 values 21–23)
  • Professional: Business, Law, Technology, Other (Basic2015 values 27–29)
  • Doctoral: Moderate, Higher, and Highest Research Activity (Basic2015 values 15–17)
  • Faith: Basic2015 value 24
  • Masters: Small, Medium, and Large programs (Basic2015 values 18–20)
  • Health: Medical Institutions & Centers and Other Health Professions (Basic2015 values 25–26)

Find Your Benchmarks

While the first half our study focuses on analysis, the second half provides the benchmarks. You can benchmark metrics by institutional control using the data on pages 21–22, size by enrollment on pages 23–24, and program type on pages 25–27. 

Social listening is still evolving, so there may be some ambiguity on what a particular metric in the benchmarks represents. Turn to pages 38–42 for descriptions of each of the metrics we collected (including many that weren’t benchmarked). By knowing how your social listening metrics compare to industry averages, you can start to identify areas of achievement as well as opportunities for improvement.

Using the benchmark report and engaging in social listening is a way to increase your institutional visibility, as John T. Lawlor, Principal at Lawlor Advisory, explains. 

“Campus Sonar’s recent social listening study stresses the need for colleges and universities to not only be engaged in social listening, but to also be active participants in online conversations. As Campus Sonar noted in its research findings, 'alignment of owned and earned conversation themes is a measure of institutional influence.' This reinforces the importance of not only listening, but doing. And if you do, others with the same passion for shared-affinity areas like athletics, performing arts, specific academic majors, study abroad, and location, will repeat and reinforce the content shared—and help increase your institutional visibility.”

Learn more about the report and download a copy. Then read up on additional analysis we’ve done based on the report, focusing on admissions, alumni, athletics, authors, and conversation volume

*  Institutions that primarily confer associates degrees were excluded, then the analyst selected a representative sample of institutions from the remaining schools.

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Subscribe to Brain Waves!The post How to Compare Online Conversation About Your Campus to Peer Institutions originally appeared on Campus Sonar's Brain Waves blog.

Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognized expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specializes in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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