Bringing the Power of Social Listening to Campus

When I was a kid, my Nana would tell me that when my ears started ringing, it was because someone was talking about me somewhere. Naturally, I believed her, and every time my ears would subsequently ring, my ego would get just a little bit bigger.

Of course, I learned in my adulthood that her explanation for ringing ears was way off. And that’s a good thing for college administrators, because if that old wives’ tale were true, their ears would never stop ringing.

That’s because today, prospective students, current students, and alumni often converse with each other about your college or university, and if you’re not listening in, you’re missing a wealth of valuable insight about your target audience, not to mention impromptu opportunities to have meaningful, personal conversations.

These conversations aren’t just happening on Twitter, either. They’re happening on Reddit, blogs, comment sections on news stories, and even Weight Watchers forums. Seriously.

With that in mind, we were thrilled to welcome Dr. Liz Gross to the Hashtag Higher Ed Podcast. In this episode, Liz shares her case for engaging in true social listening, how professionals on campuses can get started with social listening, and the number one mistake most people make when implementing social listening on their campus.

She also offers a rundown of some of the more well-known software options available in the market, shares a few of her best practices for getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to installing social listening software on your campus, and peers into her crystal ball to give us a preview of what the future holds in this ever-evolving space.

On Defining Social Listening

“For me, social listening is being able to find and analyze any and all conversations happening online that matter to you.”

Why Social Listening Matters

“Whether we like it or not, online is real life. That is how the general public gets much of their information today. The general public is trusting what people are saying online about their experiences, brands, about your campus. And research is showing that potentially, they trust what they are reading online more than they trust your official spokespeople. They trust someone like them more than an academic expert or CEO, and this is based on research done every single year by the Edelman Trust Barometer.

So what happens online really matters, and you cannot control the narrative about your campus. But you can, and you should, be aware of and participate in the conversation. And what really gets to the crux of why social listening matters, is that it’s not just a part of social media strategy. Real-time insights about the conversation related to your campus or other topics of interest to you can inform your marketing strategy, your recruitment, enrollment, and retention strategy, your alumni engagement strategy, and how you handle a crisis. It’s so much more than what’s happening in your social media program.”

“Social listening is like walking through the campus quad to hear what people are saying between classes, or eavesdropping in a crowd during a campus event.”

On the Difference Between Social Monitoring and Social Listening

“At the very basic level, I hope campuses are monitoring social media for mentions of their social handles. That’s like checking your email when it comes in or responding when someone calls your name on your street. You should always do that. That is good manners.

If you want to go one step above on social media monitoring, I know there are plenty of campuses out there that are searching for names of the campus and the mascot and they’re finding a little bit about what people are saying about them and jumping into the conversation when it matters. But it’s still just a live stream of single tweets, usually, that is really hard to keep on top of.

Social listening is like walking through the campus quad to hear what people are saying between classes, or eavesdropping in a crowd during a campus event. It’s a little bit targeted, because you know what types of conversations you’re looking for, or maybe what campus or high-profile person you want to hear unsolicited opinions about, but it captures all of those conversations online, where people are talking about you, not to you. Unless you’re gathering everything being said about you online, I really don’t think you’re even stepping into the waters of social listening yet, and that’s something that’s taken higher ed a while to get used to.”

Dr. Liz Gross’s Social Media Shout Outs

Josie Ahlquist: International Digital Leadership Educator

Follow Josie on Twitter at: @josieahlquist

Follow Josie on her website:

Listen to Josie’s podcast: Josie and the Podcast

“I basically think she’s Wonder Woman. She’s one of those professionals that is out there doing everything. You may have seen her as a keynote speaker at a conference, she does campus speaking engagements, she teachers for multiple universities, she blogs, she has a podcast. She’s phenomenal.”

Tim Jones: Chief Communications and Integrated Marketing Officer, Beloit College

Follow Tim on Twitter at: @timjonesonline

“I met Tim a couple years ago at a conference and we really connected because he gets data and strategy and goals and the big picture of everything, so, therefore, I feel like he’s one of my kindred spirits. You can catch Tim at a lot of different conferences, usually with the marketing vein of things. He also writes for the Call to Action blog on Inside Higher Ed every few months. He’s on Twitter, but he’s not a prolific tweeter. If you follow him, you’ll find out that he has a ridiculous obsession with quality fountain pens.”

My many thanks to Dr. Liz Gross for joining The Hashtag Higher Ed Podcast. You can find Liz on Twitter at @LizGross144 (special shout out to the math nerds who understand the meaning behind that handle), or you can connect with her on Linkedin, where she’s one of the few users to remain active on the platform daily.

You can also follow her online through her blog. She writes professionally about higher education strategy across the web, but primarily at lizgross.nether post on 8 Steps to Choosing Social Media Listening Software is a must read. She also documents her and her husband’s travel experiences at — Liz was getting ready to jet-set to Paris shortly following the recording of this episode.

You can listen to this episode on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Music, or wherever podcasts are found. To explore previous episodes of the Hashtag Higher Ed podcast and sign up for alerts regarding new episodes, visit our Hashtag Higher Ed hub.

Hashtag Higher Ed Podcast