Use Social Listening to Inform a Student Journey Map

A journey map is one of the most helpful tools you can build to inform your marketing and communications strategy. In a business context, a journey map outlines the process a customer goes through—from their initial encounter with a brand, to purchase, and ultimately to loyalty and advocacy. It captures a customer’s goal at each stage, and informs the messaging and content a company develops by providing this customer-centric insight.

Similarly, in higher ed a journey map follows the path of your prospective students. Beginning with their first experience of your campus’s brand, you can chart their journey as they decide to apply to your institution, matriculate, graduate, and ultimately become alumni and donors. As your understanding of your audiences deepens, it becomes easier to align your messaging, outreach, and programming with their needs at each step along this path.

Creating Your Journey Map

There are numerous articles and examples about developing journey maps, but this high-level overview can get you started.

  1. Identify each distinct stage of an individual’s relationship with your campus. Are they only just beginning to explore their options or are they ready for a campus visit? 
  2. Define their activities at each stage. Early on, they may be browsing college websites and looking at cost calculators, while later they’re looking for specific admissions requirements and financial aid information.
  3. Develop messaging to align with what the identified individuals need at each step along their process, then tailor your interactions for greatest effectiveness. At one point they’ll need detailed financial aid information, and later an inspiring story to spark a donation.
  4. Identify the channels and touchpoints that will most effectively reach and resonate with your most important audiences. Know where they are; go where they are.
  5. Build out your KPIs so you can measure the effectiveness of your efforts against these success criteria. From application numbers to giving day tallies, each point of outreach should tie to an outcome.
  6. Depending on your campus’s internal structure, consider tracking the relationship owner at each stage, how they communicate with students, and why. If you’re able, keep track of who maintains the data and where it lives. This helps develop internal alignment around a shared vision for a lifelong relationship with your campus. 

You can break this down into more granular stages depending on your campus needs, but your finished map will look something like this example.

Awareness Consideration Decision Experience Loyalty & Advocacy
Recognize your campus's name or logo. Evaluate if your campus is a good fit. Decide to attend your campus. Enroll on campus and work toward earning a degree. Complete a degree and become a campus alumni.

Evaluate whether to learn more

Casually browse web & social channels

Consider options

Deeply explore programs, cost, peers

Discuss with family, friends, advisors

Gather application requirements

Submit application

Declare acceptance

Finalize housing

Work through financial details

Attend classes

Participate in student activities, clubs, athletics

Work and do internships

Explore the community or region

Read alumni magazines & newsletters

Recommend & promote the campus

Provide mentorship

Provide financial support

Key Messages

This is a great place to go to school

We offer what you’re looking for

Imagine yourself here

Key dates & deadlines


Career outcomes

Current student stories

Brand differentiation

You belong here

Your future starts here

Clear & detailed financial, housing, enrollment information

You’re a critical member of this community

Get involved

Resources are available

Administrative information

Your support is critical to our success

We celebrate your accomplishments

Channels & Touchpoints

Digital content (web, social, video)

Targeted ads

Digital content



Campus tours

Student bloggers


Phone calls

Private social groups


Campus events

Student life communications

Department & faculty communications

Alumni magazines

Fundraising solicitations



Newsletter registrations

Information requests

Campus visit & event attendance

Number of submitted applications

Matriculation numbers

Cohort demographics

Program completion rates

Transfer numbers

Retention rates

Alumni event attendance

Open rates

Donation amounts

Relationship Owners
Marketing Admissions Admissions Student Life, Academic Units Development, Alumni Relations


Add Value Using Social Listening

Your own knowledge and experience make a great starting point for building a student journey map, but your goal is to gather as much information about these students as possible so you really understand their activities, needs, and preferred communications style. This is where social listening provides value.

When students post about your campus—and they are—do you know what they’re saying? This information can inform your student journey with authentic and unfiltered questions, opinions, celebrations, anxieties, and fears. 

Our 2022 report Admissions: Audiences’ Excitements and Pain Points explores how students explore, research, and narrow their college-going options. Students continue to rely on online support from others to help them identify their best-fit campus and prepare for new experiences and challenges. Gain insight into the ambiguity prospective and admitted students feel so you can reach and support students where they are.

Many future students share deep concerns ranging from mental health resources to financial feasibility in their college search. When you apply this insight to your student journey, you know how students in the awareness and consideration stages might feel. Ask yourself what might drive their concerns and anxieties. What pressures do they experience? What do they say would make them happiest? Tapping into empathy and understanding ensures you reach them with messaging that reassures and establishes trust. 

In contrast, once students are admitted the research shows a significant increase in positive conversation, an effect that is even more significant among student athletes. When your future students post about your institution, find ways to recognize, celebrate, and share their success. The decision phase is an excellent opportunity to deepen their affinity for your school.

Many students also discuss their chosen school type (e.g., business or medical school) or field of study. As you create messaging, give some thought to the other contexts in which your content is considered, particularly if you’re recruiting in a highly competitive field. What competitor messages do you see your prospects responding to? What are they asking peers, parents, and other influential figures? When you look at your own conversation, are you mentioned frequently alongside peer institutions? This is an opportunity to clearly articulate your institutional differentiators, like rankings or unique programs.

Dig a Little Deeper

Build your own student journey map with our template, then use the information you find to develop personas and inform your marketing and communications strategy. Audience personas complement the student journey map and help you keep their needs front and center. Social listening also helps you create personas based on real-life data.

Take the time to look at the conversation surrounding your own campus and see what trends you can identify. You’ll gain insights into how your audiences perceive your campus, the information they found most valuable, and where they encountered pitfalls.

When you consider each of the contact points an individual has with your campus, are you reaching them with the necessary information at each stage, at the right frequency, via appropriate channels? If you’re not sure, dig into their online conversation and let them tell you.