4 Ways to Leverage Social Listening in Higher Education

Everyone has an opinion. And, as many of us can attest to as we scroll through our social media feeds, sharing one’s opinion has become somewhat of a sport over the past few years. Sometimes it’s just a spectator sport, and other times it’s a full-out war of words. Both can be important to learn from—what’s being said and NOT being said—especially if the topic of conversation is the college or university you market. As a marketer, it’s crucial to understand the environment in which these conversations are taking place and how they are impacting consumer decisions surrounding which college or university to attend. This is because the key players involved in these conversations are normally the most prominent figures influencing the decision-making process for students considering higher education. This is where social listening comes into play.

What is social listening?

Social listening is the process of collecting, sorting, and developing insights from online conversations that happen around a certain topic within a certain time frame. Think social posts, forums, blogs, and news outlets. The process turns all those positive (and negative) opinions everyone has into currency which smart marketers then “spend” to become bigger, better, and more beloved by consumers than the other guys.

Who should we listen to?

Gen Z is society’s current “college generation”—with older members of the group now completing college and younger members just starting to apply and make decisions about where they will further their education. For higher education marketing, conversations from or about Gen Z, their parents, teachers, guidance counselors, or other influencers should be very high on the listening list. Your institution’s competitors are also likely doing a lot of talking (or not talking), too. Hint, hint.

Cheerful teenagers look at social media before school

How can social listening help higher education marketers?

We’re glad you asked! Here are 4 key uses for social listening if you’re in the higher education field:

1. Optimizing Enrollment Strategies
Listen for convos around what might be working or not working in your current enrollment strategy. Is it an easy process that results in lots of positive mentions? Are prospective students turned off by application fees? Are you reaching your intended audience where they are most likely to look? Look for both pleasure and pain points and find ways to either celebrate them or remedy them.

2. Keeping an Ear on the Competition
Are more students sharing excitement about attending/being accepted into other institutions over yours? Do your competitors engage with their audience in meaningful ways, or do they just push out content and leave prospective students or alumni hanging? How many times does the competition’s content get shared and on what channels? Also, be sure to look at how your competitors phrase their messaging around important topics like enrollment, events, alumni, etc. These are just some of the insights you can leverage to help you positively stand out from other institutions in the eyes of prospective students.

3. Building Community
Elevating current or prospective students in front of the larger university/college community is a great way for higher education marketers to grow their institution’s social audience, increase content engagement, and potentially sway those “on the fence” applicants their way. One easy way to do this is by sharing user-generated content (UGC), like our friends and clients at University of West Georgia regularly do in their Instagram stories to showcase graduating students.

A female student poses by a statue at her university at graduation

Authentically sharing vetted content from happy current students or excited just-admitted ones gives prospective students content to connect with that isn’t “admissions speak” or deadline driven. Data also shows that Gen Z values peer-to-peer influence to help them make informed decisions.

4. Preventing or Managing a Crisis
If higher ed marketers had a crystal ball, we could easily see any potential crisis galloping towards us and have plenty of time to head it off at the pass. Unfortunately, no such magical sphere exists, but social listening can be a pretty good stand-in. By keeping our ears tuned to what’s being said about our institution, we can make informed decisions, quickly pivot to prevent a crisis, or event implement the crisis management protocols we (should) already have in place.

Social listening is a powerful tool that can propel higher education leaders toward future marketing success.

Here at Crawford, our clients have access to the valuable insights garnered from Cision Social Listing, powered by BrandWatch. Tools like this help us to better understand how the environment and key players involved in these conversations influence decisions surrounding higher education and allows us to leverage the insights found through social listening in our marketing strategy. Give us a call today to learn how social listening can benefit your college or university.