Social Listening as Self-Reflection

One of the most challenging parts of being a social media manager is dealing with the negativity—the complaints, the problems, the criticisms.  

It’s exhausting. And that burnout is real—check out section four of our Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy book on what keeps higher ed social media managers up at night, resources for mitigating it, and how to support them.

In this post I want to explore what we can learn about our campuses from those negative comments. 

It’s easy to brush off those authors as trolls or antagonists. But in many cases, these posts and comments are from real people with real problems, concerns, and experiences. They’re our current students, prospective students, alumni, faculty, staff, and families—the very people we’re here to serve. 

While it should not be the social media manager’s responsibility to solve those problems, they are often the liaison to someone who can at least start a conversation to initiate a solution. 

That’s when it is time for leaders to take a thoughtful, introspective look at the root cause of whatever has occurred. That voice isn’t a troll—they’re a person who has experienced a predicament, and they’re trying to find an answer. That’s when it is necessary to look past their anger to understand they care a lot about their campus and seek improvement.  

Some of those problems could result in solutions as simple as fixing a broken scholarship form on your website or correcting the misspelling of a graduate’s name in your alumni database. 

“Dear school from which I received my doctorate: mangling my name horribly on a thing asking me to donate money is not it.” [sic]

“University A has different login info for the portal to submit grades. i never received my ID number for that portal. i call the help desk number listed. that number brings me to University B’s help desk. the man behind the phone says University A folks call all the time. mess" [sic]

But ultimately, the mentions could uncover larger issues about your campus’s leadership and culture. These posts and comments are a source of feedback that is so difficult to obtain through more familiar methods like surveys or focus groups

“they think things will return to normal after next year?? Is the leadership delusional or just really that stupid?” [sic]

“This administration has a habit of coming up w/ changes in a vacuum with zero input from students. Athletics, self funding for clubs, what next? If students don’t push back, they will continue to get steamrolled.” [sic]

Social listening is self-reflective. It is an opportunity to frame those negative mentions with an evaluative lens and ask guiding questions.

Here are a few prompts to get you started:

  • What led to this discontent?
    Start at the source and consider root causes and motivations. 
  • Who is affected? 
    Identify all potential audiences and how to communicate solutions with them. 
  • Is this situation connected to other concerns?
    Determine if there are other problems happening simultaneously and how they may relate. 
  • How can we do better? 
    Craft your plan of action and implement it while transparently communicating updates along the way. 

Social listening is an opportunity to listen, look inward with empathy, and consider how past choices are affecting our communities in the present—and how we can improve those circumstances for the future. 

How will you respond the next time you read a negative mention? 

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