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Brain Waves Newsletter

February 2021 │ Issue 40

In This Issue

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Liz's Letter

Liz Gross, Campus Sonar CEO

Hi there,

When’s the last time you truly considered a surprising comment or piece of advice from someone outside your staff or team? If you’re consistently told how you can do your job better by government officials, angry alumni, or disconnected faculty, it becomes automatic to ignore external opinions. But as one of our clients told us, “We have to keep from breathing our own exhaust.”

Particularly when our inner circles are shrinking due to the pandemic, it’s important to seek and consider informed perspectives from outside your team that challenge you. I’ve spent a lot of time as the giver and receiver of advice. I serve on an advisory board for a small business. Every quarter the owner gathers us/the board, hand-picked for their perspectives and expertise, to challenge him and help him work through issues. We push hard, and prompt him to consider options he didn’t see himself, or take actions he was afraid to.

I’ve committed to challenging myself by hiring an executive coach. In our first meeting, while discussing why I pursued coaching she said, “That sounds like a story you’ve been telling yourself. Do you have evidence to support it?” She was kindly telling me that I was breathing my own exhaust, and it was holding me back.

This reminds me of my student affairs roots, specifically Sanford’s theory of student development. He defines challenge as situations when the individual doesn’t have the skills, knowledge, or attitude to cope; and support as buffers provided in the environment to successfully meet challenges.

Sanford theorizes that too much support stunts development, since every effort is met with nothing but cheerleaders, while too much challenge prompts retreat from problems that need to be solved. When challenges are accompanied by appropriate support, personal and professional development occurs at an optimal rate. Organizations determine the levels of challenge and support in their environments, and the rate of growth they produce.


You and I also benefit as individuals from the right blend of challenge and support. If we stay insular, and become our own cheerleaders without allowing outside perspectives, our growth may stagnate. While we feel good about our work, we won’t grow along with our audiences, or our industry. Too many challenges, perhaps brought about by a changing environment or new leadership, can make us freeze unless they’re accompanied by the right support (e.g., staff, consultants, training). Looking outside our staff or campus can prompt new challenges as well as new sources of support.

How are you incorporating fresh eyes from qualified advisors into your work as you navigate the challenges of 2021 and beyond?

Liz Gross Signature

Using Social Listening for Program Research

Social listening is often pigeon-holed as a method for brand monitoring, but it’s so much more than that. Social listening is a research method. The opportunity for this research is huge—there are trillions of posts from over 100 million data sources to analyze, with more created every day. Social listening research finds the online social data records created by a select group of individuals, or about a particular topic, and tells the story of what was said online in relation to strategic objectives of your campus.

That audience might be prospective or current students, alumni, campuses you compete with, or professionals in a specific field. You can learn more about the perspective of all of these people through social listening research.

To give you an example, imagine you want to grow your undergraduate nursing program. To use social listening, we’d talk through your existing goals and strategies so we know what to build on or what might need to be created.

Goals might include:

  • Winning more applicants from direct competitors.
  • Attracting new students from the current recruitment area.
  • Increasing applications or yield rate.

Say your goal is to increase applications, from anywhere in the country. Then we’d look at how you’d do this. You already have a functioning website to adapt over time, a personalized comm flow, and a basic social media presence to build from. 

The scope of the social listening project might seek to answer the following questions.

  • Where (online) do students talk about nursing programs?
  • How do prospective students talk about nursing programs?
  • What questions do prospective undergraduate nursing students ask their peers when they’re deciding to apply to college?
  • What positive things do current nursing students say about their programs? Negative things?
  • How is your campus represented in these conversations?
  • What are the top 10 campuses named in these conversations? How do they relate to your campus in geography, program size, faculty, etc.?

Answers to these questions would help you craft website and email content, identify competitors as determined by students, set benchmarks for improvement if you want to grow your reputation over time, identify places where current students could be encouraged to interact online, and determine how to most effectively use social media accounts to improve application numbers.

If you want to learn more about using social listening for program research, listen to Liz Gross on Enrollment Growth University. She describes this example in more detail, explains how you can use social listening to analyze sentiment, action items that come from research, and more.

Content We're Consuming

Getting Your Campus Social Media Strategy Right—Liz is a guest on the Higher Ed Marketing Lab Podcast where she offers advice on how to set the right goals, talk to executive leadership, and develop a practical framework for sustainable content development.

Taking Over a Marcomms Division Mid-Pandemic at Miami University of Ohio—In an Enrollment Growth University episode, Jaime Hunt, Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Miami University of Ohio, talks about her experience joining a nimble Marcomms team that was already innovating to solve pandemic-related challenges. For Jaime, and the team, it’s been an opportunity to reframe their messaging and emerge with a stronger brand, informed by some of the recent challenges.

We’re Measuring Social Media Wrong—An Inside Higher Ed Call to Action post from Liz on how to measure social media to better reflect campus priorities.

Why Marcomm Should Be in the Cabinet—If you missed this episode in the rush of the end of the semester, it’s worth a listen. Angela Polec, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at La Salle University, talks to Higher Voltage about the importance of involving CMOs in strategic planning. Angela was also a guest on our first STREAM webinar, sharing how she uses industry benchmarks at La Salle to dig into metrics and determine strategy.

From the Blog

Most recently, we shared a peek inside our STREAM analysis on benchmarking higher ed news sources, and a down and dirty explanation of codebooks. Read more on our blog.


See Us or Book Us

We hope to see you virtually this year at an upcoming event. Here's our first event of 2021!

  • The Connection by Carnegie Dartlet. Carnegie Dartlet is hosting a free virtual event for higher education enrollment and marketing professionals. Next week, on February 23, Liz Gross shares data and insights from our first STREAM report, Social Listening Benchmarks for Higher Education: January 2021, including specific recommendations from Campus Sonar strategists.

If you’re looking for an industry expert to speak at an upcoming event or lead a workshop, check out our current speakers, common topics, and pricing.

Tell Us What You Think

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Someone throwing a paper airplane to a Sonarian

Campus Sonar C/O Spaces, 811 E. Washington Ave. Suite 500, Madison WI 53703 USA

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