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13 Tips for Using Social Listening in Higher Education

Regardless of having the word social in the name, social listening is not something you do just to get better at social media. Let’s repeat that—social listening is not just about social media! Social listening is an investment in strategic intelligence (across various channels), that gets you closer to what is being said to and about your institution with implications across almost every area of campus. Listening to your online conversation builds trust, which is arguably the most valuable commodity today.


Here are 13 tips for how to use social listening in higher education.

tip-1 Alumni Intelligence

Whether your alumni are talking about their own experiences or local media are touting their accomplishments, you’re more likely to gather valuable intelligence related to a job milestone or a life event from social media and online news than an alumni update form. Believe it or not, most people don’t rush to share their latest career move or accolade with their alma mater! Use the information you learn from social media or news sites to update your records, inform fundraising appeals, or identify opportunities to engage and build an authentic relationship.

tip-2 Engage with Admitted Students to Boost Yield

For prospective students, online conversation about campuses increases significantly once they receive their acceptance letters. Identify conversations from your admits about your campus in real-time so you can engage with them at key points in their decision-making process or encourage current students to provide informed answers to their questions.

tip-3 Crisis and Issue Monitoring

Know within minutes if the conversation about your campus differs from the norm and have trustworthy data at your fingertips to answer the popular presidential question, “What are people saying?” In addition to identifying an issue when it happens, social listening provides valuable intelligence to inform online and offline crisis management activities.

tip-4 Find and Help At-Risk Students

You’d be surprised how students turn to the internet to discuss issues they’re facing. We’ve seen students publicly discuss the prospect of dropping out, seek treatment for mental health, or simply look for tutoring options or connections to a social group. Don’t let these calls for help go unanswered by someone who can be of assistance.

tip-5 Media Relations

We all know recognition for your institution doesn’t usually happen on its own; it takes effort to find areas where you can add relevance to topics and conversations. Use social listening to analyze the online conversation of key journalists and identify pitch opportunities that align with their interests, receive instant alerts when journalists post (you can infer pending article topics), and benchmark your media activity against other institutions.

tip-6 Identify Influencers

Some of your prospects, students, and alumni have sizeable followings on sites like YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. Use social listening to identify members of your campus community who already have a significant audience that knows, likes, and trusts them. Then consider ways to partner with them so their influence has a positive impact on your reputation or strategic objectives.

tip-7 Brand Management

Analyze online conversation through the lens of your brand pillars. Insights will reveal the parts of your brand that resonate with various audiences (e.g., current students, faculty, alumni), how much of your owned content aligns with your brand, and if the way people talk about your institution aligns more with your brand over time. This could be the data you need to help faculty understand the role brand plays in the institution and get them on board with your branding efforts.

tip-8 Competitive Intelligence

Regularly monitor and analyze peer institutions to stay abreast of changes in their academic programming, marketing strategy, or simply to understand how people talk about them in comparison to your institution. If your institution has a strong research focus, conduct social listening to understand how your faculty’s research on a particular topic (e.g., arctic research, artificial intelligence, public health) compares to other institutions with the same research focus.

tip-9 Market Research

Social listening provides access to the world’s largest publicly-available archive of human thought. It’s like an always-on focus group. Use social listening to get to know a target audience better: perhaps high school students in a tristate area, or mid-career professionals seeking additional training or certifications. It may not even be a stand-alone research activity; social listening is a great way to conduct preliminary research that informs questions for focus groups, interviews, or surveys.

tip-10 Content Research

If you want your web content to surface when students are in the consideration phase, you need to provide helpful, search-friendly content that answers their questions rather than promotes your own agenda. Students ask and answer these questions themselves on sites like Reddit and YouTube. Use social listening to identify the questions, then answer them in your content to build trust long before an application is submitted.

tip-11 Academic Program Market Assessment

If your institution is considering revamping existing programs or launching new ones, conduct social listening research to learn what current students in similar programs like, what prospects are looking for, and what young and mid-career professionals have to say about their professional development needs. You can identify unfilled gaps in niche industries so your program stands out from the rest.

tip-12 Executive Reputation Management

Google alerts are less valuable than they used to be. Use social listening to monitor millions of online sources for mentions of your president, vice presidents, and provost. Make sure they know when they’re mentioned in a positive light, and mitigate any risk of negative coverage by identifying it immediately. If your executives are active on social media, regularly analyze their activity to provide recommendations that optimize their impact on strategic objectives.

tip-13 Identify Thought Leadership Opportunities

Your campus is full of experts on a variety of topics, in both faculty and administration. By trending topics online, you can prep colleagues for media commentary or create your own of-the-moment content that capitalizes on current conversation trends and highlights your institution. When trying to raise the national and international profile of your institution, this intelligence is particularly valuable.

When implemented across an entire campus, at scale, the possibilities for what social listening can tell you about your institution are truly endless. It can prove your marketing efforts are paying off if public perception reflects your brand strategy. It can help you identify opportunities to get your school’s name recognized on a broader scale. It can support the work your students, faculty, and staff do and identify what your institution should look forward to. And, most importantly, it helps you more significantly engage with your students and prospects.

How else have you used (or imagined using) social listening on campus? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @CampusSonar. If you want to see the benefits from social listening but don’t have the capacity on your team, we’d love to help. Explore the services we offer, request a free snapshot to get a glimpse of what your current online conversation looks like or reach out to learn more about our capabilities.

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Subscribe to Brain WavesThe post 13 Tips for Using Social Listening in Higher Education originally appeared on the Campus Sonar 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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