Not rendering correctly? View this email as a web page here.
  Facebook Link   Twitter Link   LinkedIn Link  
Brain Waves Newsletter

March, 2018 │ Issue 5

In this Issue

Director's Letter

March has become synonymous with conference season for me. Between South by Southwest, CASE Social Media & Community, ACUI, or NASPA/ACPA, few years have gone by over the last decade when I’m not conferencing in March. This year, my conference attendance aligns with my mission to share the Campus Sonar love of social listening and higher education with any audience I can. So if you see me on the road, please say hello. I love meeting my online friends in real life. If you’re not on the road this spring, follow me on Twitter (@LizGross144); I live tweet as much as I can so you can follow along at home.

Last month at the CASE Drive conference, I was invigorated and enthused by the way the group that “dreams in data” was embracing social media as a vital component of communications, marketing, advancement, and alumni engagement strategy. The keynote from Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, had me tweeting like mad (about both her content and her amazing dress with pockets) so the at-home audience wouldn’t miss a single morsel. She shared social listening analysis research she’s completed that predicts from a person’s tweets whether or not they’re likely to recover from addiction when they seek help, among other things. Check out the Twitter thread to read more about the research and ethics of algorithms.

Here are some additional highlights from the breakout sessions. 

arrow-icon.pngKathy McCann, Director of Data Advancement Information Services at Union College, shared the changing role of social media data in developing audience-centric strategies for advancement. She said, “If our lapsed donors are flat out telling us what they're interested in through their social data and we're not using that to make better outreach and appeals, we're missing an opportunity.” She also confronted the reality that many campuses allocate as much as 50x budget to print compared to social media—an allocation that is completely unheard of in most other industries, particularly given the inability to track the effectiveness of most print material. My tweets from this session even included some at-home participation from a social media staff member at Union College.

arrow-icon.pngDr. Jay Dillon, Director of Alumni Engagement at the University of San Francisco, shared the results of his dissertation research about alumni identity, which is positively correlated to alumni giving. His study of over 4,000 alumni found that three of the top five behaviors that influence alumni identity were digital—including liking a campus Facebook post or joining a LinkedIn group. One of Jay’s key messages for this alumni-focused audience was, “Say yes to social.” You can read more in my Twitter thread from Dr. Dillon’s presentation.

arrow-icon.pngBrett Lantz, Senior Associate Director of Analytics in the Office of University Development at the University of Michigan, kicked the nerd level up several notches in his session about text analytics and advancement. He’s using word2vec, a machine learning project from Google, to analyze data from alumni tweets, LinkedIn profiles, CRM databases, and even decades-old scanned gift agreements to develop more robust profiles of alumni and donors to inform strategic communication and fundraising initiatives. You’ve gotta see the tweets to believe it. Brett also kept it real—I learned that when he’s not geeking out about machine learning, he’s a big fan of squirrels, hamburgers, and paranormal activity.

arrow-icon.pngMike O’Neil, Associate Director of Digital Engagement in Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs and Development Division, closed out the conference with a killer session on what it means to be a digital-first organization. He shared their division’s process of developing a digital-first mindset, which means they put the needs of their digital audience ahead of, but not in place of, in-person audiences. This makes sense when you consider that on many platforms, their digital audience is larger than their in-person audience in a major metropolitan area like New York City. This mindset resulted in improved online and offline experience for alumni, and helped them rethink how they calculate their alumni engagement metrics. Starting in the 2017 fiscal year, digital engagements such as logging into a live stream, interacting on social media, or volunteering as a social media ambassador count as engagement activities. Here’s the tweet thread; I tried to add a few GIFs to match Mike’s amazing GIF game.

I know there were only a handful of Brain Waves subscribers at the CASE Drive conference, so I hope this recap was useful and provides you with some ideas for action on your campus. Even if you’re not on Twitter, the links to the tweet threads should work within any web browser. So feel free to forward this to your colleagues and start dreaming in data! If you think you could be a contributor to this conference, the call for proposals for the 2019 conference in Baltimore is open now, with a deadline of April 27.


Strategic Social Listening: Inputs, Analysis, Outcomes

This month, we’ve got some tips to help you explain why social listening matters on campus when you’re talking with senior leaders. It all comes down to describing strategic social listening.

Strategic social listening—that is, social listening that supports data-driven, audience-centric strategies—takes much more than software and a student employee that’s good with social media. A strategic approach to social listening requires the appropriate inputs and analysis, and should result in real-world outcomes and impact.


The most essential input is campus-defined goals. The campus strategic plan is a good place to find high-level goals. Department-level goals such as improve national brand recognition, increase STEM enrollment, or increase young alumni annual giving can also be supported with strategic social listening.

The second input is social listening data collection. Using enterprise-level software, search for conversations from as many online data sources as possible that are relevant to your goals. This data may be collected in real-time or from a prior time period. 


Social listening data analysis techniques may include: segmenting the conversation, spotting emerging trends, identifying engagement or amplification opportunities, answering specific research questions, or identifying potential influencers. The quality of the analysis is a function of well-defined goals, appropriate software, and well-trained analysts. 

  Outcomes and Impacts

Social listening is not strategic unless it results in real-world outcomes that are directly related to goals. Some outcomes a campus may see from strategic social listening are:

  • Real-time understanding of conversations related to campus reputation
  • More conversation with prospective students and families
  • Increased alumni engagement and giving
  • More effective media pitches and placements
  • More effective marketing materials for target audiences

To learn more about a strategic approach to social listening, download The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook and skip to page 5. If you have questions about strategic social listening or anything in the handbook, just reply to this newsletter.

How to Use Social Listening Data for Marketing Personas

Hearing the word “research” may elicit a groan from some people—some perceive it as over-thinking a topic or too time consuming. However, the right type and amount of research allows individuals and organizations to make decisions that can save money (by preventing investment in dead-end solutions) or increase revenue (by allocating resources to make the most impact). Campus Sonar clients have seen how prospective student research, through social listening, can inform campus outreach with data-informed marketing and communications personas. In fact, crafting personas based on real-life data can result in content that’s customized for prospective students—which can positively increase yield rate as prospective students receive resonating messages on channels they prefer.

Types of Data for a Prospective Student Persona

Creating a marketing and communications persona helps bring to life the profile of your prospective student and can incorporate a number of data points. Make sure you build your persona with a variety of inputs from three types of data.

  • Academic. Define the typical academic makeup of your target students.
  • Demographic. What are the demographic details of these students? Where are they located?
  • Psychographic. Typically the attitudes, values, and preferences, these psychographic details of your target audience can help you reach them with messages that resonate with their attitude and beliefs.

Your institution typically determines academic information, depending on the type of students you want to seat for the next class, and demographic information is available from several online resources (such as the American FactFinder)—but psychographic information can be more challenging to find. Institutions can leverage sources of secondary research, such as what others have collected about your target audience, as well as primary research—asking your target audience their beliefs and preferences.

Traditional methods of primary research include focus groups, surveys, and interviews with your target audience. However, as we’ve argued in previous posts, rather than tell a researcher—let alone a higher education professional—students are more likely to tell the internet what they feel, think, and believe. Social listening used to gather psychographic details about students can complement traditional research methods.

Identify Prospective Students Online

The first step in analyzing a target audience like prospective students through social listening is to identify online accounts of high school students who fit your academic and demographic profiles. Here are a few ways to do so.

  • Search forums like Reddit (e.g., the Applying for College subreddit) or College Confidential.
  • Collect social media handles from prospective student tours or events.
  • Leverage social media platform search functionality to search for students who talk about applying to your school—or Tweetdeck to quickly search Twitter.
  • Use a social listening tool to write a query to identify prospective students.

Analyze Conversations for Psychographics

Once you have a sample of prospective students identified through their online accounts, you can analyze their conversations for trends and answer specific psychographic questions. For example,

  • Topics they tend to talk about. Kim Kardashian or Kristen Bell?
  • What they believe in. Equality or fairness?
  • Personality traits. Goal-oriented or fun-seeking?

Your sample of prospective students likely won’t illustrate extremes such as the examples above, but by identifying trends, you’ll be able to use your findings to build your prospective student persona—and inform the communication strategies and messages you create to reach this audience.

Leveraging Your Persona

Depending on your recruitment goals and the prospective student profile research results, the persona for this audience can—and should—vary between higher education institutions. No matter—using unique data touchpoints from your prospective student persona in your prospective student communications can result in those messages being more impactful with that audience.

For example, if you find that your target prospective students are goal oriented and influenced by female politicians, as evidenced from their online conversations, you may want to send a communication from the leader of the student government on campus—who happens to identify as female and chose to attend your school because it matched her career goals.

Rather than being a shot in the dark, communications to prospective students that are built on data-informed personas have the potential to be more impactful and positively affect annual recruitment goals because your messaging is customized to your audience. In this case, the word “research” shouldn’t cause you to shrug in fear—while you may not be jumping up and down for joy, social listening research is definitely cause for excitement, since (compared to traditional research methods) it’s a quick and flexible way to better understand prospective students.

—Amber Sandall, Campus Sonar analyst. Read more by Amber Sandall.

Read Our Latest Blog Posts

#CampusSonarLive Week Day 1 by Michelle Mulder, February 19, 2018

#CampusSonarLive Week Day 2 by Michelle Mulder, February 20, 2018

#CampusSonarLive Week Day 3 by Michelle Mulder, February 21, 2018

#CampusSonarLive Week Day 4 by Michelle Mulder, February 22, 2018

#CampusSonarLive Week Day 5 by Michelle Mulder, February 23, 2018

How Owned vs. Earned Conversation Analysis Informs Content Strategy by Liz Gross, February 28, 2018

Spring Hill College Refreshes their Brand with Social Listening by Michelle Mulder, March 7, 2018

Key Social Listening Resources

Each month the Campus Sonar staff shares what they’ve been reading, watching, and listening to as it relates to social listening. If you have resources you think might be helpful, send them to

The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook Download Campus Sonar's free eBook—your go-to guide for implementing social listening strategy in higher education.

The Dark Side of Facebook Editorial about how Facebook uses the data it collects and a link to the findings from the seventh annual Survey of Social Media in Advancement sponsored by CASE, Huron, and mStoner, Inc. An article from 2016 that is still very relevant today.

Eduventures Annual Survey of Admitted Students Examines the Enrollment Decisions of College-Bound High School Students The findings from a national panel of more than 100,000 high school student respondents nationwide that identifies seven key enrollment decision segments of admitted students. The goal of the study is to help enrollment management leaders better understand the decision-making process of admitted students and improve the yield and fit of their incoming class. The study is available to paid Eduventures subscribers, but you can get an idea of the type of insights you might find in 3 Tips to Manage Shifting Prospects During Yield.

Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook—and the World A recounting of the two years at Facebook that forced the platform to change—what happened, how, and why—from a story going viral in March 2016 to Facebook announcing major platform changes in January 2018. The changes ensure that time on the platform will be “well spent.”

Pew Research Center: Social Media Use in 2018 The social media landscape is a mix of long-standing trends and newly emerging narratives. Facebook and YouTube are the most widely-used platforms, and 90% of Twitter users also use Facebook. From a social listening perspective there could be some interesting consequences from the high YouTube use since 94% of 18-24 year olds use it. Snapchat and Instagram are also popular in this demographic.

Snapchat Finally Gives Creators Analytics If your campus or institution uses Snapchat stories, you can finally gather some analytics to see whether or not students are viewing your stories, how long they’re watching them, and what their interests are. These audience insights can help you refine your social listening and better target your audience.

Tell Stories with Social Data in Front of Anyone: A Lesson from the Experts Presenting data in an easily navigable, detailed, human way creates a more emotional investment in what’s being said. Telling stories with data requires skill, but social data presents its own set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to storytelling.

Why Social Listening Isn’t Just for Marketers Anymore The applications for social search and listening are increasingly broad and there are many others besides marketers who can benefit from the research. You might involve sales, customer service representatives, product development, security, HR, and others within your organization.

See Campus Sonar

ACUI Conference and Expo / March 22-24 / Anaheim, CA

Visit Campus Sonar in Booth 414 and see Liz present “How Online Conversation Insights Can Impact the Student Union” on the Innovation Stage, March 23 at 10:30 a.m.

MOACAC/GPACAC Conference / April 8-10 / Kansas City, MO

See Liz co-present “Using Social Listening to Impact Enrollment Management Outcomes” with Nick Prewett from the University of Missouri.

SACAC Conference / April 15-16 / New Orleans, LA

Stop by and see Campus Sonar the exhibit area!

Tell Us What You Think

Brain Waves newsletter is for you—help us shape the news we share with you. Tell us what you think, send us suggestions, and let us know what would help you do your job better. We want to know! Send your feedback to or just reply to this email. 

Campus Sonar 2401 International Lane  Madison WI 53704 USA

You received this email because you are subscribed to Brain Waves Newsletter Subscription from Campus Sonar.
Update your email preferences or unsubscribe.