Social listening tips for the higher ed marketer

July 12, 2016
Meghan Roesner Assistant PR/Social Specialist

As many brands, universities and regular humans know, social media is an integral part of our lives and isn’t going away any time soon. From the better-known platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to the ever-growing entities like Periscope, Snapchat and Pinterest, it’s important for all universities who are engaging in social media to decide which platforms will work for them, and in turn listen to their audiences on those platforms.

In a 2015 survey, 60 percent of high school seniors said they would be more likely to consider attending a college or university that used digital strategies, like social media, to attract students. As of 2012, 85 percent of colleges and universities in the United States were at least present on Facebook, still the most popular social networking site available today. While these numbers are high, they tell us nothing about the intersection of universities and their prospective students.

But, just because that data might be more anecdotal, doesn’t mean we can’t work on improving how we converse with these students on the World Wide Web.


ron weasley

Glad you asked. It means you have to allow your social media platforms to operate as a two-way street. Have a conversation with your audience. Don’t shout at them; rather give them content they can engage with. Students want accessibility, and when they speak up they want to know they’ve been heard – so hear them.

Here are five tips for deploying a social listening strategy for attracting prospective students:

1. Invest in listening software.

Right off the bat you might be asking yourself – why do I need to buy software for this when I get notifications and respond to people within all the different social platforms themselves? For a couple of reasons:

1) View all of your social platforms in one place. In a tool like Sprout Social, which is what Core Creative uses, you can link your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. accounts so you can view it all in fell swoop.

2) You can also set listening terms to hear what people are saying about your school even if they don’t directly follow you on any platforms. This is what companies like Jimmy John’s do. Some companies have full-time employees dedicated to social listening, trying to identify people who are having good or bad customer experiences and engaging with them to make them better.

For example, an angry customer (ok, maybe it was me) might tweet at Jimmy John’s because they are upset their food was late, then said Jimmy John’s account would contact them to resolve the issue and send them a $10 gift card they would later spend on a delicious lunch.

See problem:


And solution:


3) Finally, social listening tools aid in the reporting and improvement process we’ll talk about in Tip 5.

2. Create lists.

This is done a bit differently depending on what social media platform you are using. It is most effective for Twitter, so that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Within your selected listening tool there should be a function to create a “List” of different Twitter accounts you are following – in Sprout Social, these are called “Feeds”. What this allows you to do is group a bunch of similar accounts together and view those tweets separately from the rest of the accounts you follow. For example, a university might create a list for competitor schools, organizations in their state/community, and publications/organizations that focus on higher education.

These lists take some time to build, but once they are it’s easy to keep them updated. Set aside fifteen minutes every morning to scroll through the lists and see what people are talking about. If there is something relevant to your school, chime in!

3. Develop a hashtag.

A hashtag is much more than just a # before a word to make it look cool. Hashtags are tracking devices for Twitter. Seriously, it’s kind of like those little trackers the humane society puts in dogs now. But for content on the internet. When used properly, they can be extremely effective in building a social media campaign an easily tuning into the conversation.

Recently, Core Creative worked with Concordia University of Ann Arbor to develop the Doers Welcome Campaign. As part of this campaign to increase applications and enrolled students, Core developed the hashtag #CUAADoer to encourage discussion about student life and spirit online. Coincidentally, the Doers Welcome campaign generated 6 million impressions in just 13 short weeks and increased campus visits by 10%. Having the hashtag certainly didn’t hurt.

4. Invite others to the party.

This goes back to that “two-way street” thing. You need to invite others to join in on the conversation. You can do this by posting engaging content like videos, contests, surveys and memes that prospective students can relate to and react to. And, when they do react and respond, be ready to engage right back.

Idea: This is a great way to employ the hashtag you developed in Tip 3. Get creative with it – set up a campus photo competition, asking everyone to submit photos through Instagram using the existing hashtag or a new one. Then, hold a vote on social media for the favorite photo – the winning photographer gets a free school t-shirt! Initiatives like this are easy to organize and cheap to execute – after all, who doesn’t like cheap and easy? Also, lots of cool brands have done it. It worked for them, why not you?

5. Use analytics to get better.

Some people say practice makes perfect. In the case of social media, perfection is unachievable because social media is constantly changing and it can be hard to be right on target ALL the time. But you can always be working towards perfection by looking at your social media insights to view your engagement. The whole point, after all, is to evolve and adapt to your audience. You need to try things, evaluate what works (or doesn’t work) and make adjustments.

You can do this two ways (I recommend combining the two, like a good “You Pick Two” combo at Panera). Start by looking at the insights on each individual platform month-over-month. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have sophisticated insight tools within their software, so they are a great place to start. You can view comprehensive individual post data as well as cumulative data for the month. You can decide which metrics are most valuable to you, but I recommend you include:

  • Reach – look at this per post and for the whole month
  • Likes, comments and shares
  • Clicks
  • Increase in followers
  • Engagement rate (Likes/Comments/Shares ÷ Reach)

These are pretty basic and will give you a solid idea of how your content is performing. Then, you can supplement those numbers with information from your listening tool. Take a look at mentions, and see how many people in the community were talking about you. The listening software will also give you a good idea of how well your social media manager engaged with your online audience.

If you’re still having doubts about your social listening abilities, I will leave you with this self-proclaimed Golden Rule of Social Media Listening: Listen to your audience the way you’d want your significant other to listen to you. It’s that simple!


Core Creative is a branding agency that specializes in telling the life-changing stories for mid-market healthcare systems and the emerging med-tech world.



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