Digital Brand Reputation and Social Listening: Beloit College
In higher education, reputation is paramount. College and university reputations have long been built on rankings and rhetoric. Campuses, programs, and faculty are ranked in high-profile publications—everything from U.S. News and World Report to RateMyProfessors. Journalists regularly report about the cost of tuition, the quality of dining food, and the value of the liberal arts. While administrators are concerned with rankings and coverage of campus by the local and national news media, the general public is basing their opinion on new data sources.
Today, your reputation is in the hands of the general public. It's what is said about you, not to you, that affects your reputation—for better or for worse. Social listening enables you to gain a clear understanding of what the general population is saying about your campus, which influences others' view of your campus reputation. By tracking changes over time in relation to your efforts to modify or improve campus reputation, you'll have a reputation management strategy that works when the crowd overpowers the voice of rankings and journalists.
Shifting the Narrative
A longstanding liberal arts school, Beloit College, wanted to change public perception and re-invent its brand as a premier destination for the future. Tim Jones, Chief Communications and Integrated Marketing Officer, was charged with cultivating demand for the college and creating a niche in the market. To do this, the college needed to shift its narrative, telling the story of Beloit College as a premium product in the market, worthy of the price point. Tim knew social listening could help and enable them to see the total conversation, including how it bends and shifts and rises and falls around certain topics.
Developing a Strategy
We worked with Tim to develop a holistic, wide-reaching brand strategy to address the challenge. Insights from the college's historical and real-time conversation were key in developing the strategy. Part of Beloit College's strategy included priorities Tim and his team developed to establish its position as a premier college destination.
- Web and digital experience
- Visit experience
- Liberal arts in practice
- Product development
- Integrated marketing
Space Use. How Beloit College uses their facilities, buildings, and spaces to further develop the mission and values that guide the college.
Cost Restructuring. Financial modeling, the reality of the marketplace, and where they need to adjust for the long-term to be more valuable and viable in the long-term.
Three Key Brand Attributes
Beloit College also identified three key brand attributes, shaping the education experience to empower people to do what they love, and bring meaning and value. The attributes were used to drive their brand management, including social. Our analysts are using the brand attribute conversation into segments that align with each one. That makes it easy for Tim and his team to see how online conversations corresponded with the attributes, allowing them to move forward and create their marketing strategy.
Liberal Arts in Practice. Beloit College's brand—practical, applied liberal arts that demonstrate the value of habits of mind to develop exceptionally well-prepared individuals. Students are prepared for jobs that don't exist yet because they're exceptionally well qualified to make connections that others don't see.
Mentorship. Students foster authentic, deep-rooted relationships. The college enables relationships between students and the broader community, with the belief that meaningful relationships are an enormous signifier for lives of purposeful consequence.Social Justice. The aspiration to be an anti-racist institution is included in Beloit College's mission, and is integrated into everything as the college works toward inclusivity and equity.
Digital Reputation Metrics
We worked with Beloit College to analyze the data, segment the conversation, categorize opportunities and influencers, and identify emerging trends. Based on the analysis, Beloit College assembled a comprehensive picture of the narratives and topics that surrounded their brand. They discovered that the conversation dominating the marketplace was fairly hollow—the name of a place with average athletic teams. The exception was the Mindset List (an annual compilation of the values that shape the mindset of students about 18 years old and entering college), which didn't speak to the college's key brand attributes.
By evaluating the conversation topics over time, they recognized the need to be more deliberate in the narratives and topics they shared. Simple things like putting more people in their social work images, referring to "on brand" experiences (exclusive opportunities, mentorship, liberal arts in practice, etc.) with more consistency in both language and imagery started to nudge the conversation into a more representative look at the college. There are more mentions of relationships formed and fostered at the college, for example. They have a long way to go, but they're starting to have a clear look at how their brand story shows in the marketplace in specific moments over time.
Identifying a Gap
Working together with Campus Sonar staff, they identified a gap with the data they've collected about the student experience and the sentiment shared through social and digital conversations. They found that with their current student population, the experiences that are shared in online conversation and the way that the college addresses and participates in the conversations doesn't line up with the positive sentiments that came out of the student survey—there was a lack of consistency. They found the root causes for some of the conversations that were happening, which was helpful in shaping the way they behave and administer services as a college. For example, dining service—what people say, think, and share about food service made the college recognize the need for conversation transparency, and provided the opportunity to listen to student concerns in a forum that's separate from policy making. In turn, using social media to engage with students allowed the college to shape and enable more practical, informal conversations.
Monitoring the Conversation
Social listening is key to Beloit College making progress in monitoring their reputation. For example, they put out a joint press release with the admissions group about their SHE-CAN partnerships. They saw trending topics change from "sunset" and "click" to "scholarship" and "mentorship." Seeding and fostering the conversation was very influential. And it empowered the students involved to share what they're passionate about, which is a testament to how powerful paying attention and fostering the conversation in the right direction can be.
Social listening is key to Beloit College making progress in monitoring their reputation and aligning their online narrative with their brand attributes. For example, Campus Sonar’s analyst Amber worked with Tim to analyze two major segments of the college’s online conversation: athletics and the Mindset List (an annual publication from Beloit College faculty). This analysis approach helped Tim get a clean look at what Beloit College’s audience was saying, and he discovered that these topics didn’t contribute positively or negatively to the conversation around the college.
To illustrate, online conversation volume for Beloit College increased about five times its normal amount for less than a week after the Mindset List is published online. Sentiment of the larger-than-normal conversation remains mostly neutral, and combined with the fact that the conversation earned from the list isn’t aligned with Beloit College brand attributes, Tim was able to start thinking about the continued value of producing this list. Should they continue to do so if it isn’t aligned with their brand? If its decided to phase it out, could Beloit College strategically leverage the conversation around the list and redirect interest in it to promoting the college as a premier college destination instead?
In the future, Tim hopes to see a shift in the neutral/positive social mentions in their liberal arts in practice and mentorship attributes, as well as an increase in the positive sentiment. Based on the segmentation from Amber, they can categorize everyday conversation into categories that align with their brand attributes so that it's easy to see—at a glance—when those changes occur. Now that people recognize and celebrate the experiences they have at Beloit College, Tim is exploring how to facilitate, participate, and shape the conversation. By engaging with these students, Beloit College can increase the conversation and continue to elevate themselves.
A key insight has been the need to foster the conversation among current and former students. This has had a dramatic impact on the way Tim and his team approaches content creation, planning, and development, and they're keenly aware of the conversations that are happening and that need to happen. Now they're looking for stories and narratives that map neatly with the goals and values of their audience.
To Tim, it makes sense that they were a hollow brand—no one knew Beloit College for any of their brand attributes because the college never talked about them. Moving forward, that changes as Tim and his team intend to take Beloit College to the next level of reputation management. Working with Campus Sonar they'll be able to see these changes as they happen, as well as long-term trends so they can react in real-time to continue to elevate the Beloit College brand.