Here at SimpsonScarborough, we are increasingly adding social media audits and social listening trends analyses to our work with colleges and universities to help them develop and amplify more impactful marketing content. One of our key partners is Campus Sonar, a firm that assists institutions in leveraging social intelligence in their marketing and branding efforts. This month, we are sharing some strategic insights from Campus Sonar’s Steve App on why higher ed institutions need social listening, and how they can get started.
In light of shifting demographics in higher education, marketers are increasingly asked to reach and influence new types of prospective students — students difficult to reach using traditional higher education marketing tactics *cough* list buying *cough.*
Using social listening can provide campuses developing content strategy with a goldmine of content ideas. The information obtained is authentic—these ideas are not self-reported through formal, controlled environments — and relevant, since the data collected is happening in real-life and real-time. So how can you use social listening to gain insights?
Where to Listen
You need to look where the public conversation is happening. That leaves out Facebook (which is restricting its data access more and more) and Snapchat. Twitter and Instagram are excellent sources, but don’t discount discussion forums and Reddit. These can be gold mines of online conversations, because people who feel really strongly about a topic tend to congregate in niche spaces. This is where software comes in handy. It’s technically possible for you to find and cruise the Reddit threads and message boards that cover your topic in-depth, but it’s hardly as efficient as software.
How to Listen
If you’re doing content marketing correctly, two things are top of mind: an audience and a topic (or a few topics). These are key when you consider where to look for conversations to mine for intelligence.
Think about your audience, and get specific. How old are they? What is their profession or student status? Does their location matter? Use this information to identify social media profiles (likely on Twitter or Instagram) that meet these characteristics (yes, there is software for that). Now, “listen” to their public online conversations as if it’s your private, always-on focus group. Identify trending content, influencers, and questions that pop up. Questions are key. You want to find the questions everyone is asking and answer them. Along the way, you may also learn what emoji are popular, what they tend to binge on Netflix, and what entertainers are popular. You can weave this into your content marketing to become hyper-relevant to the audience.
Alternately (and this is easier), focus on a topic. Think about the way people talk about that topic and develop some words and phrases for a search query. Then, using your software (if you’re giving this a spin for the first time, use an advanced Twitter search), search for conversations on the topic. Guess what? You’re still looking for questions. But you can also look for keywords and phrases that your audience uses and adapt your voice and tone to complement (not match) them. The React team at Brandwatch, a social listening software company, is really good at this. Check out their analysis of A-Level Results Day in the UK, trends in food, and why women love true-crime podcasts. To super-power your topic research, mash up your social listening data with online search data, like the React team did with UK student debt.
One really useful and easy place to look is conference hashtags surrounding events focusing on your topic and attracting your target audience. You can quickly find ideas that resonate and questions that remain unanswered. Amplify the ideas and get to work answering the remaining questions (assuming that’s within your area of expertise). This is particularly helpful when you’re recruiting working adults who already have affinity to professional organizations with associated public conference discussions.
Segment to Make Sense of What You Find
You control your segmentation. You likely have some sort of a taxonomy or categorization system in your content strategy already—so use it! Some of the segmentation we use when helping colleges and universities is:
- Enrollment-related conversation to find the questions that students and their families have about applying/visiting/attending the campus
- Alumni-related conversation to understand how alumni are honored, what fields they work in, and if they’re even talking about their alma mater
- Athletics-related conversation because frankly, for most of our client’s content strategy projects, the conversation about athletics is irrelevant so we filter it out.
Recently, one of our analysts investigated conversation around a professional development conference, and her segmentation included:
- Conference tracks
- Presenters vs attendees
- Topics of conversation: Inspiration/Encouragement, Food, Travel, Networking, Social Media, Reflections of Revelry
She created this segmentation based on themes she saw in the data. The insights in these segmented conversations could drive content strategy for a variety of authors and purposes (i.e., the travel bureau of the next conference location, area restaurants, conference planners, or vendors marketing to this audience). The segmentation you use should clearly relate to your goals.
Tie it All Together
Of course, social listening won’t just help you uncover relevant content topics and audience questions; it will help you amplify the content. As you conduct your research, pay attention to the influencers within a target audience or relevant topic. After publishing your content, use these insights to conduct a personalized outreach campaign, increasing your odds of scoring highly influential social mentions and inbound links, which are golden tickets for your organic search rankings. You can also spot any public shares (even the subtweets) of your content to better understand who finds value in it. Social listening and content marketing feed off each other in a seemingly never-ending cycle.
Stephen App is Campus Sonar’s Account Executive. He leads the company’s business development efforts, working with campus professionals to identify appropriate social listening programs that will help meet strategic institutional goals. This article is excerpted from a longer piece on content marketing, co-authored with Liz Gross, Ph.D., which was originally posted on the Campus Sonar blog in late 2018. An amateur runner and professional donut connoisseur, you can often find Steve on Twitter staunchly defending the Oxford comma.