6 Ways to Use Social Media Listening for Higher Education

Boston University
Jun 20, 2018 · 4 min read

By: Emily Truax | Assistant Director of Social Media

While every social media manager is familiar with the daily routine of logging in to their social networks and checking for @mentions, comments and direct messages, these social interactions only tell a small part of the brand story. Social listening, a process of tracking conversations around specific topics and keywords, is a powerful tool for understanding what your audience truly thinks about your brand.

By creating a string of keywords, you have the ability to search public social profiles and the web broadly for content surrounding your brand or institution. So, while a user may not directly tag any of your accounts or use a preferred brand hashtag in a tweet or blog post, you’re still able to capture, monitor, and aggregate those conversations. Cumulatively, these conversations provide the type of “big data” companies dream about, and a more accurate view of how a brand or organization is perceived across the web.

So, how can institutions of higher education take advantage of this powerful technology? Here are six ways sociallistening can help universities achieve their goals:

The above post is from a prospective student who mentions they plan to apply to BU, along with other schools, though none of the school accounts are mentioned.
  1. Identify prospective students & influencers: Using social listening, you can segment out people who have expressed an interest in applying or shared that they attended a campus tour. Often, these posts won’t mention the school’s accounts directly, as evidenced in the example above. Identifying them via social listening presents a perfect opportunity to engage and begin building a relationship with that prospective student. The same is true for influencers; social listening can help you identify who the most influential users are who mention your institution and those who do so most frequently, aka your superfans!
Social listening surfaces a tweet from the Boston Globe’s magazine about research being done here at Boston University

2. Mitigate crises & detect risks: Social listening has been an indispensable tool in our efforts to identify potential crises and risks — both physical and reputational. Because social media is often ground-zero for breaking news, social listening is able to identify these risks before mentions pour into your inbox or your phones start ringing. Currently, at BU we have social listening set up for physical locations on campus and terms like “fire” or “accident” as well as events we should know about like “protests” or even aggressive words such as “threaten.” We’ve worked closely with stakeholders across campus to identify the appropriate keywords and using social listening, can alert them in advance if a crisis is brewing.

3. Identify meaningful user generated content: As previously discussed, social listening surfaces exponentially more conversations about your institution, faculty, facilities and students than those you’ll find in your inbox alone. These conversations present the opportunity to engage, delight and forge a relationship where one didn’t previously exist. For example, perhaps you’ll surface someone posting about research being done at your University that you can engage on the important work being done there. Just this week, social listening turned up a blog post by an incoming student sharing their college admissions journey. This all amounts to user generated content you can share as powerful endorsements and messaging about your organization — produced for free and with more authenticity than you could achieve on your own.

4. Inform overall communication strategy: Social listening — because of the amount of data it incorporates — provides a holistic view of your communications across the web. Are there terms or questions that continue to come up? Maybe that represents an opportunity to fill gaps on your website or in your own messaging. Do you see certain topics resonating more than others? This can help inform the material you decide to emphasize in email or print. There are endless opportunities to identify trends and gaps via social listening and use it across your marketing and communication strategy and tactics.

5. Determine share of voice: Social listening provides an unbiased look at where your institution stands compared to its peers. Are more people talking about applying to your competitor? Is the sentiment more positive when people talk about campus visits to your cross-town rival? These are questions you can find answers to in the social listening data and learn where you may need to adapt.

Sample geographic distribution of mentions from social listening

6. Inform your paid social strategy: If you’re running paid promotions on social media, social listening can help you optimize your spend. For example, social listening data can identify where people are posting geographically. Institutions can then target paid ads to those specific regions. If there’s nobody talking about your school in New Mexico, maybe it’s wiser to spend money elsewhere.

While social listening often falls to the social team, there are insights within the data that can inform work being done across the University. The greater buy-in you can get from internal stakeholders, the more relevant and meaningful the listening data will become. Ultimately, there are hundreds of thousands of people talking about your institution on the web, and social listening provides a valuable tool for examining it at scale.


Is your institution using social listening to detect risks, make new relationships, surface user-generated content, or for another purpose? Let us know in the comments or tweet at us (@BU_Tweets).

Boston University

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