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Using 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.

Blog image Using Social Media to Inform Student Journey MapSimilarly, in higher education a journey map follows the path of your prospective students. Beginning with their first experience of your institution’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 important 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 about developing journey maps (like this one from HubSpot, or this piece from Inside HigherEd), but here is a high-level overview to get you started.

  1. Identify each distinct stage of an individual’s relationship with your institution. 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 tallys, each point of outreach should tie to an outcome.
  6. Depending on your institution’s internal structure, you may also consider tracking the relationship owner at each stage. This can help develop internal alignment around a shared vision for a lifelong relationship with your institution. 

You can break this down into more granular stages depending on your institution’s needs, but your finished map will look something like this:

Example journey map for prospective students breaks down into the stages of awareness, consideration, decision, experience, and loyalty. For each stage, activities, key messages, channels and touchpoints, key performance indicators, and relationship owners are included. Full image located at: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/4117037/Sample%20Prospective%20Student%20Journey%20Map%20Table.pdf

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 tremendous value.

Conversation bubble with text "125,000 conversations"When students post about your school—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. Campus Sonar explored the online conversation of prospective students in detail in our recent research report, Social Listening in Higher Ed: The College Admissions Journey.After looking at nearly 125,000 conversations over a three-year period, clear trends emerged surrounding prospective students’ emotions, activities, online behavior, and more. 

Before students are admitted, the two dominant emotions expressed online are fear and sadness. 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. They’re in the decision phase at this point, and it’s 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? Here is an opportunity to clearly articulate your institutional differentiators, like rankings or unique programs.

Image of tunneling into ground with shovel + "Dig A  Little Deeper, Map, Insights, Strategy, Analysis, Change"Dig a Little Deeper

These are just a few brief examples; the full report explores these findings in much greater detail. It also covers additional facets of prospective student conversation that you’ll find valuable—whether you want to build a student journey map, develop personas, or just inform your marketing and communications strategy. Take the time to look at the conversation surrounding your own institution as well, and see what trends you can identify. You’ll gain insights into how your audiences perceive your school, the kinds of information they found most valuable, and where they encountered pitfalls.

When you consider each of the contact points an individual has with your institution, 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. 

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Subscribe to the NewsletterThe post Using Social Listening to Inform a Student Journey Map originally appeared on Campus Sonar's Brain Waves blog.

Beth Miller

Beth is Campus Sonar’s Client Success Manager. Her deep commitment to data-informed decision making is rooted in more than 20 years of professional marketing and communications experience, nearly 15 of which have been in higher education. Beth’s analytical approach to strategic and creative work that helps Campus Sonar’s clients apply the insights gleaned from data to more effectively and efficiently achieve their institutional goals. In her free time, Beth enjoys mountain biking on local trails with her husband and two children.

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