THOUGHT LEADERSHIP FOR HIGHER EDUCATION SINCE 2001: Reach out to us.

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Astute users have always known that social media allows them to listen to what constituents are saying, gleaning insights that are hard to obtain otherwise.

For example, when I interviewed Kirk Schulz about his use of social media as president at Kansas State University, he told me that it was important for him to listen, as well as speak, to his constituents. Jeffery Morris, K-State’s vice president for communications and marketing, observed, “In times of crisis or turmoil, the social platform can be an excellent tool to see how people really feel. Not always positive, but informative.” See the blog post about Schulz , who will become president at Washington State in June, where he will tweet as @WSU_Cougar_Pres, and his wife, Noel, as @WSU_Noel_Schulz.

In the past few years, more and more of our findings from the Social Media in Advancement Research, which we conduct with CASE and Huron Consulting Group, point to how social media has become mainstream and indicate that many institutions, having made an investment in social media, are thinking about how to be strategic in using it. This year, data confirm the value in using social media to listen.

In 2016, we see that institutions that are more successful with social media are those that are much more likely to use social media to listen to what stakeholders are saying.

Jennifer Mack from Huron Consulting Group and I presented a report on our preliminary findings at CASE’s Social Media and Community Conference last week. You can download our slide deck with these findings and sign up to be notified of the release of this year’s white paper and data from the research.

At most colleges and universities I know, listening is happening informally. Leaders like Schulz who use social media are on the receiving end of tweets or have Facebook messages directed to them by disgruntled students or alumni. Staff who monitor social media channels pay attention to what constituents and followers are saying and, when it’s important, report these sentiments.

What’s next for social listening?

Some institutions are beginning to take listening to a new level, using software such as Brandwatch, Meltwater, Radian 6, and others to achieve rich insights into what people are posting, tweeting, and commenting on. What one can learn is eye-opening, to say the least.

At last week’s CASE conference, Dr. Liz Gross, social media and market research strategist at Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates, presented an eye-opening workshop on social listening, which she defined as searching the public and social web for conversations of relevance to your institution.

Gross noted that there were at least four reasons why institutions would want to know the contents of these conversations: reputation management, customer service, competitor comparisons, and audience and content research.

But her live demonstration of Brandwatch, the tool she uses, revealed even more interesting possibilities. By conducting some Boolean searches on Twitter, she discovered what people using #CASESMC (CASE Social Media and Community) and #hesm (higher ed social media) hashtags or engaging with the @CASEAdvance Twitter account were talking about. Then, she used a similar query to compare these conversations with those of people who weren’t engaged with the CASE channels.

The differences, she noted, could guide development of stories and messages that would broaden the reach of the CASE hashtags or reveal new topics for conference sessions or even new conferences.

A Brandwatch license is expensive, so we won’t be seeing many small institutions doing this sort of thing any time soon. But the workshop was a glimpse of how valuable such tools can be in helping to determine not only what people are talking about online, but putting those conversations to use in some significant ways. If one of the goals of social media is to help institutions achieve business outcomes, social listening could be a valuable adjunct to focus groups and other techniques by allowing us to analyze large amounts of data quickly for all sorts of insights.

Get a first-look at the 2016 Social Media and Advancement findings.

Michael Stoner

AUTHOR - Michael Stoner

Was I born a skeptic or did I become one as I watched the hypestorm gather during the dotcom years, recede, and congeal once more as we come to terms with our online, social, mobile world? Whatever. I'm not much interested in cutting edge but what actually works for real people in the real world. Does that make me a bad person? Find me on

2 Comments

  • Liz Gross

    Thank you for shining light on such an important topic, Michael!

  • Jakub

    Social media is indeed a goldmine of valuable insights and to discover them, social listening tools are essential. The amount of content posted across different channels is huge and trying to keep up with them manually would be impossible, so it’s really great to have so many different solutions to choose from. Also, I’d add there already are plenty of small institutions using social listening to their advantage. Brandwatch is indeed a great tool but there are other, more affordable options like https://brand24.com, for instance, that allow small business owners to discover all the relevant insights, too.

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