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Students at a university

With move-in day a month away for universities across the country, students headed off to college for their first year have a lot on their minds – especially if their campus is far from home. Just as retail and other brands use social analytics to dial in to consumer concerns, colleges can do the same to understand new students’ fears and questions.

What’s Top of Mind in the College Conversation?

We searched NetBase Pro on the terms “college,” “university,” “college freshman” and “#backtoschool,” eliminating terms like “sale” and “special” that would clutter our results with back-to-school promos. We limited the search to U.S., English-language, original posts to get a sense of the organic conversation.

There’s a lot of discussion happening – 2.3M posts per day by 1.4M authors over the past month:

number of posts about college in the past month

Sentiment analysis  is mixed, with some passionate negative sentiment bringing sentiment overall to 47%. What’s driving social users’ emotions? Looking at Sentiment Attributes, there are several topics for universities to explore:

college sentiment attributes

Everything from cost, to football, to which university is best is up for discussion – including serious subjects like sexual misconduct and discrimination.

Here’s what the topics getting the most attention refer to:

“U.S. college” is part of an NPR piece reporting on a Jeff Sessions’ speech at a recent high school leadership summit: “Whatever you think of Sessions’ choice of words, his message — that U.S. colleges and their students must be more tolerant of differing points of view — is not new nor a specifically conservative concern.”

“Expensive” is a common theme, represented by everything from a GoFundMe request, to Craigslist postings of personal items for sale, to a Forbes articles on the best student loans, and a radio contest to win a free bachelor’s degree.

“Offer” comprises sports offers, the questionable accreditation of a Milwaukee County Sherriff’s candidate, and various posts about what different schools offer.

“Student” is included in many posts discussing topics like scholarships, student events, political issues surrounding how taxes pay students’ ways, and more.

For any college or university, it’s helpful to understand the variety of topics students are invested in, and the Emotions behind them:

sentiment emotions

Despite a number of negative topics, there are lots of positive Emotions among the Sentiment Drivers relaying the excitement many students and parents feel:

Tweet from proud mom

Still, it’s important to look at the negative terms – even if they’re less pronounced – to understand what exactly has students “worried,” “nervous,” and “scared.”

Using Social Insights on Campus

When you understand the concerns of your target audience, you can address them head-on, specifically. This is something James Madison University has put into practice – and it’s one all universities should as well.

JMU initially sifted through social data manually – something that just doesn’t make sense anymore, given the speed with which social feeds refresh, and the sheer volumes of data out there.

Switching to state-of-the-art social analytics tools allowed them to see important topics right away – decreasing research time from 2 days to 2 hours. It also let them differentiate between local and national issues, and whether the concerns belonged to current students, alumni, or the general public.

When you can make such distinctions, you can refine your messaging accordingly.

Additionally, it’s helpful to have access to social monitoring alerts – so you know when there’s a crisis coming. Whether there’s a sudden conversation about a potential bomb threat, or an issue of sexual misconduct, the sooner you know, the sooner you can ensure everyone is safe.

This is one of many ways schools like James Madison University use social analytics to create a community for their students, parents, and faculty.

James Madison University tweet

And it doesn’t hurt public perception – or donor interest – to be so on your game.

It’s understandable colleges may fear social media for all the viral harm it can cause – but the biggest enemy to PR is ignorance. You can’t fight what you don’t know.

Social media analytics keep you in the know so you can provide whatever information and support your students need, at every stage of their education.

And it eliminates the need to guess what information they want. They’re already using social to teach you. So study up and you’ll have no trouble acing their tests!

Want to learn more so you’re ready in time for move-in day? Reach out and we’ll show you how our social analytics tools work!

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