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Brain Waves Newsletter

Liz's Letter

Liz Gross

Hi Michelle,

Marketing in a pandemic is hard. Your audience is more stressed than ever, and anything you do to attract attention runs the risk of being perceived as tone deaf.

Maybe we should stop trying so hard to get people to look at us by chasing trends and recreating memes, and focus more on making connections based on shared values and interests.

While a “look at us!” message may get lost, or worse—turn people away, “here’s what we love” will draw people in. It’s about getting back to your core: what drives you and the people in your organization. Instead of trumpeting rankings and flashy advertisements, share what’s keeping your students, donors, and faculty/staff going in the pandemic. Don’t tout—teach.

One of the best examples I’ve seen of this approach comes from the Duke University Libraries. To promote their pandemic-adjusted procedure (focusing on requesting materials in advance for “take out” pickup at the library instead of keeping the stacks open), librarian Jamie Keesecker turned to what he loves—composing music and coloring with his daughter. The result is a three-minute electronic pop song called “Library Takeout” that he quietly uploaded to YouTube in August and it now has almost 700,00 views. Indy Week called it “the banger of fall,” it’s been streamed tens of thousands of times on Spotify, and Duke student journalists were so interested they sought out the composer to learn more. And of course, more students know how the library takeout service works than if they’d just sent a boring email.

A few people made a comment like this one on the video: “You didn't try to imitate memes, you didn't make it cringy, you made an original, fun thing. A+.” 

The magic happens when what you love intersects with what part of your audience loves. You can make sure you’re making things they’ll love by—you guessed it—listening.

And yes, I listened to Library Takeout on repeat while writing this letter.  

Liz Gross Signature

Farewell to Fall Athletics ... Conversation

Everything you do is based on how you define your brand. One of the biggest drivers we see for a campus’s brand is athletics. In our 2019 Online Conversation Benchmarks for Higher Education report, we found that campuses with athletics programs averaged 55% of their total online conversation from athletics-related topics. 

One of the many changes this fall includes campus athletics. What’s replacing that conversation on your campus? How are you promoting your brand without one of your major brand topics and pillars—school spirit and athletics?

How Arkansas Tech University Used Social Data to Pivot

A recent snapshot we did for Arkansas Tech University (ATU) had the most athletics conversation we’ve ever seen—almost two-thirds of their total conversation volume for the 2019-2020 academic year. Looking only at their non-athletic conversation, ATU's peers put out a considerable amount more, so they realized it was critical to develop messaging that would increase their non-athletic conversation.

Director of Marketing and Communications Carrie Phillips’s solution was to focus on ATU’s connection to service, one of their institutional pillars. Service is a priority for their student athletes, one they’ve won national recognition for with back-to-back service awards for NCAA Division II schools.

Athletes at Arkansas Tech University. A basketball player stands next to a cheerleader, who stands next to another person wearing an athletics shirt.

“The social listening snapshot from Campus Sonar was incredibly helpful to Arkansas Tech University. It helped us understand how to use areas where there was already significant social conversation to tell our brand message,” Carrie said. One of their key messages is service—the idea that ATU students care about and support each other and the community. “Our student athletes are the epitome of that through their continual efforts to serve the community. The snapshot helped us realize we could utilize their great work off the court to show what makes Arkansas Tech special. It’s a strategy that will serve us well long after regular play resumes."

She shared an example from the ATU softball team who recorded videos reading some of their favorite children’s books and made them available for local school districts to use with students during quarantine.

In the wake of the pandemic, how has your brand been affected and what strategic pivots has your team made? Find out what 2020 really means for your institution and gain insights for upcoming campaigns with our Social Listening Snapshot.

You Asked, We Answered

Andrew Meyers from Hope College challenged us recently on Twitter. His question? 

“‘Hope College’ quickly turns into ‘I hope college ….’ when trying any kind of social listening. Is ours the trickiest college name?”

Our response? Challenge accepted. We put our heads together on this and thought of a couple college names that might have an edge over Hope College … Hamilton College, Rush University. Specifically because people refer to them as simply Hamilton or Rush.

King George from Hamilton dancing

We did also offer a more serious response. To get nerdy, there are only so many phrases when "Hope College" would be used as a verb. Those situations could be exposed using a combination of Boolean operators and human analysts.

Have we mentioned that we 💙 human analysts, especially our own?

From the Analysts

We know higher ed is a hard space to work in these days, so our analysts wanted to share a message of hope and positivity in one of their favorite languages—Boolean.

(“hang in there” OR “stay strong” OR (keep NEAR/0f (“it up” OR going)) OR ((you’ve OR “you have”) NEAR/0f (“got this”)) OR (((((“you’re” OR “you are”) NEAR/0f doing)) NEAR/0f (awesome OR great OR excellent OR fantastic OR splendid OR incredible OR terrific OR splendiferous OR amazeballs OR wonderful*))) OR “take heart” OR “stay calm and eat cupcakes” OR (“you deserve” NEAR/1f (cake* OR cookie* OR dessert* OR wine OR beer* OR alcohol OR spirit* OR “all the good things”)) OR “you can do it” OR “we believe in you” OR ((“be gentle” OR “be kind” OR “be patient”) NEAR/0f (“with yourself”)) OR “treat yourself” OR “treat yoself” OR {HERO} OR #YouRock OR #WeAppreciateYou OR #Inspiration OR #Courage OR #Encouragement OR #HangingInThere OR #NailedIt OR #TreatYourself OR #ThankYou OR #WeSeeYou OR  OR OR ) NOT (“can’t” OR cannot OR “can not”)

Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College CampusesHot Off the Press—New Book Alert

That's right, our new book Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses is officially out! 

We're on a mission to help higher ed social media managers approach their work strategically, and persuade their bosses to recognize the value and impact of their work. Our new book does just that, offering strategy, research, and best practices for social media managers.

Download Volume 1 now and receive the entire book by the end of the year.

Content We're Consuming

Enrolling the Class of COVID-19—A detailed and interesting look at how one small, private, liberal arts college navigated enrollment through the pandemic.

The First Semester of College Has Never Been StrangerThe New York Times talks to students who are making the most of this unusual and challenging year on college campuses.

How Colleges Can Ease Students’ Fear and Anxiety in Quarantine—Care packages at the Georgia Institute of Technology and other campuses provide mental health resources and other support for students in quarantine and isolation.

No Home, No Wi-Fi: Pandemic Adds to Strain on Poor College Students—How the pandemic is hitting low-income students harder than others, leading to drop-outs, hunger, and homelessness.

From the Blog

This month we shared guidance on copyright and social media (find more like this in our new book!), Beth and Amber explained how our analysts dig into the data to uncover the most meaning for our clients, and Beth shares her experiences with competitive analysis. Read more on our blog.

Digging into Social Data: Indicators & Context Clues

See Us or Book Us

We hope we had a chance to see you at a virtual event this year. We have one more conference for 2020; if you’re going to be there, give us a shout!

  • AMA Higher Education Marketing Symposium: Next month, Liz presents the latest innovation in brand research by sharing how multiple campuses have used social listening to more deeply understand their brand. And Steve is going to be debuting a little something special we've been working on.

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

Brain Waves Newsletter is for you—help us shape it. Send us an email to share what you think, suggestions, or what would help you do your job better.

Someone throwing a paper airplane to a Sonarian

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