Episode 3: Social Listening in a Crisis

Episode 3: Social Listening in a Crisis
Season 1

 
 
00:00 / 29:53
 
1X

Liz Gross joins us on this third episode of Thought Feeder to discuss Campus Sonar’s COVID-19 Social Media Briefings for higher education. Be sure to visit Campus Sonar for more great insight.

Episode 3: Social Listening in a Crisis
Season 1

 
 
00:00 / 29:53
 
1X

Liz Gross joins us on this third episode of Thought Feeder to discuss Campus Sonar’s COVID-19 Social Media Briefings for higher education. Be sure to visit Campus Sonar for more great insight.

Subscribe to Campus Sonar’s COVID-19 Social Media Briefings, too!


Episode 3 Transcript

Joel Goodman
Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast with your host Joel Goodman and Jon-Stephen Stansel. This episode we’re fortunate to be joined by our good friend Liz gross, the CEO of campus sonar. Since March 11, 2020. Campus Sonar has been releasing coronavirus higher education industry briefings that analyze social conversations around higher education. Today, she’s gonna dive in with us and tell us a little bit about what they have been seeing through their research.

Jon-Stephen Stansel
Thanks for taking some time out to talk a little bit about social listening and how it pertains to COVID-19. So first, do you think you can give us an overview of social listening and how it’s pertaining to COVID-19 and higher ed?

Liz Gross
Absolutely. So, overview of social listening, you think of everything that’s happening on the internet, which is literally millions and millions and millions of posts every single day across networks as large as Twitter, and Reddit and things as small as a teenager’s Tumblr, or random blog, or a super niche forum, social listening takes all of that as a data source, and captures exactly what you want to look at to understand the conversation. And then using various rules and categories and metadata, you can get some interesting insights, basically using all of this online conversation as a focus group or a research data set. So how it pertains to COVID-19. The latest data I’ve been seeing is that there’s about 20 million online conversations about the coronavirus every single day. And those are the publicly available, searchable ones. And I knew that there was some subset of it that was related to higher education. And the more we thought about it at Campus Sonar, particularly our research manager Amber, the more we figured that if we could find and analyze that conversation, we would be able to provide some sort of numbers and metrics and qualitative insight to higher ed that they wouldn’t otherwise have. Because otherwise, all you’re getting is an endless stream of one to one communication and numbers about tests and cases, and not a lot of things about a real life experience. So that’s what we’re trying to do with social listening for COVID-19.

JG
Super interesting, giant discourse analysis study with thousands and thousands and millions of data points. Crazy.

LG
Yes, which is changing constantly, because the way people talk about it is changing every single day.

JG
Well, and so, we know what a lot of the kind of common social media channels that that a lot of people that are old, like us, tend to frequent. But one of the more surprising things in the briefings that Campus Sonar has been putting out is the amount of conversation that’s been coming through on, I guess, what we would kind of consider more fringe networks, like Reddit, which I mean, it’s stupid to call Reddit a fringe network because it has a massive, massive user base. But we were also — J.S. and I both were just kind of surprised by how much data is coming out of Tumblr. What at one point would have, even a year ago, would have been considered kind of a defunct social network or publishing platform. Are we seeing like some kind of a resurgence in Tumblr? Are we seeing, you know, just kind of like niche groups that are being more vocal? What’s that looking like? Why is Tumblr playing a role in all of this?

LG
Yeah. So as of the first briefing and continuing on to today, a large percentage of student conversation is happening on Tumblr, and somewhere between five and 10% of the overall conversation about higher ed and COVID-19 is happening on Tumblr, and today, it was one third. We looked at four days worth of data today. So from March 20, through 23rd, it was about a third Tumblr, a third Reddit, a third social media. So it’s pretty evenly split apart.

JG
Yeah. That’s huge. That’s a that’s a big piece of the pie.

LG
Yeah. So I don’t actually know if we’re seeing a resurgence in Tumblr, or if a lot of the software that campuses were using was just not collecting that data from any of its queries. And since campuses haven’t been maintaining a presence on Tumblr, it’s not like they’re getting tagged in something that they would notice. At Campus Sonar, our data collection changed drastically at the end of 2019. When we upgraded the social listening software that we use, and instantly through all datasets for all of our clients, we saw an increase in Tumblr data. So I suspect it has been there and we just haven’t noticed it and haven’t been paying attention to it. We would love to do a deeper dive at some point, but just from the mentions I’ve been going through in the last two weeks when I’ve been looking at briefings, it does seem to be some sort of a niche community. I see a lot of folks who identify as LGBTQ+, I see lots of artists, I see people who are really into very specific fandoms or cosplay. And it’s not all super young people. I’ve definitely seen people who are out of college and are using Tumblr in their mid-20s. So it’s definitely a source that we’re seeing. But I also want to mention the ones we’re not talking about where I know there is conversation, like the briefings, don’t talk about Facebook, they don’t talk about Instagram, they don’t talk about TikTok. I know there’s conversation on all of those things, but they require access that you can’t have at like a massive industry level.

JG
Right. Yeah.

J.S.
And that’s one thing I really appreciate in the briefings that I’ve seen. In just about every single one, it says, talk to your social media manager for more information on these these networks, because they will kind of know and be tapped into that a little bit more. And I think that’s really important to remember is Hey, leadership. Be sure and check on your social media manager, ask them what they’re seeing and what suggestions and thoughts they have there, too.

LG
I’ve started copying and pasting the same sentence in every one.

JG
Repetition, got to do repetition.

J.S.
Obviously, you know, it’s not just students who are driving this discussion on social media, there’s… parents and families are a big part of it as well. So what are some of the conversations you’re seeing there? And also, you know, where where are you seeing those conversations?

LG
Right. So my favorite part of the briefing, which is also the most emotionally draining is when we dive into particular audiences. So we look at all of the conversation that mentions higher ed, then we look at the conversation that is focused on higher ed. And then we try to find people who are talking in the first person about their experience as a student, or a parent, or a family member, or an alum, or a prospective student, admitted, etc. Because those voices are really hard to miss in the big hundred thousand mention numbers.

So we’re getting better and better at finding those mentions every single briefing that is based on our ability to segment and identify those conversations. And right now, students are usually about 75% to 85% of the mentions that we can identify an audience for. And then parents are most of what’s left. We’ll get a smattering of alumni, a smattering of admits, and prospectives. But we see about 10% to 15% of our identified audience constituent conversation coming from parents. The parents are almost always on Twitter. This seems to be a really comfortable place for them to talk. Remember, we can’t look at Facebook. So who knows what they’re saying there. And we see a little bit of Reddit or like another niche forum, but mostly on Twitter. And what was interesting is that since we started looking at this conversation, students have been angry first, and then sad. Those are the two predominant emotions. Parents have been sad first and then angry. And a lot of the sadness is grief on what their students are missing out on or how they won’t be able to go to graduation, or celebrate their student.

In the briefing we just released, which looked at again, the 20th through the 23rd of March, we actually saw about a third of parent conversation representing joy. And I was really confused, I jumped in and looked at that. And it was, one, the briefing covered a weekend. So people were actually celebrating the time they got to spend with their families, sometimes the first time they’d been outside and a few days, and then they would mention, you know, even though my daughter’s home from college or whatever that might mean. And they also some of them were really, really proud of what their students were doing to contribute to the response to the pandemic, particularly those who are in medical fields or working at university health facilities. We also saw people that were just like, happy to have students home or to have made the trip home safely after getting them back from campus. The students, er, so those parents are mostly on Twitter and their emotions are changing — a couple of, or, about a week ago, they were very much just like, devastated that their students wouldn’t have graduations. Or they wouldn’t have their senior year experience. And they’re definitely expressing a different variety of emotions now than students are. They are still sad and angry, very angry.

JG
Interesting. What do you think the importance is for our industry, for marketers, at universities, even just for administration, in looking at the empathy side of all of this? And like, how can that be used to better respond to huge crises like this or even, you know, just smaller things? So what could higher ed be doing better by paying attention to the empathy side of things?

LG
So, one, I think it’s important to just understand how students are processing and the types of communication they and their family are using to talk about these things. I think it was two briefings ago, the vast majority of student conversation was memes. Like that was the only thing they could come up with.

JG
You’re stressed out and afraid, and so you got to find some release. And hopefully, it’s do something funny or sarcastic and…

LG
Right!

J.S.
What sort of memes particularly? Is anything that you saw recurring or…

LG
There were a lot, a lot of memes, right when the online class announcements started to come out about like, you know, “I’m going to the University of Phoenix right now,” or like, “University of Phoenix must feel like these other campuses have ripped them off.” We linked to a bunch of funny ones in, I think, it probably would have been the March 17 briefing. The subtitle of it is memes. So in that way, like I recently was at a conference, the last conference I traveled to where the president of the Louisiana State system made, he made this statement when he was talking about public perception of higher ed and social media. He was like, “Facts don’t change people’s minds. Memes do.”

JG
Yeah.

LG
And that was a system president. And he was on to something. And so just understanding like, I don’t, I don’t still don’t think it’s the time for a campus account to be pushing out memes related to the coronavirus. But understanding, like, it actually could be appropriate, potentially, in a small conversation with a faculty member to do some sort of stress release meme or something like that. The other use for understanding this audience base data, I think, is to develop content and programming. In today’s briefing, there were three or four themes of what students were angry about related to online classes. And I can only provide so much help at an industry level. But if campuses were looking at their own data, you could see like, wow, maybe there were six faculty members that hadn’t communicated with students yet about what we were going to do bring class online. We can use that intelligence to get in touch with those folks or, I know some campuses have been helping with supplying technology. But there’s a lot of students that are angry that they don’t have the right tech to access synchronous online learning.

JG
Yeah.

LG
So just getting an idea of what people’s thoughts, feelings, questions, hesitations are can help not just with communication, but also with with programming. Another perfect example, and that’ll be the last one I’ll give for this one, one of the viral Tumblr posts from a couple of briefings ago was misinformation for international students and their visa status and what would happen now that classes were moving online.

JG
Oh, no.

LG
It was very wrong. It later got updated. But it was the wrong version that was shared all the time. So if you catch misinformation like that spreading within your community, you can stop it and be aware of it more quickly than you might if you’re not looking at social listening.

JG
That makes sense. So we’re kind of two weeks into the briefing schedule. And so Campus Sonar has been putting out these briefings twice a week and they started March 11. Two weeks into briefings and COVID-10 chaos and everyone’s lives being, you know, thrown into a blender and… How have you and your team seen these conversations evolve on social media since you started really digging into the conversations around it in higher ed, and you know, I’m interested in what think higher ed should start preparing to address. Like, what what can we kind of triage or what can we look forward to and anticipate so that we aren’t — so we can start to get out of this reactionary phase. Because I think that’s going to be super important to our industry, when we don’t have to react to everything all the time and can actually start you know, planning our responses. What have you been seeing and what do you think is the the way to be thinking on this?

LG
Right So the first two briefings were very much just like, stating the facts and like, “shock and awe” of my campus is closing, I’ve been asked to move like, “what is going on? I don’t know.” So that was to be expected. And we expected there to be a huge spike, and there was. And now things are settling. Like this is the second Tuesday briefing we’ve done where we’ve seen, like, the solid increase during the week and decrease during the weekend. So, although there’s more conversation, we’re starting to see the normal patterns of how people talk about things online. So that’s settled in pretty quickly. It only took about a week for that to happen.

But what’s changing now is like we’re starting to see student experience in real-time. One thing that I was concerned about after the last briefing that came through and the one we just put out on the 24th is that, like, I feel like in my conversations with campus professionals, that we’ve kind of accepted the whole online class thing as a reality. And it’s happening and we’ve dealt with it and we’re ready to move on.

JG
Yeah.

LG
But students just started it, for the most part, this week, and some of them aren’t starting it until next week. So getting an idea of understanding how people are actually experiencing something that will take them a couple of days to get into, realizing that their experience is occurring after we all processed the announcements, that’ll be important. And then kind of looking forward to what can we do to get ready for different things? Just today, in the March 24 briefing, we started to see news coverage shifting, so just like individuals, news coverage was about campus operations. It was like, “It’s closing. It’s moving online. Students are kicked out.” Whatever that means. In this last briefing, news coverage dropped a ton because there’s other COVID-19 related news to talk about. But what there was about higher ed was focused more on the contributions of campus experts. And whether that was, you know, who you would expect from a public health field, or if it was economics, or if it was mental health while you’re stuck in your house for a month. There were some really interesting conversations there. But that was the time — that was literally 1% of the higher ed focused online mentions was news. So as we move through this, if campuses are only monitoring traditional news media, they’re missing the vast majority of everything that is being said about them, about the industry, about the experience of their students and community. So if campuses were not yet on board with paying attention to social media, something that matters, I think this will be the time for them to do that if they care about the experience and wellbeing of their campus constituents, and that includes staff and faculty. So that kind of leads into the staff and faculty. This is going to take a while. I don’t know about you all but my state just issued their stay at home order and it’s 30 days.

JG
Austin announced today and we’ve been waiting for our governor to see if he will, he usually follows what our mayor does. So we’re still waiting to see if the governor will actually do a shelter-in-place for the rest of the state or not. He’s been pretty hesitant to do it. But yeah, that just happened today and it’s going through April 13 at the soonest. At the soonest, is when that will be lifted.

J.S.
Still waiting in Arkansas.

LG
So, Wisconsin is just like, screw it, we’re home for a month. That’s what’s happening. And that I mean, that is indicative of the long haul that we’re gonna be in for this heightened level of interrupted operations, struggling mental health. And I think that — hopefully social media managers are thinking about this, but their bosses have to be thinking about the fact that there has to be a backup plan either for sheer exhaustion, which is bound to happen, or illness, which is apparently going to happen to 40% to 80% of us. So those backup plans have to be in place, and I know there are campuses where there’s literally nobody else who could adequately represent the campus on social media than who is doing it now. So we have to look forward to that and plan operationally.

I also think that campuses have to prioritize what they’re most interested in in terms of listening and engagement because the volume will be heightened for a long time. We don’t know what else is going to happen. And you can’t catch it all. Particularly if you’re not sitting here with all the fancy tools that I am at Campus Sonar. So if social media managers, Communications pros, and leadership can agree on like, what do we pay attention to? What do we care about and what will folks be held accountable for? — that can like bring you through this longer term, heightened crisis situation because otherwise, I mean, I know folks who just aren’t sleeping and they’re trying to catch it all. And that’s not doable.

JG
I mean, this might also be a really good point to plug Campus Sonar’s services. Because they can help your institution. Liz isn’t going to self promote much but I will. I will promote for because that’s a huge gap that a lot of universities and colleges have. They don’t have the staffing to pay attention to everything, or even to begin to know how to prioritize what channels they should be listening to. So definitely go to campussonar.com and look at their services and have a conversation with anyone that will talk to you there and see how they can help you survive this giant sea change in what we’re having to face in higher education because it’s — it’s big. And J.S. and I were talking about this earlier, we’re, we’re kind of in that point in our industry where, you know, everyone’s still or a lot of people are still a little overwhelmed with what’s going on and don’t necessarily feel they have the emotional or mental space to think about what the next steps are. But it is very, very important to think about what you’re going to do because this has changed a lot of things. And normal, normal will not be what it was before. It might be something like it, but it’s not gonna be exactly the same ever.

LG
And I think… So you’re right, I’m not a self-promoter. But I’m happy to say what people have done well, based on what we’ve helped them with.

JG
Awesome.

LG
So you know, one of the services we offer is like a week by week crisis and event monitoring service for folks who are just like, “help me deal with this shit now, and then we’ll talk about it later.” And we had a campus that asked us — it was right after the first briefing, so it’s probably like March 12 — asked us to help monitor their closing announcement. Soon, it’ll be a pass-fail announcement. And one of the things we’re able to do in that situation is like build in this categorization. So what surprised me was for the first 14 day period, where we looked at their conversation, it was something like 36% or something of their campus conversation was related to the coronavirus. Like one would assume it’s 80 or 90%. But we, we were live monitoring. We weren’t sampling the conversation. We had everything. And then we could see like, what were the trending topics related to their announcements? Was there any misinformation? And that was information that went to the board of trustees to be like, it is an issue and we are handling it. But it is not the only issue.

JG
Yeah.

LG
So it can be helpful to kind of get that step back, particularly if you’re an institution where there’s just a ton of data, and help do some of this automatic categorization or start building in alerts where you know, someone talks about mental health or online classes or whatever we want to know about that right away and then everything else we can deal with later. That can be helpful.

I think that the last thing I was thinking about in terms of what we need to consider long term is really juggling the ability to focus on how campuses can contribute positively because there are going to be a lot of those stories. And hopefully, we do get to tell some of those stories either through the media or through campus accounts, with the need to respond to conversation topics that are going to get more and more challenging as we progress through the pandemic. So, campuses are already dealing with talking about positive tests that have occurred in their faculty, their leadership, or their student body. Some campuses are becoming testing centers, that was one of the trending higher ed focused conversations for the whole industry in our last briefing was Vanderbilt turning their parking garage into a COVID-19 assessment center. And people were taking pictures of the parking garage and spreading misinformation about what it was supposed to be. But then they had to make a statement of what it actually was. And then as that moves on, I mean, campus facilities will end up being auxiliary hospitals or quarantine facilities or whatever that might be. The term field hospital came up in our briefing for the first time, this last week. So this is going to get harder and harder and harder. So we have to prepare ourselves for it. Social media managers can’t be doing it alone when they’re in this conversation. But I think we also have to take time to like, look for the good stories and the expertise that faculty can contribute and balance that a little bit or all of us are just not going to be feeling great about our jobs at any point in time in the future if we can’t find that balance.

J.S.
Definitely. And yeah, I’d like to kind of second Joel’s touting of Campus Sonar’s services. And we’ll say one thing here as you know, I’ve been running social media in higher ed full time and for five years now and part-time for longer than that, and I always considered myself a social listening expert until I really sat down and started talking to Liz And reading, read the Social Listening Handbook and realize, oh, man, these guys take it to a completely different level. And not only that, I think if you’re doing this alone, having a second set of eyes to come in and take a look at what you’re doing, give you a fresh perspective and kind of lighten the load is just so valuable. So that said, I’ve got my Campus Sonar stanning out of there. So what actionable insights do you think universities can take from the information in the briefings?

LG
So we talked about a few of them when we were talking specifically about audiences. Of course, we’re hoping there’s a lot more. There definitely could be information related to a media relations strategy if any campus still has time or energy for a proactive Media Relations strategy. Over time, we’re going to be able to dive more into what topics are being covered how, how is campus being, campuses being shown positive, negative, whatever light that might be. So I hope that there’s something there. Definitely understanding more about the student experience; information, misinformation, questions, problems, pain points, that should be able to inform actions both—I was gonna say online and offline, but almost everything’s online these days. So mostly online actions.

One of the things that have really started to hammer home in the recommendations of the briefings is the need for appropriate social media staffing based on conversation trends. So I am hoping that these briefings are getting in the hands of folks who are not familiar with social media and are getting some more information than they otherwise would have had. And so far, our web analytics tell us that that is happening. So that is good. I also think that you know, this can the briefing should allow communicators to step outside of their individual campus experience, what’s been happening to them in their communities and see how it’s comparing to the industry so they get a better idea of Is this normal? Or do we really have like a unique crisis on our hands

J.S.
One thing I want to mention, you know, talking about getting it into the hands of university leaders, that is I think it’s a really nice touch on these briefings, is that they all include a slide deck with key points so you don’t have a whole lot of time or you don’t think you know your supervisors or campus leadership will sit down and read one of these — which they should because honestly, I’ll say this if it were any other situation, reading over these like I feel like I should be sitting in a leather armchair with a glass of wine and chocolate, they’re so, they’re not… the information is amazing, but they’re also so well written and as a social media data nerd, I want to devour them the second they come out but also the information is just incredibly valuable. So if you don’t think you can get your campus leadership to sit down and actually read it, there’s a slide deck, you can give them the key points, you can sit there and hold their hand and show them this information. So it’s really well done. So kudos on that.

LG
Thanks. And if and if folks aren’t clear, like you can get the slide deck, you can get the blog post without giving me your email address.

JG
And that’s a very nice thing because no one likes to give up their information for important data. But at the same time….

LG
Give me your email address if you want — but you don’t have to!

JG
Give Campus Sonar your email address and talk to them because you most likely need their services.

LG
I want to sneak in one more answer to the actionable insights question. And that is around more like long term impact on strategy. I’m really hoping that the briefings are going to help folks understand how valuable social listening can be at scale, where it really is social listening from a large volume of conversation. Rather than just social media monitoring where you’re finding something to respond to. So the briefing really takes a research mindset. And we’re trying to understand audiences and constituencies and overall industry trends. And that is something that, I think will, could and should — which is why I founded the frickin company — should carry on beyond the COVID-19 pandemic it is something that can provide valuable, timely insight to folks, whether they’re doing it on their own, or with our help, it’s really helping us see social media as the data source it could be to help us respond and gain the trust of our audiences.

J.S.
I totally agree. And I think that’s a good note to wrap it up on and thinking of post- COVID-19 days. So once again, Liz, thank you so much for being here.

JG
Yeah. Thank you.

LG
Thanks, guys.

J.S.
If you’re not already Go, go follow Liz on social media, you’re @lizgross144.

LG
A hundred and forty-four is a dozen dozen which is a gross.

J.S.
Exactly! And go out follow at Campus sonar. Sign up, sign up for their email, sign up for the briefings they’re well worth it. You want to get these in your inbox.

LG
Take it from them, not me.

JG
Awesome.

LG
Thanks, guys.

JG
Thanks, Liz.

Thank you so much for listening. The Thought Feeder podcast is hosted by Joel Goodman and Jon-Stephen Stansel and edited by Joel Goodman. Special thanks to our guest, Liz Gross. Be sure to visit campusonar.com to learn more about their social listening services. And be sure to subscribe to Thought Feeder wherever you get your podcasts or by visiting thoughtfeeder.com.

Thought Feeder is sponsored by University Insight.

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