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What the Boolean! Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Social Listening?

Social listening doesn't mean the same thing to everyone. We've learned through many conversations that this is especially true in higher education.

In April, we surveyed 233 higher education professionals. Seven out of ten currently use social listening in their office, but over 60 percent of that group search manually for relevant messages using Facebook or Twitter. This was eye opening—a manual approach results in only a small fraction of online conversations and very limited analysis opportunities.

What Strong Social Listening Looks Like

Consider all of the conversations that happen publicly online. In comparison to a manual approach, leveraging a social listening program and dedicated software will capture more conversations of interest to you and provide your institution with robust insights to support data-driven strategies.

The success of social listening programs typically depends on both access to the right software (and expert human analysts) and three key factors: effective query-building—here's where Boolean comes in—exhaustive sources, and flexible analysis tools.

Higher education institutions that focus on one or two of these factors may already be earning valuable insights. However, when a social listening program combines comprehensive Boolean queries, sources, and analysis tools, the insights delivered are more persuasive and reliable—delivering truly strong social listening insights from a modern research method.

Boolean Queries

Before we get into Boolean, we need to talk about queries. The backbone of strong social listening is building a good query in the social listening software. A query is a request for information from the social listening database, or software. It defines the scope of the conversations you collect through social listening. Queries are constructed with Boolean operators, which are search functions that ensure conversation results are refined, accurate, and useful. The most common Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT. We use software that supports 23 Boolean operators, but some social listening software supports as few as three or four.Sample Boolean Query showing "harvard AND yale NOT football"

Using simple operators, a query to find all mentions of Harvard and Yale, but not football would look like this:

harvard AND yale NOT football

All social listening software should support this type of query. It's even simple enough to type into a Twitter search. However, many campuses require a more complicated query.

For example, when your campus shares a name with a street, city, high school, and even a handful of other colleges, advanced Boolean operators make all the difference. This is illustrated in the query we wrote for Loyola Marymount University (LMU). Following is a portion of that query; the entire query approaches 4,000 characters. It excludes schools with similar names, other campuses named Loyola (except mentions from Los Angeles, where it's common for people to refer to LMU as Loyola), and other phrases that are abbreviated as LMU.

(raw:LMU OR "Loyola Marymount" OR "LMU Lions" OR "Loyola Lions" OR "lmu.edu" OR "lmulions.com" OR "kxlu.com" OR (loyola AND city:los2) OR ((loyola NEAR/10 "LAW SCHOOL") NOT (chicago OR maryland OR "new orleans")) OR hashtags:(ilovelmu OR livinglionnation OR lmualumni OR lmulions OR lmuexp OR lionstrong) OR ("loyola marymount" AND (site:(collegeconfidential.com OR cappex.com OR unigo.com/colleges OR glassdoor.com OR ratemyprofessors.com))) NOT ("Ludwig Maximillian University" OR "LMU Munich" OR "Lincoln Memorial University" OR "Landmark University" OR "last minute upgrade" OR "lmu duncan school of law" OR "Loyola Maryland" OR "Loyola Chicago" OR "Loyola New Orleans" OR "latin monetary union" OR "location measurement unit")

Good queries find as many conversations as possible, while avoiding spam and irrelevant mentions. For LMU, this query returns between ten and twenty thousand relevant conversations per month. In one year, only 27 percent of LMU's mentions included the phrase "Loyola Marymount." Searching for your campus name is a good first step if you're just dipping your toe into social listening. The only way we found the other 73 percent of the conversation was by building context into the query with Boolean operators.

Conversation Sources

An effective query should pull from an exhaustive database of online conversations. Great social listening software keeps a record of every tweet as well as over 80 million other online sources such as blogs, forums, and news sites. Our campus queries return conversations from a wide variety of sites, including:

  • National and small town newspapers
  • Local television stations
  • TripAdvisor
  • Reddit
  • College Confidential
  • Student Doctor Forums
  • Tumblr
  • Kickstarter
  • Legacy.com
  • SlideShare

The sources your query pulls from are determined by the social listening software provider you use. The number, type, location, and time period included in each software package varies widely. If you want a strong social listening program, make sure you have access to more than just Twitter and Instagram. You may also want to consider worldwide coverage (including Asian/Pacific sites), and support for multiple languages, depending on the type of conversations you want to find.

Analysis Tools

When your query returns thousands of conversations, good analysis tools will enable you to examine conversations at a macro level and drill down into individual conversations when necessary. Most software provides pre-populated dashboards to monitor volume, sentiment, sources of conversations, as well as conversation influencers. Software built for analysts allows you to customize every data view, tag and categorize your data in the way that makes the most sense for you (and your campus), filter based on dozens of criteria, and automate alerts and reporting once you've identified patterns. Strong analysis tools allow an analyst to function like a researcher would with any other data set, using both qualitative and quantitative methods to answer research questions.

Strong Social Listening Produces Valuable Social Intelligence

If you're doing manual social listening, you're answering questions like:

  • How many tweets used our graduation hashtag?
  • What sorts of photos were posted on Instagram on move-in day?

When you leverage social listening software and focus on the combined power of comprehensive queries, conversation sources, and analysis tools, you can answer questions like:

  • What frustrations do our prospective students express during the application process?
  • How has the media coverage and online conversation about our Big Annual Event changed over the last three years?

Suddenly, this super-powered social listening offers strategic campus input, instead of being a task that the social media person does.

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The post What the Boolean! Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Social Listening? originally appeared on the Campus Sonar Brain Waves blog.

Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognized expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specializes in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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