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Brain Waves Newsletter

May 2020 │ Issue 31

In This Issue

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Liz's Letter

Liz Gross

Hi there,

I bet you’re sick of people asking you to reframe this ongoing, international crisis as an opportunity. Opportunity isn’t something that should be forced upon us. What we’re being forced to do is reimagine. We’re reimagining what it means to gather, to work as a team, to parent, even get food from our favorite restaurant. I look forward to the coming years as we reimagine what it means to deliver a quality education.

I know you’re anxious to get back to campus. You may have already announced plans for “business as usual” this fall. But I don’t think higher education will ever be the same, except perhaps for the top one percent of Americans and the most elite institutions. For the rest of us, it’s time to reimagine. We need to roll up our sleeves, get a little dirty, and perhaps skin our knees; but for higher education to grow into our abruptly changed future, we need to jump into the cockpit of S.S. Reimagine and chart a new course.

Graduation cap and diplomaStart by defining your product. What is the thing people (and governments) pay your campus for? Perhaps it’s a degree, a certification, or a credential. Or maybe a more nebulous, encompassing experience that is “education.” If that’s the case, clear up that definition; identify what “education” means when it comes from your campus. Or maybe your product is something completely different—a positive learner assessment after a series of courses, a guaranteed job placement, or entry into a defined career pipeline with one of a dozen partner corporations. 

Central to reimagining is imagination. Use yours to determine what educational product is truly in demand from the population you're uniquely suited to serve. Most jobs in the world’s economy don’t demand an MIT degree, no matter what this New York magazine article says. A world exists outside of our urban centers; perhaps your campus will be reimagined to meet the needs of the one in five Americans or 45 percent of global citizens who live in rural areas. Since the demographic cliff is no longer your biggest concern, consider the educational needs of adults who still have decades in the workforce ahead of them. All of these people have problems your reimagined product can solve.

We need to reimagine everything, while maintaining a sense of realism. Be realistic about budgets, economic factors, demand, desired and achievable outcomes, and future needs of the local, regional, national, or international economy. Put all this realism ahead of treasured traditions that may constrain your ability to reimagine. We’ve needed better online education for years. We’ve needed to increase access to education for at least a lifetime. Did you need an excuse? How about a pandemic? Let’s do this.

After considering the market that demands the product you want (or are willing) to produce, work within your constraints to reimagine how to deliver your product, and what that means for your campus structure and culture. I’m excited about this path because I believe listening is key to the work of reimagining, and potentially the product some institutions will offer. The combination of imagination and listening can result in something that looks completely different from what we picture in our minds when we think of “college”—something that people need, want, and will pay for (or attract funding from third parties). I don’t think retrofitting centuries of tradition to outlast the pandemic is the wisest way forward. Reimagining our campuses, products, and delivery systems may be scarier for some, but perhaps more likely to achieve long-term success and viability.

I honestly can’t wait to be a part of higher education’s reimagining. I hope you’re a little excited about it, too.

Liz Gross Signature

Capturing Retention Conversation

Amber Sandall, Research ManagerLet me be nerdy for just a minute. I worked on our Engagement Opportunity Alerts service and made some updates last week. After an internal discussion, we realized there was a chance to evolve what we offer for Engagement Opportunities based on The World, asking ourselves, what could we capture in online data that's most relevant to our clients right now? The answer quickly became clear: retention data.

With a vision in mind, any social listener worth their salt has to operationalize what that looks like in practice. What’s the goal behind capturing those types of mentions? What might the mentions encompass? What key terms and language relate to this topic? So I sat (virtually) with Beth Miller, our Client Success Manager, to answer these questions and figure out what to look for. 

Engagement Opportunity Alert

We dug in and identified our why: ensuring we can inform our clients when topics related to retention and summer melt appear in online conversation so they’re aware of challenges to student retention and can respond appropriately.

As a social listening researcher, I constantly seek patterns. There were four that came out of my conversation with Beth that are now topics in our clients’ conversations when we’re looking for engagement opportunities.

  1. Who may be considering a change in their post-secondary plans in the fall?
  2. Who may be facing hardship or lost opportunities that make it challenging to continue or complete their education?
  3. Who may be thinking about transferring from (or to) your campus?
  4. Who may be really missing campus?

Brandwatch dashboardMy favorite part came next—figuring out how people talk about these topics. Beth had a wealth of campus-related information to get me started determining keywords and terms. Using those, I wrote Boolean rules. One of my favorite ways to approach Boolean building is thinking about language structure. For example, Beth and I identified a set of verbs and nouns for each topic. So for some of the topics, instead of just searching for those verbs and nouns within a campus’s dataset (which would have generated more irrelevant and less actionable results), I put context around them in the form of pronouns. When thinking about defer, who’s deferring? I, she, he, or a possessive pronoun like my kid, our daughter, etc. 

The second question to answer is when. Did the consideration about deferment already occur or is it currently happening? That answer helped me figure out the right verb tenses to consider with certain pronouns when writing my Boolean. At the end of the day, to capture people talking about deferment that hasn’t already happened, I’d write something like this.

(((I OR she OR he OR “I am” OR “I’m” OR “she is” OR “she’s” OR “he is” OR “he’s”) NEAR/3 (considering OR “thinking about”)) NEAR/5 deferring)

This Boolean would capture instances of a personal pronoun within three words of “considering” or “thinking about”—and within five words of “deferring.” 

The next step is pulling out the thesaurus (er, for other terms to include—how do people talk about deferment? They may say gap year or year off or postponing their next semester. Before finalizing the Boolean language, I tested it in several existing higher ed datasets, which helped me find more synonyms as well as terms to exclude that may generate false positives. In all, the Boolean I wrote to find conversation related to these four retention topics came out over 1,000 words. More nerdery: it was really fun to put together. 😀

I know student retention is a focus, and especially in today’s world. If you (or your team) can monitor social sites for individuals at your campus talking about these topics, you’ll likely find conversations! And if you want to respond to individuals indicating a retention risk, but don’t have the capacity to find these opportunities, we’d love to support you and your team. If you're interested in learning more, set up a meeting with our Account Executive, Nicole Baldassarre, for a 30-minute exploratory call

Content We're Consuming

What Sonarians are reading, watching, and listening to this month.

Content Marketing Crisis Mode: How Colleges Are Handling the Coronavirus—Donna Talarico shares how campuses are adapting their plans during the COVID-19 pandemic, including examples from Middlebury College and Rochester Institute for Technology (RIT).

#HEWebHero Q&A: Liz Gross—HighEdWeb started a series about #HEWebHeros. Sarah Maxell Crosby nominated Liz Gross and Janice Cheng-McConnell nominated Jeremy Tiers. If you know someone who should be nominated, use #HEWebHero to recognize them!

Free educational resources to level up your social listening

Engage More, Yield More Playbook—See how we can help you capture retention topics and more in our playbook that shares examples of online conversation we can find with our Engagement Opportunity Alert service.

Social Listening Resources from Campus Sonar—Find our reports, newsletters, handouts, and more, as well as general information on what social listening is and how you can use it for student engagement, reputation management, influencer identification, and many other campus outcomes. And find our free resources on the current state of higher education in the COVID-19 Higher Education Industry Briefings

Brain Waves Blog Posts

This month we wrote about staffing, equipping, and final budget items for a campus social media team, as well as the value of higher ed marketing. Find the posts on our blog.

Landing Pages_BlogPosts-1

See Campus Sonar

The 2020 conference landscape is evolving. We hope to see you this year, virtually or in person at an upcoming event. A few online events we’re excited for:

  • CASE SMC: Liz and Steve present "An analysis of 700,000 Conversations About COVID-19" at the virtual CASE Social Media and Community Conference. Conference registration required
  • Social Data Summit: Sarah Marks presents on “The Paired Value of Human Analysis and Social Listening Software During a Crisis.”
  • Emma U: Liz and Steve give a virtual keynote, “Using Social Listening to Improve Your Email Marketing,” on June 4. Register now.
  • ContentEd: Liz and Steve present on “Using Crisis Conversation to Inform Content Strategy” on June 10.
  • Texas Advancement Analytics Symposium (TAAS): Amanda Jeppson and Rebecca Stapley present on advancement—“Hidden Voices: Using Social Listening to Uncover Audience Insights and Boost Advancement.”
  • SMS Summit: Liz shares more from our Coronavirus and Higher Education Industry Briefings in “How Social Listening Supports Engagement and Campus Decision Making During COVID-19” at the Social Media Strategies Summit.

Tell Us What You Think

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Someone throwing a paper airplane to a Sonarian

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