The power of social listening

By Christopher W. Tremblay, Director of AACRAO SEM Endorsement Program 


At the 2017 SEM conference, presenter Dr. Liz Gross of the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation offered insights about how to leverage social listening for the benefit of branding, enrollment, and awareness.  The session was entitled, "Beyond Likes and Shares:  How Social Listening Can Impact Enrollment Management Outcomes."  

Her educational content centered around 3 main points:  
1.  Prospect Identification and Engagement
2.  Market Research
3.  Brand Benchmarking

POINT 1:  PROSPECT IDENTIFICATION AND ENGAGEMENT
In this section, Gross discussed the meaning of modern customer service,  Gross shared that "education is one of the least responsive industries on social media."   By engaging in social listening practices, colleges and universities can become more responsive.

Throughout her session, she shared higher education examples of social listening.  This included Pepperdine University's response to a frustrated individual trying to find a parking spot (Pepperdine responded with a link to a parking app, which resulted in the disgruntled person removing his/her negative post).  Gross indicated that monitoring social media is a way to learn from students.  She shared how Beloit College embraced and responded to a prospective student's tweets about her campus visit experience.

POINT 2:  MARKET RESEARCH
According to Gross, modern market research is fast, flexible, human, and quantifiable.  She discussed a case study from the United Kingdom in which a university studied 20,000 digital conversations from college applicants that was used to inform content strategy and social media engagement strategy.

POINT 3:  BRAND BENCHMARKING
Gross reminded the audience that brand is reputation and that it is challenging to measure.  Modern brand managers need to consider 3 elements:  share of voice, owned vs. earned, and digital reputation metrics.  Share of voice refers to the position of your institution among the position of your peer institutions.  Owned content is content generated by your university (as compared to earned content which is content ABOUT your university, but generated by others).  Digital reputation metrics helps measure public perception among online posts.  

Tools to make it happen
Gross indicated that colleges want great data, powerful search, and want it for free, but all three together do not really exist.  She offered several free options, including HootSuite, Brandwatch.com, Sysomos (free trial option), and Follower Wonk as tools that colleges can use.  Low cost options include HootSuitePro and Sprout Social.  And full feature software (running about $10,000-$50,000 a year) includes products like Nuvi, Crimson Hexagon and Synthesio.

The major takeaways from this session are that colleges should be doing formal social listening and responding immediately to both positive and negative digital posts.

Future of social listening
In concluding her session, Gross spent some time discussing what's on the horizon for social listening.  She believes the future of social listening includes image search and analysis, social insights panels for key audience segments, and combining conversation data with other campus data sets (like web analytics, for example).
Gross predicts that one day colleges and universities will collect social handles on inquiry card and college applications in order to mine data about those student populations. 

According to Gross, "social listening is a strategic investment to get closer to your audience, better manage your reputation, meet modern consumer expectations, and seize engagement opportunities."

Campus Sonar is a brand new social listening agency that was born out of the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation.  They offer project-based services and subscription services for social listening and monitoring.  Gross serves as the Director of Campus Sonar.