Elevating from Social Media Monitoring to Social Listening

Monitoring and listening—same thing, right? For most marketers, it can be hard to understand the difference between these two activities. You’ve probably even used the words interchangeably. We’re here to tell you that there are critical differences between them; differences that prove monitoring alone is not enough. Once you start listening, you’ll realize the moments and opportunities you were missing when you thought you were listening. 

Social Media Monitoring

Most campuses do some version of social media monitoring. You watch for posts to your Facebook Page and for direct tags and exact-match plain-text mentions on your official campus accounts on Twitter or Instagram. This is important work and these days, it’s something you do for responsive customer service. It’s like checking email or responding when someone calls your name. To not watch your accounts and respond to tags would be bad business and just plain rude. 

Social media monitoring is often accomplished through social media management software, like Sprout Social or Hootsuite, or manually through native social media networks. Because of the interconnectedness of social media monitoring and social media management, social media monitoring offers limited reporting capabilities on its own; rather, mentions caught via social monitoring are folded into standard social media reporting metrics. Metrics social platforms want you to report on, regardless of how well such metrics align with your strategic priorities. 

Social Listening

Social listening dives deeper than monitoring in terms of the depth and breadth of conversations discovered. With more than 100 million data sources available to crawl, social listening can help you find mentions on websites that extend far beyond social platforms. And by offering an advanced method for finding conversations, you can search for mentions of your brand that reference you by nickname, abbreviations, mascots, etc., rather than exact-match mentions. 

But social listening isn't just about finding more mentions of your campus. It's about providing a framework for measuring them. Social listening gives you an authentic and unfiltered view into your audience’s questions, opinions, celebrations, anxieties, and fears. Unless you're gathering everything said about you online, in every place you can realistically access the data, you're not fully listening. And if you’re not listening, you miss out on KPIs and reporting metrics that tie back to the ROI of your initiatives and help you make more data-driven decisions moving forward. 

Our latest book, Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses, explains social listening in more detail. Download it to understand what social listening is, how to do manual social listening, social listening research, and how we conduct social listening research at Campus Sonar.

Breaking It Down


Social Media Monitoring

Social Listening

What It Is Monitoring your @mentions and DMs. Essentially, it’s monitoring your social media inboxes. Observing, collecting, measuring, and analyzing publicly available web content for mentions or conversations of interest to you.
  • Twitter 
  • Facebook Page and Messenger notifications 
  • Instagram 
  • Snapchat
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • News/press
  • Blogs
  • YouTube
  • Forums like Reddit

Owned pages:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn

Manual social listening:

  • Snapchat
  • TikTok
Measurement and Reporting

Social platform metrics at point-in-time:

  • Followers
  • Engagement rate
  • Mentions
  • Likes
  • Comments
  • Impressions

Relational metrics that can be analyzed over time:

  • Conversation volume
  • Conversation sentiment
  • Owned vs. earned conversation
  • Conversation by platform
  • Influential voices
  • Conversation segmentation (e.g., athletics, admissions, or alumni)
What You Can Do with It
  • Respond/engage
  • Report on basic metrics
  • Analyze month over month
  • Respond/engage
  • Identify themes and trends
  • Identify unique voices
  • Report on meaningful metrics
  • Analyze various time periods, including year over year
  • Use data to impact campus strategy

Humans Using Software vs. Software Alone

Social listening software identifies and analyzes individual digital and social media posts. A good social listening tool offers more operators, allowing you to find a higher variation of mentions.

And if that second sentence lost you, that’s because social listening isn’t something just anyone can (or should) do—to best use software, you need training, dedicated staff, and a comprehensive strategy to create and execute queries that get you the most relevant data about your campus. 

Meaning, finding references to your campus when you’re mentioned and tagged and also when you’re mentioned and not tagged. When you’re mentioned in relation to your top competitive campuses. When a prospective student asks what life is like at your campus but only identifies you by one of your nicknames. When an admitted student with a significant social media following is an influential voice on your campus.

We hear from clients that many software platforms claiming to have social listening capabilities are lacking in numerous areas, from simple tasks like missing mentions to more complex needs like custom dashboards or insightful reporting. Some of that is functionality, sure. But a lot of it is because software alone isn’t the answer

Enter: The Role of Data Analysts in Social Listening Strategy

Human analysts (like ours) offer expertise in using the operators, research, coding, and analysis. Analysts contextualize the data points and create the larger data story. They understand sarcasm, dig deeper when they spot anomalies or irregularities, ensure relevancy by validating and cleaning data, add context, identify crises, and detect nuance.

Human analysts make critical analytical decisions from research start to finish to ensure analysis aligns with project goals and questions. As researchers, they collect, analyze, and develop insights from online data, considering context (technology, industry, and human behavior trends) to develop custom, actionable insights.

For example, think about references to your campus. You’re not just known as “Sampleton Northern University.” Sometimes you’re known by Sampleton or Sampleton Northern, misspellings like Samplton, your mascot, or “SNU.” The query our analysts build reflects all the ways people refer to your campus to bring in data that reflects that variety. They use information provided by campus professionals and searches of popular social sites to capture all the ways people refer to your campus.

Data these days is easy to come by, but an expert lens to review that data is harder to find or to resource within a team. But it’s worth the effort, whether you get the software and hire and train staff or find an agency like us to work with. It’s time for higher ed to move beyond monitoring and tracking simple metrics. Your audiences are out there, talking about you. You should be listening. 

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