Comprehensive Social Listening

The power of listening is collecting the conversation as it happens, offering opportunities to understand what’s happening now so you can make changes for the future. Social listening is more than a point-in-time service, it’s the ongoing analysis and context that allows you to better understand your baseline conversation and create personal benchmarks, track seasonal changes, evaluate the effects of crises, and measure the impact of new campaigns. 


There’s a lot of conversation about higher ed. In the second half of 2020 (July–Dec), the median campus conversation volume was 2,654 mentions. Depending on campus size, the median number of mentions was anywhere from 492 to 114,582. That’s a lot of conversation and a huge range.

Regardless of enrollment size and campus type, most of this conversation occurs on social media. Social media is the greatest source of online conversation—about three-quarters of total online conversation on average. That might lead you to think that you see or understand the majority of conversation about your campus. Because you see what you’re putting out, along with the retweets/shares, comments/replies, or posts that tag your campus social handles or use a branded hashtag. 

But that’s not true at all. Using the median conversation volume from earlier, most campuses get several hundred mentions a month. Tens of thousands per month for larger campuses. No one person, or even a team of people, can find that much conversation on their own. And the majority of that conversation, 70% to be specific, doesn’t come from your campus. It’s earned conversation about your campus, coming from prospects, admits, students, parents, alumni, staff/faculty, sports fans, journalists, etc. There’s so much conversation about your campus that you don’t see.

Social listening can help you see all of that conversation. But we’re not talking about using listening here and there for a specific topic, we’re talking about listening all - the - time, a comprehensive social listening strategy. 

Campus Sonar is one of the best decisions our communications team has ever made. The information, data, and insights Campus Sonar provides in real time are immediately applicable and add real value to our overall communications strategy. It’s almost like we hired a data specialist who is constantly crunching numbers and summarizing specific KPI progress. The metrics and analysis allows us to move faster as a team in developing strategy and providing context to our upline reports. Natalie Ipson, Digital Communications Director, Brigham Young University

The Benefits of Ongoing Analysis and Context

Brand & Reputation

Your campus’s brand and reputation is everything. And, whether you like it or not, your reputation is in the hands of the general public. It’s what is said about you, not to you, that affects your reputation. Social listening allows you to understand the public narrative about your campus and track key metrics to manage your brand as an asset, giving you greater control and data to support campus branding strategies and initiatives. Three basic brand metrics capture your content and what others say about you.

Total Conversation Volume

The number of times your campus is mentioned in online conversation indicates how many people talk about you, and how much they’re talking. Increasing conversation volume over time reflects an increase in word-of-mouth about your brand.

Earned Conversation

The portion of your online conversation that doesn’t come from campus accounts (e.g., students, journalists, alumni, prospects). Track this as a percentage of total volume and as a total number. As your brand awareness improves, your earned conversation should increase. You may also want to understand how much of your earned conversation is related to athletics to understand its impact on your brand.

Owned Conversation

The flipside of earned, owned content is the content you create for your branded accounts and websites, and the shares of this content by others. 


The number of individuals who contribute to conversation about your campus. Unique authors can indicate a healthy community with diverse experiences and perspectives, and a shared affinity for campus. As you develop more brand advocates, the number of voices in the conversation should increase.

Ongoing monitoring of these metrics allows you to see the word-of-mouth contribution to your brand and assess it against core campus goals.

Client: Tracking Strategic Brand Priorities

When we worked with La Salle University, we took a strategic approach to social listening with an emphasis on segmenting their conversation to match strategic and brand priorities. A regular overview of the campus brand, reputation, and audience perspectives, segmented into owned and earned, helped the team at La Salle identify important differences in campus conversation. Further segmentation into strategic priorities and topics helped La Salle manage short-term spikes and measure long-term trends in conversation related to the subjects that matter most.

Audience and Topic Segmentation

Comprehensive social listening goes deeper, segmenting your conversation so you can focus on a particular audience or topic that’s important to your campus. 

Audience segmentation

Better understand a particular group of people (e.g., prospective students, admitted students, current students, alumni) and have greater visibility into engagement opportunities with those groups. Being able to single out and focus on each of these audiences allows you to focus your attention and messaging to their unique needs, concerns, and celebrations. 

Topic segmentation

Better understand a specific area of conversation important to your brand. This can help mitigate crises, keep the temperature on campus climate, or understand salient brand pillars in online conversation. This knowledge arms you with the ability to be proactive and understand topics that matter to your audiences.

Topic segmentation is often custom, it might focus on an event like Giving Day or a major campus announcement; relate to the student experience, like mental health or COVID-19; or track strategic initiatives like diversity, equity, and inclusion; first-generation students; or social justice. 

The benefit of segmentation is the ability to make meaningful, strategic decisions based on data.

Ongoing Custom Benchmarks

We’ve been talking about the benefits of ongoing social listening analysis, but the primary benefit is in the ongoing benchmarks you establish over time. The payoff of trend spotting grows exponentially—the longer you listen, the more effective your trend-spotting becomes. 

As your data set grows—five years or ten years down the road—you’ll be able to better understand your baseline conversation and create personal benchmarks, track seasonal changes, evaluate the effects of crises, and measure the impact of new campaigns. 

One client uses social listening to compare campus conversation to a list of competitors, giving them valuable metrics to measure progress against a key part of their strategic plan. Another client, a state system of higher education, uses social listening to track conversation about each member campus, helping them understand each campus’s share of voice within the system, the unique nature of each campus’s conversation, and when to offer support in times of crisis. 

Content Strategy

Content marketing is fueled by audience insights, but gaining those insights through formal discovery practices can be cost prohibitive and time consuming. Social listening can deliver you the real-time audience understanding you need to deliver powerful, relevant content. A successful content marketing strategy relies on audience insights because if you don’t know what your audience cares about or struggles with, it’s hard to write about it.

Content marketers typically rely on formal research methods to uncover content topics. That starts with primary research, such as user surveys, focus groups, and qualitative interviews. These primary research activities are useful in identifying core topics and questions to guide content marketing, but they also contain fundamental flaws. From selection bias to questionable sample sizes to filtered feedback and subjectivity, clean data can be hard to come by, despite your best intentions. Social listening provides campuses developing content strategy with a goldmine of content ideas that are authentic and relevant. 

Client: Rebuilding a Relationship

West Virginia University (WVU) partnered with Campus Sonar to use social listening to rebuild the relationship with their audiences and win back their trust. We segmented their conversation to give them clear insights to inform their social strategy for prospective and admitted students. Knowing when prospects and admits talk about WVU, the questions they ask, and who they’re competing with allows the WVU team to craft messaging that resonates with their audience. These insights help them better understand student concerns on campus, both in conversations shared amongst each other and directed at WVU, addressing the team’s desire to build trust with a key audience. 

Capacity Building

Resources in higher ed are often stretched to the limit and communications teams, especially social media, have long been underfunded and understaffed. Adding comprehensive social listening to your team is like adding an additional member to your team, immediately boosting your capacity with experts who want to help you achieve your goals by working with you (not trying to replace you). 

Campuses of every size and type are hives of activity, filled with on-campus and virtual events, student questions, and alumni accomplishments. For lean teams, the challenge of keeping up with that activity, nevermind analyzing it at scale, is formidable. Comprehensive social listening adds the external support you need to help you keep on the pulse of campus news, events, and the student experience.

Client: Backing up Decisions with Data

John Tyler Community College (Tyler) is a springboard of education and economic mobility in Virginia. Their in-house marketing teams accomplish everything with a lean team of seven. But they needed some extra support with a college renaming on the horizon and other changes in their ecosystem. Partnering with Campus Sonar gives them the high-level trends and in-depth information they need to make offline decisions and continue their level of engagement and customer service with their audiences.

The Benefits of a Partnership

Download our playbook to learn more how to use social listening for campus outcomes and how four of our clients are using social listening in their strategy. You'll get actionable takeaways you can use immediately. 

Download the Playbook