Social Listening Basics

In concept, social listening is a simple activity. You listen to your key audiences. But it gets more complex and nuanced the deeper you dive into your brand’s conversation and data. At a basic level, social listening is the process of capturing online mentions of your brand. That’s what you’re capturing—online mentions. Why you’re capturing the conversation is how you build the framework for measuring them.


What: Online Mentions

Social listening is the practice of capturing online mentions about your campus. It collects data across the public, online web to help you find mentions that extend far beyond social platforms, allowing you to search for mentions of your brand that reference you by nickname, abbreviations, mascots, etc., rather than exact-match mentions. 

When you use social listening software, you can capture mentions from these conversation sources and more.

  • Social Media: Includes social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
  • News: Includes sites labeled or promoted as news sources.
  • Forums: Includes forum sites like Reddit and College Confidential.
  • Blogs: Includes blog sites that primarily focus on individual or small group opinions.

Give it a Try with Free Tools

If you want to try some very basic social listening on your own, there are free tools to help you get started. They’ll give you an idea of the online conversation that exists about your campus or other topics you might be interested in based on what you search (which is called a query; these can be basic or much more customized, which is what our expert analysts excel at).

Twitter logo

Advanced Twitter Search

Prompts you to write a contextual search using a few categories: words, accounts, filters, engagements, and dates.

Tweetdeck logo


Monitor subsets of Twitter live and create columns for accounts or hashtags you follow.

Hootsuite logo


Monitor subsets of Twitter live and create columns for accounts or hashtags you follow.

Instagram logo

Instagram Search

Search by location or hashtag to find relevant content.

Followerwonk logo


Learn characteristics of your Twitter followers.

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Perform a keyword search for a summary of sentiment, top keywords and hashtags, users, and sources.

Ready to give social listening a try? Download our checklist for step-by-step guidelines and instructions.

Why: Metrics that Matter

The measurement framework for social listening starts with a handful of metrics that give you a solid overview of online conversation about your campus and help you answer questions that can inform your strategy. The metrics measure the entire social media conversation with direct goal-related conversions, rather than the vanity metrics (e.g., followers, engagements, and impressions) social media platforms choose to report.   

Overall Volume

How much overall public, online conversation there is about your campus. Volume tells you how many people are talking about your campus and how much they’re talking about it. 

  • Is the volume of my online conversation what I'd expect? 
  • How do I compare with similar institutions?

Owned vs. Earned

The portion of your online conversation generated by your campus-affiliated accounts (owned) compared to conversation about you from other accounts (earned). Knowing your breakdown can inform goal setting and content strategy. 

  • Are we producing enough original content?
  • How does our audience share or interact with content about campus? 
  • Do the topics shared in our owned content align with the topics that are important to our audiences?


The barometer of how a community talks about your campus—positive, negative, or neutral. It helps you plan, prepare, and respond to all kinds of situations and conversation topics. 

  • Do our online audiences talk about our campus positively or negatively? 
  • Is there a seasonal trend to our campus sentiment?

Content Sources

The sources where conversation about your campus occurs, such as social media, news, forums, and blogs. Understanding where conversation occurs informs where to invest your time and effort. 

  • Where do our audiences talk about our campus online? 
  • Do they reference our campus more on social media, forums, news, or blogs?

Mention Types

The type of content—original post, share or retweet, or reply. 

  • What types of mentions do we respond to on social media?
  • Is there room to engage with our audience more?

Trending Topics

The words or phrases most often mentioned in online conversation. 

  • Are there trends in my online conversation that surprise me or I should pay more attention to?
  • What are the topics of  conversation about my campus?

Social Listening in Action

What does social listening look like? Our work with Butler University is a good example. Butler wanted to better understand their internal and external conversation. Our Brand Diagnostic gave them an assessment of their brand health to give them the direction they needed.

Read Butler University's Story