Highlights From HighEdWeb 2017

By: Carol Duan, International Social Media Associate

Last month, I presented how Boston University uses Chinese social media at HighEdWeb 2017. As a first-time attendee at the HighEdWeb conference, I was impressed with the community’s creativity and abundant knowledge. From website optimization to social media, the well-designed sessions covered a wide variety of marketing communication topics. As a member of BU’s social media team, I was inspired by the presentations given by the keynote speakers and my higher ed peers. Here are some key takeaways from the sessions I attended:

It’s time to take social listening seriously

How important is social listening? Very, says Dr. Liz Gross, director of social listening agency Campus Sonar. Living in an era of social media, reputations can be made and destroyed overnight. To better understand and serve the audiences, marketers need to dive deep into the online conversations about their brands. Social listening provides these valuable insights to support data-driven communication strategies. In Dr. Gross’s presentation, she talked about four strategic uses of social listening in higher education.

Reputation Management

Successful online reputation management requires both proactive strategies and reactive and engaging communication. Social listening helps you achieve both goals; it allows you to identify, evaluate, and track reputation issues in real-time, so that you can adjust your communication strategy, message, tone and interaction accordingly. This is especially true when it comes to handling crises on campus.

Customer Service

We all hope to get high social engagement numbers. But how can our students be engaged when our response speed fails to meet their expectations? Statistics have shown that two thirds of social media complainers are unhappy with response time. Social listening enables marketers to discover online mentions faster, and helps them truly understand what their audiences want and need.

Photo from @DrLizGross

Market Research

Students are constantly sharing their thoughts and opinions — but not always directly with campus faculty and administration. With the aid of social listening, higher ed communicators gain valuable insights about their audiences from the authentic, massive online postings generated by students. It’s also a great way to generate ideas for social content creation.

Brand Management

Modern brand managers need to understand the online conversation about their brand, says Dr. Gross. Social listening enables marketers to track the share of voice and social sentiments. Is the brand story well received? Is your online content consistent with your brand image? How many earned brand mentions do you have? Social listening will help you find the answers to tell a better story about your brand.

Make data-driven decisions

One term I kept hearing at HighEdWeb 2017 is “data-driven”. Communicators in higher education have come to an agreement that data should be in the heart of strategic decision making. Christian Santillo and Amy Kotsopoulos from the College of Holy Cross shared their experience of launching a data-driven fundraising online campaign. Given the strong email open rate, email marketing was included into the communication strategy. The team then analyzed the social frequency on their channels, and realized a decline of organic reach. However, the engagement numbers on video content were encouraging. Based on this information, they decided to launch the campaign via email and social media, highlighting social videos to engage the Holy Cross community. This communication plan lead them to a record-breaking fundraising success.

Abby Meyer from University of Nebraska Medical Center approached the data topic from a different angle: how to frame your paid social strategy by analyzing social data. Since organic social reach is decreasing, more and more marketers are joining the pay-to-play game. It is important to look at the data to find which platform and paid option to choose and to pick the right metrics for performance evaluation.

Beyond social media, data can help us improve many aspects of our communication strategy. Purdue’s Martin Sickafoose showed the audience how to use data to make web page redesign decisions. The data gathered by Google Analytics and SEO tool BrightEdge helped him accomplish the “make the website cool” goal. As keynote speaker Tatjana Dzambazova put it, “data is the new fuel.” It’s time to leverage data analytics deliberately to translate data into actionable marketing initiatives.

Use digital technology to engage your audience

Every attendee would agree that keynote speaker Tatjana Dzambazova’s presentation on digital design technologies was mind-blowing! It was fascinating to see what new technologies, such as 3D printing, virtual reality, and augmented reality can do to transform customer experience. The examples mentioned in Dzambazova’s presentation also got us to contemplate how we can take advantage of new technologies to engage our audiences online and offline.

(Photo by HighEdWeb)

Experiential marketing expert Catherine Scholz shared some ideas with us: many schools and students have started to experiment with drone videos; some universities used photo booths to engage students and generate visual content for social media; explore integrating wearables into an online campaign. At Boston University, our social team has always kept an open mind to new technologies and digital trends. The adoption of 360° cameras and Snapchat Spectacles helps us generate highly engaging content for our social channels. In the future, will we be integrating VR and AR into our communication plan? Will virtual reality campus tours become the next big thing? We’re willing to keep exploring and searching for answers.