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Brain Waves Newsletter

June 2021 │ Issue 44

In This Issue

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Liz's Letter

Liz Gross, Campus Sonar CEO

Hi there,

You’re an expert in at least one thing. Probably multiple things. Yet sometimes it’s hard to recognize your own expertise. You, and people in your immediate vicinity, may take it for granted because it’s become second nature. When that happens, your unconscious competence is shielding your expertise from view, and the rest of us who could learn from you are missing out.

Identifying, naming, and nurturing your expertise gives your passion a purpose, and multiplies its value. If you’re waiting for someone else to grant you the title of “expert,” you run the risk of missing out on a unique contribution you can make to the world. It’s like ignoring buried treasure.

This isn’t just a challenge for individuals. It can happen at scale in businesses and organizations. We’re constantly monitoring for unconscious competence at Campus Sonar by asking the following questions.

  • What do we instinctively know that our clients don’t?
  • What do we think is easy that our clients find difficult or impossible?
  • What is obvious to us, but novel (and valuable) to others?

When we identify those things, we put extra effort into highlighting and explaining them. The goal is mutual value exchange: we provide expertise so applicable to our clients that they’re more than willing to pay for it.

STREAM is a direct result of these questions. We realized that “we just know” how folx talk about higher ed online. And how prospects talk about admissions. And how students talked about college at the beginning of the pandemic. This is unique knowledge that helps campuses develop distinctive marketing strategies, student-centered recruitment practices, and timely alumni engagement and fundraising initiatives. I believe the entire industry has a lot to learn from what has become intuitive to us as full-time social listeners. If you’re not a STREAM member yet, see what you’re missing.

What potential could you unlock for yourself, or your organization, if you uncovered just a bit of your unconscious competence? The world is waiting to find out, and so am I.

Liz Gross Signature

Steve App, Campus Sonar Business Development ManagerChaos Breeds Opportunity

There has never been a more opportune time for small colleges to invest in marketing and communications.

I realize that sounds bold. To some, maybe even obtuse. I’m not oblivious to what you’ve experienced in the past 15 months. Everyone is burned out. Worse, I’ve heard from colleagues on small campuses whose MarCom teams were reduced, eliminated, or moved under advancement or enrollment management. At one small college in North Carolina, a recent job posting included the responsibility of being the campus’s primary social media manager; it was estimated at 20% of the role. You’d likely settle for a little stability.  

But stability is aiming much too low. That’s my takeaway after analyzing the data in our most recent STREAM report, Social Listening Benchmarks for Higher Education: May 2021. I’ve shared this idea in depth this month for STREAM members, but I want to share an abridged version with you too, because I think it’s too important to keep private. 

First, some context. In our benchmarking reports, we identify what can be considered normal when it comes to core social listening metrics—think conversation volume, unique authors, sentiment, and content sources. In doing so, we share a median target but also a “spread,” essentially a range that can be considered normal since no institution is likely to match the median value on the nose. 

What we found in analyzing the fall 2020 semester is that “normal” is substantially less consistent for small and very small campuses—campuses with less than 2,000 full-time enrolled students—than for large campuses whose full-time enrollment is more than 10,000. 

If you work at a small campus, then, you’re more likely to find yourself in a competitive set in which your competition varies in how much content they produce, how many people talk about them, and how much of their conversation takes place on social media or in the news. And I would argue, to what degree they invest in marketing (see the aforementioned job posting as exhibit A). 

That lack of consistency presents a massive opportunity. Less consistency equals a greater chance of differentiating your campus from your competitors and, in the process, proving your individual and team value and making the case for increased investment.

STREAM can help you understand how your campus conversation compares to peers of a similar size, and thus, where opportunity may lie. CMO surveys from CASE or SimpsonScarborough, as well as the book How to Market a University, can help with understanding marketing budgets across higher ed. 

When so much is in flux within your campus and our industry, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and insecure. The pandemic has impacted every campus, but it hasn’t impacted every campus the same way. Know how it’s impacted you and your competitive set. And then chart a path towards a brighter future. Chaos breeds opportunity. 

Get to Know Katlin


The Client Success team welcomed Katlin Swisher this month! Katlin joins Beth and Rebecca as a Strategist who works with clients to share social listening analysis and insights to guide their overall strategy.

What intrigues you the most about social listening?

Social listening tells a comprehensive story grounded in data. Campus leaders often rely so much on anecdotal evidence and/or assumptions about their audiences’ opinions and behaviors, and social listening introduces a much more accurate and authentic representation of reality. I am also intrigued by its potential to help universities best serve their students and other key audiences while informing organizational change. 

What is the most memorable vacation you’ve taken in the past?

Traveling the world with West Virginia University’s alumni band! In summer 2018, we performed six concerts in Germany, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, and France. My clarinet has taken me to places I never would have imagined when I began playing 20(!) years ago.

What’s rocking your world this month?

The return of my local community band! One of the things I’ve missed the most during the pandemic is making music with others. We may not be "rockin’" yet, but by the time our summer concert series begins, we’ll be pretty close with a repertoire featuring patriotic fare, jazz standards, and even an Aretha Franklin medley. 

What current part of your job is your favorite? What would you like to accomplish in your job this year?

My favorite part of the job so far (this is week one, after all!) also acknowledges what I hope to initially accomplish this year—as much observation and learning as possible. I am open to new ideas and new ways of thinking and look forward to pushing myself creatively and strategically. 

What’s the last book you read?

I am an avid reader. While I typically reach for mystery and suspense novels and try to stay current on the higher ed literature, one of the most impactful books I’ve read recently is Death in Mud Lick by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Eyre, formerly of what is now the Charleston Gazette-Mail, West Virginia’s statewide newspaper. It is the haunting true story of how the opioid epidemic has affected Appalachia and the many lives lost from the crisis, all captured in striking prose. 

What’s the biggest impact social media has on actual behaviors/relationships?

When used in a positive way, social media’s biggest impact is the potential to build bridges and community and inspire change. During the last year and a half, I have observed (and participated in) so many examples of connection and idea-sharing that likely would not have otherwise been possible due to the necessary social distancing. 

See or Book Us

We hope to see you virtually this year at an upcoming event

  • After a year off, the National Small College Enrollment Conference is virtual this year—July 26 to 28. Liz will present from our STREAM research with her session “The Secret to Small College Success on Social Media: Insights from Campus Sonar’s Latest Research” on Tuesday, July 27. Hope to see you so we can Zoom wave.
    National Small College Enrollment Conference

  • The HighEdWeb Annual Conference is online again for 2021. Steve and Dayana Kibilids from Western University will present r/RecruitingOnReddit on Monday, October 4. This is one you won’t want to miss!
    HighEdWeb annual conference

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.

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Someone throwing a paper airplane to a Sonarian

Campus Sonar 2501 International Lane , Madison WI 53704 USA

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