3 Ways to Make a Case for Data-Driven Marketing Investment

Ongoing social listening analysis allows you to better understand your baseline conversation and create personal benchmarks, track seasonal changes, evaluate the effects of crises, and measure the impact of new campaigns. 

We track industry-wide conversation to keep track of trends and analyze our clients’ conversation behavior against a comparable sample. Over the past five years, we’ve tracked three trends you can use to make the case for data-driven marketing investment. 

What We Know

Online conversation about higher education has decreased dramatically.

Line graph showing median institutional conversation volume between Fall 2018 with a high of 5,521 and in Spring 2021 with 3,839

Conversation volume indicates how many people are talking about campuses and how much they’re talking about them. When fewer people are talking about you, fewer people are hearing about you.

In analyzing conversation volume, we look at owned and earned conversation. 

  • Owned conversation is generated by accounts affiliated with a campus such as the campus’s official social media account, athletics program, or educational department page. Retweets of owned accounts are measured as owned conversation.
  • Earned conversation is generated by those without a direct relationship to the campus, such as student-run clubs and organizations (e.g., Greek life), or others creating content about your campus.

Since the fall of 2018, earned conversation volume has increased to the point where there is now three times more earned conversation than owned. 

We’re currently analyzing our benchmarking data from the 2021–2022 academic year, and in early 2023 we’ll be able to tell our clients and STREAM members if this initial rebound continues. 

What This Means for You: Increase Your Visibility

When you think of investing to increase your visibility, paid media is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But it’s not the only way to invest. Use your resources to show up in ways your audience notices, appreciates, and is willing to amplify—online and off.

Earned conversation is where you have the greatest opportunity; this requires audience-centric strategies that prompt participation.

What We Know

Small campuses post more original content than larger campuses without any additional awareness benefit.

For campuses with over 10,000 students, 21–33% of all owned content is original (that is, not reshared, or part of a purposeful engagement strategy).

For campuses with under 10,000 students, the proportion is on the high end or up to double that amount (32–64%). Yet all that extra effort doesn’t result in an increase in the percentage of all campus conversation that’s earned (or word of mouth/media). It doesn’t add any additional awareness benefit.

Enrollment Original Posts Earned Social Media
< 10,000 32–64% 32–49%
10,000+ 21–33% 38–49%

What This Means for You: Focus on Engagement

Instead of investing in the time and resources to create the owned content, put your efforts into engagement, especially if you’re a small campus. Even a simple reply is an opportunity to engage more with your audience. 

With a simple reply, you can:

  • Provide a timely response to a question
  • Congratulate a prospect, student, alumnus, or faculty/staff member on an achievement
  • Make someone feel seen
  • Encourage positive behaviors
  • Ask a question to gather feedback
  • Celebrate together
  • Make a connection to another person or resource

Set small goals for engagement and interact with your audience in ways that matter to them. Develop proactive engagement strategies, then extend the strategy beyond social media.

What We Know

Large campuses have little variation in their social brand metrics.

When we look at large campuses, we see consistency. Large institutions—those with 10,000 or more full-time enrolled students—have very similar top-line social listening metrics like conversation volume, unique authors, and sentiment across the board. They’re certainly consistent when you look at these metrics on a semester or annual basis. 

What This Means for You: Measure Quality of Content Over Quantity

With the quantity of conversation consistent across peers for large campuses, you should consider the quality of your conversation. Is it what you want it to be? Assess brand alignment of your conversation—not just brand volume—to help you identify actionable opportunities.

Then connect metrics to strategic priorities. Vanity metrics don’t communicate your effectiveness as a marketer or place within your competitive set or our industry.

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