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Brain Waves Newsletter

June 2020 │ Issue 32

In This Issue

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Liz's Letter

Liz Gross

Hi there,

“Read the room” is the phrase I’ve heard most often from exasperated communicators in the last few weeks. Maybe you’ve said it, too. Brands, institutions, and individuals are failing to recognize the moment we’re living in, choosing instead to ignore what’s happening around them before they speak—or worse, releasing a statement for the sake of a statement, without identifying or committing to action that furthers racial justice.

Reading the room means listening. When all interactions are digital, mainly on social media, social listening is the best way to read the room. You may see this as a defensive activity; something you do to take the pulse before determining what you can or should say. I challenge you to see it as a proactive strategy to understand your community. Social listening can identify marginalized voices on your campus, enabling you to better understand their experience and amplify them both online and off.

Lately, Black members of your community are shouting in hopes you’ll listen, using hashtags like #BlackAt<Campus>, #BlackInHESA, and #BlackInTheIvory to share their experiences with racism. What they’re posting to Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit is a preview of what they and their classmates will chant outside the administration building when they return to campus. Listening now gives you a chance to reflect, seek to understand, and prepare a new path forward to share with your community before they return or as they arrive on campus.

Listen to your students who are posting online

Telling your social media manager to “keep an eye on it” is not supportive of racial justice. It’s like asking your spokesperson to just watch the protesters march around the building. In the same vein, responding by hosting a forum that requires students to relive their trauma fails to respect the fact that they already told you—the hashtag was the forum. (If you’re going to quote that line, it’s not mine. I borrowed it from an anonymous, exasperated social media manager.)

This movement is actually doing you a service. It’s grouping all of your marginalized voices in easy-to-find hashtags and comment threads, enabling you to listen more effectively. Normally, that isn’t the case. Strategic social listening for social justice requires an ongoing effort to find and amplify voices that aren’t rising to the majority, like Campus Sonar did for Black and Brown voices in three of our Coronavirus Higher Education Briefings (April 21, May 5, May 19).

Continuous awareness of and attention to marginalized voices is a digital extension of your social justice efforts. Intent matters. Campuses can use social listening to understand, support, and amplify these voices. Others may use similar tactics to target or harass the same voices. Your support and allyship can counteract some of the harmful messages your community may receive on social media.

The first step towards meaningful change is always to listen. I hope you’re listening now more than ever. If you want to learn more about how you could be listening at scale, Campus Sonar can help.

Liz Gross Signature

Lessons Learned from Our Industry Briefings

In a Crisis, One Approach Rarely Fits all Audiences

by Liz Gross

For 10 weeks this spring, we analyzed millions of online conversations about higher education and the pandemic (read it all here). Throughout the summer, we’ll share some of the lessons learned from that research.

If you’re a social media manager reading this, you probably know that one approach rarely fits all audiences in a crisis. You can’t just post a statement and respond to people on Facebook without missing a significant portion of your campus community. Now, we have the data to back it up. I’m going to focus on where the conversation happened online and an emotional analysis of two key audiences in that conversation: students and their family and friends.

For Students, Reddit and Tumblr May Overtake Twitter 

The millions of higher education-focused mentions pretty consistently came from social media, particularly Twitter. But over time, we started to see more conversations on forums and news sites. Tumblr was just a sliver of this conversation. Social media was clearly the giant. This means you should focus all your efforts on Twitter, right? Wrong.

Higher Ed Focused Content Distribution Student Content Distribution-1

While the majority of higher ed-focused conversation occurred on social media (especially Twitter), first-person conversation from students was more likely to occur on forums (especially Reddit). Sometimes, even Tumblr was more popular with students than social media sites like Twitter. While this was a consistent trend in our dataset, we saw varying levels of Twitter or Reddit use from campus to campus. Understanding where your current and prospective students are most likely to share online is an important component of social listening intelligence. (We can help you do that with a social listening snapshot.)

Different Audiences Experience Different Emotions

Using algorithms, we can determine if individual online mentions display emotions like anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, or surprise. For the first six weeks of our Briefings, sadness and anger were the most predominant emotions from students and their family and friends. Students expressed more anger, and their family and friends expressed more sadness. That started to change in our April 21 Briefing, when family and friends were almost as likely to express joy as sadness. By our April 28 Briefing, they were more likely to express joy than sadness. For each of our three Briefings in May, joy and sadness were the top two emotions for parents, while students remained sad and angry.

Different students experience different emotions

Family and friends still grieved the loss of their student’s college experiences, but they found moments to celebrate. Families spread the word when campuses recognized their students’ accomplishments, and some praised the actions of their campuses to check in on students and ensure their safety as we head into fall. It’s pretty clear, though, that students and parents did not feel the same way in April and May—at least on social media. 

Insights to Action: What You Can Do Now

We learned that in a crisis, one approach rarely fits all audiences. So what can you do about it? Work to identify the communities where your conversations take place, so you can begin to target your efforts.

  • If you haven’t already, search for your campus name, nickname, and common hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn. This gives you an idea of the prevalence of conversation about your campus on these platforms. Make a list of the platforms where you have active communities. (We can help with a social media audit.) It wouldn’t hurt to set a reminder to run this search again in six months to see if your audience’s behavior changed.
  • Find time to pay attention to conversation about your institution on the platforms on your list. You can learn more about them over time as you see posts come in live, or dedicate some time or resources to do a trends analysis to understand what’s been said about your campus on those platforms over the next few months or years. This will give you an idea of who is active on each platform and what they talk about.
  • Once you have those insights, use them to inform your listening and messaging strategies on each platform, reflecting an understanding of the audience that is there.

Leaders, if you have social media specialists doing this work, trust their judgement. Make sure they’re a part of the conversation about official statements and announcements from your institution, and take their advice as they adapt institutional language to fit the audience and tone of each platform. Using this approach allows you to more authentically communicate with your different audiences in the right place, at the right time.

Content We're Consuming

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

Blown Away: Building a Brand-New Admissions Cycle on the Fly—The tried-and-true admissions cycle isn’t currently relevant. Heather Dotchel shares ideas and how some campuses are thinking out-of-the box.

Campus Clear—The folks at Ivy released a free app for campuses to use as a self-screening tool and fast pass for students, staff, and visitors to campus as they reopen with enhanced precautions to mitigate spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 High School Seniors Survey Full Report—Carnegie Dartlet surveyed high school seniors across the country to compile their thoughts about the outbreak, delays to their college journey, financial anxiety, and more.  

Leading Online—Josie Ahlquist’s webinar series with accompanying blog posts tackles campus leaders and digital storytelling, authenticity and vulnerability, and creating successful digital relationships.

No Filter—The behind-the-scenes story of how Instagram defied the odds to become one of the most culturally defining apps of the decade.

Free educational resources to level up your social listening

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 our analysis of conversation about higher education and the coronavirus.

Brain Waves Blog Posts

This month we wrote about cleaning up your social accounts, 5 free social listening tools, and how trends influence social listening. Find the posts on our blog.

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See Campus Sonar

The 2020 conference landscape is constantly evolving. We hope to see you this year, virtually or in person at an upcoming event.

We're excited to be a part of the SMS Summit where Liz will share more from our Coronavirus and Higher Education Industry Briefings in “How Social Listening Supports Engagement and Campus Decision Making During COVID-19."

Registration is open for HighEdWeb and this year, it's free! There are lots of great sessions from higher ed pros, including one from Liz—"5 Essential Documents for a Strategic Social Media Program." Check out the schedule and register now to get it on your calendar!

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