Episode 28: Finding Valuable Higher Ed Conversations on Reddit

Thought Feeder
Thought Feeder
Episode 28: Finding Valuable Higher Ed Conversations on Reddit
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Steve App joins the pod to talk about where colleges and universities should be looking for genuine insights into the experience they’re offering.

Joel Goodman: Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast. My name is Joel Goodman with me as always is the now-locked-in-his-office-at-work, Jon-Stephen Stansel. our thoughts and prayers, uh, sincerely are with him at this moment. Sincerely. cause sorry, JS.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: I’m cold.

Joel Goodman: We are extremely excited to have Steve App with us. Steve, welcome to the show. Tell us what you do at Campus Sonar.

Steve App: Thank you for having me, first of all. And, uh, excited to be here. A little concerned for you both because it appears you’ve run out of interesting guests after only 27 episodes of that, that does not bode well for the longevity of your podcast here.

The official title is Business Development Manager at Campus Sonar. But I like to tell people that basically I just spend a lot of time looking at conversation taking place online that is related to higher education and more specifically colleges and universities within the world of higher education. And then I try to help people who work on campus in a variety of roles, marketing, admissions, alumni, understand what that conversation means to them.

And hopefully, if I’m doing my job, right, I’m told that I’m supposed to then turn those conversations eventually into revenue for our agency so that we can stay open. So a while that’s not always the means for my conversations, that is supposed to be the end result over time.

Joel Goodman: Well, I mean, I good luck to you as you try to turn these conversations into revenue,

Steve App: Yeah, we’re playing the long game right now.

Joel Goodman: We’ve had your CEO, Liz Gross, on earlier in our run, our, our short little run, and had some awesome conversations with her. This is more focused around the state of COVID email series that y’all were, were sending out there for a while when this was new hat. And now that it’s old hat, I don’t know we wanted to have you on so that we could go a little bit more in-depth into the, into the social media monitoring and listening kind of side of work that you’re doing.  And specifically the one thing and the one platform that everyone is interested in when your name comes up… is donuts, I mean, is Reddit.

Steve App: Or ideally the donut subreddit.

Joel Goodman: r/donuts. Yes. 

But yeah, I mean, Reddit is, I, I think Reddit generally in higher education in particular, probably mostly because higher ed is generally pretty uncool. Uh, the only people that, that, you know, really surf Reddit on, on higher ed campuses, or at least for a while, uh we’re you know, the, maybe the folks in IT, like that’s what I did when I worked in IT.  Maybe some of the younger employees coming in. 

But I mean, the fact is that there’s so much conversation that happens there. And while Reddit may not be one of the shinier Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat at one point, you know, sort of, glossy young people platforms, there’s a lot of conversation happening and a lot of insight that, that universities can glean from those conversations. So tell us why Reddit draws you in and, I guess, some of the higher-level points of how you think paying attention to those conversations will really help institutions be better.

 Steve App: Yeah, it’s interesting. And just to go back to something that I think you just mentioned, Joel, in terms of higher education, maybe not being fully up on a, on the Reddit scene, which I think is a kind way to put it. 

Uh, you know, I’ve been talking about Reddit now pretty seriously for a year and a half maybe. And, um, when I started the overwhelming response would be, “did I read what?” You know, they like, they don’t, they think I’m like asking about an article and they didn’t see it. what I’m finding more recently, which I think is really fascinating is that when I send, you know, I might say a colleague on campus and are a Reddit post and say, Hey, this mentions your college or university. And I think you should respond to it. Or I think you should know about it. The response that I’m starting to get now, which I think is really interesting as someone saying, Oh, thanks. I use Reddit personally, but I don’t think to check it for work or for my college or university. Which I think is an entirely different disconnect there, right? Because that is someone who totally understands the power and the utility of Reddit, but just has not put those pieces together to understand that others who may be in their target audience have also come to know the value and the utility of Reddit. 

So I just find, that’s an interesting shift now, as I continue to share these things with peers on campus. 

But to go back to your other thing about, well, why does it matter? And how did I come about to fall in love with Reddit? So I started at campus sonar in January of 2019. So one of the things we were doing at the time was what are called Free Snapshots. And we would, you know, look at up a year of conversation for a college. And what I kept finding, you know, it just a couple of weeks in was the most interesting mentions the ones that were from a prospect, an admitted student, someone who was trying to compare institutions, try to get a, really an interesting viewpoint into the student life on a campus, those mentions were frequently happening on Reddit. 

And what I’ve really come to learn, I think now, as we, if I’ve, as I’ve become more savvy with social listening, as I settle into this role, is we have essentially two things that are happening simultaneously when it, when it comes to our prospects and our admitted students in particular and our, our current students. So much of their conversation is now moving to a private platform. Whether that’s a WhatsApp, whether those are just Instagram DMs, whether those are just closed communities, it’s become, I think a little bit more difficult to capture all of the conversations that are taking place that are relevant to our campus.

But when we talk about the public places that these conversations are happening, I’m finding. Some of those conversations, especially from the prospect and the admitted side, they’re not necessarily happening on the more popular channels, like an Instagram or a TikTok. They’re using those channels, but they’re not exactly broadcasting their own college application or college admissions journey, but where they are sharing those conversations are in these communities, these subreddits, which are dedicated to that topic.

And so increasingly I just kept finding these mentions there. And I think it’s a place that for campus professionals, it’s reached a point now where, where you really cannot ignore this platform anymore.

 Joel Goodman: When you think about the OG social medium, it was basically forums, you know, like, you know, like BBs and stuff like that. But like, Reddit is kind of the next generation of that. There’s still a lot of that kind of built-in, forum conversation, threaded conversation, format and yet there’s, there’s a little bit more of the short form stuff that, Twitter introduced back in what, 2005, 2006,  And so what’s, what’s interesting to me is that we actually talked about this on our last episode, with Jayde Powell, is this kind of shift back for a lot of, platforms or, or I guess kind of the general social media sphere to actually being social media. 

Because Reddit’s one of those platforms where it’s not so much broadcast marketing, you know, here’s our message. It really is entirely based on the conversations that people are having. And so it makes sense to me, especially, you know, your, you said so many younger internet users are going back to having private conversations more than these public open, you know, out in the open conversations. So it would make sense that it’s more important from a, from an organizational standpoint, an institutional standpoint, to pay attention to where real conversations are happening. 

And I think we see those less and less and less on platforms like Twitter. Definitely not so much on Instagram, cause it’s not really focused on that. You definitely don’t see conversations happening much uh, you know, maybe, I guess, some TikToks. If you’ve got a huge platform, there’s a lot of comments that happen. But the actual back and forth conversation side of things Reddit’s perfectly suited for that. People don’t comment on blogs anymore.

Steve App: At least not the comments you want to read.

Joel Goodman: You don’t, you don’t get a lot of actual real conversation there, but Reddit does facilitate that. And. In my mind that would indicate, a much more valuable place to pay attention to, to pay attention to the conversations or at least like something that warrants attention in general, because I don’t think it really does get that much attention in, in our industry.

Steve App: What I think is interesting is, and this is why I think Reddit has become popular in recent years. if you look at some of the more main, you know, we can call mainstream social networks, if you will, right? The Facebooks, the Instagrams, Twitters, when those were created, the real thought here was, well, it’s a place where I can connect with my friends and families. It was very much about staying connected on a one-to-one basis, right? I’m going to connect with my friends in college and we’re going to share photos of each other and write on each other’s walls. 

What we’ve experienced, I think as these networks have grown to this massive scale, is that some of the social networks, these digital communities, even if you want to broaden the scope, they’re now less about me connecting with my college roommate or me connecting with my best friend from high school. I’m taking that conversation private. 

Where I think the utility for social media has become, especially for younger internet users is finding like-minded individuals that they don’t know in real life. And it’s incredible to me. And I think it’s bewildering to older generations, how much instant trust, younger internet users place into usernames and profiles of people that they have never met and probably will never meet. But for which they have gathered around a common interest and can relate to one another and the struggles and tribulations and excitement and milestones that they go through during that process. 

And certainly college applications and enrolling in college and spending four years on campus or at home studying online, if you will, that fits the bill in terms of that common interest and that community that you can, engage with, even if you don’t necessarily know the individuals in person that you’re speaking with.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah, definitely. I think that brings us to, into another topic too, of like you talk about younger people. Putting their trust in people that they’ve never met, but influencers in general. You know, you’ve done a lot of research into that where, instantly, like you said, there’s this connection of, I identify with that person, I am, I’m a part of that person’s community. And we can tap into that. 

And in some respects we see this on other platforms, but, with Reddit. it’s much more of a, for me, what baffles me about Reddit it’s kind of early warning system to the rest of social media, right? Like, meme start on Reddit, or they probably start on 4chan or some other darker site

Steve App: We won’t talk. We won’t talk about those stepchildren.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: right. Then find their way to Reddit. But also for universities, the issues that come up, you know, when, when, on those rare occasions, when I do stumble upon something about our university on Reddit, you know, cause we’ll talk about this, about having time to search it, right? It’s something that kind of alerts me to go, Oh, this is something we need to pay more attention to because if I’m seeing this one student with a concern there’s probably 10, 20 more that have the same concern that are either not vocalizing it or vocalizing it in like a closed Facebook group or something like that.

Steve App: Yeah. I always think Reddit Reddit is the iceberg, right? You’re going to see 10% of your conversation or the people that are going to voice their conversations. But I agree, you know, if it’s rising to the top of that feed within a certain community, it’s because it resonates with people. The interesting thing with Reddit is the, I’d say democratic way in which content becomes seen.

Um, this is not about boosting a post and it’s not about playing algorithms, right? With Reddit, you’re going to share a post within a community and other members of that community are going to, to either upvote or downvote a post based on the fact of yes, you know, I like this, or this is useful, or this resonates with me or, this is trash. The more people that say yes, this resonates with me the more eyeballs and impressions. And then of course, hopefully, comments that post is going to get. 

And so, you know, to your point, J.S., it may be one student who is saying. I don’t know about anybody else, but I hate online learning with my professors right now.

But if that post has 120 upvotes, that is a signal right there. It’s only one voice, but it’s 120 other people saying, yes, agreed, this hits home. You know this is my experience as well. And that’s where the power comes in, from those Reddit posts. 

Cause I, I hear this a lot. Well, it’s just a sample size of one. Well, if you’re seeing a post at the top of the feed and, and I’ll mention this suburb and all the time, the ApplyingToCollege subreddit, but again, we’re talking about 300, some odd posts per day. If a post is stuck at the top of that feed, it’s only because so many other people said this, this right here. And so it’s not a sample of one it’s hundreds or thousands of people who are, who are saying, yeah, I agree with this.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah, I haven’t found a more pleasant metaphor for it. So you can help me out here. Like I say, it’s kind of like a cockroach. Like if you see one, there’s like 20 others looking in the walls, um, I don’t want to, I mean, like I said, not a pleasant metaphor, but it’s the most understandable. But yeah, definitely with the vote system, and it’s the same, you know, it’s very similar to, to likes, you know, some people say I get the same thing with the tweet. Well, that’s just one tweet. Well, yeah, but 200 people shared it. Like that’s, it’s not just one thing. And trying to get that basic concept across to people sometimes can be a little frustrating.

Steve App: Yeah. And I think, you know, you mentioned too, the fact that so many things start on Reddit and then go mainstream. I think we’ve seen that just in the last several months here. When UNC-Chapel Hill tried to come back with in-person classes, you know, the moment from that brief experiment within the first few weeks was all of the students in between dorm rooms, going on a slip and slide. 

You know, that was picked up by every social channel. It made it to CBS News. And yet, where did it start? On the UNC-Chapel Hill subreddit.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah, Reddit is incredible and there’s so much going on. But as I mentioned before, as a social media manager and as a team of one, like I just don’t have time to make Reddit a part of my, my daily routine of you know, between content creation, listening to all the other networks and then finding time to jump in into Reddit.

So how, how can social media managers best do that and pay attention to Reddit?

Steve App: Yeah, I think this is where I’m supposed to say to hire Campus Sonar. Is this the appropriate, is this where you said I could put the plug in? No. Um, so I think it’s about, it’s about taking step baby steps, right? It’s essentially like putting your bandwidth into tiers, um, and then deciding how much you can invest in the platform.

So at a bare minimum, you know, I like to say, if your job is overwhelming, um, on a weekly basis, on a biweekly basis, try to just, you know, for one instance, search for your institution’s name, in a relevant subreddit that could be hashtag or hashtag that could be, um, I’m the Reddit expert, right?

That could be r/college. That could be r/ApplyingToCollege that could be, r/CollegeLife or. Grad admissions law school admissions, depending on what your focus is. and just see, is anyone talking about your institution on one of those more popular subreddits? 

Also, if you have a dedicated subreddit and the kind of matrix here is that the larger your institution is, and the more selective your institution is, the more likely you are to have a dedicated subreddit. And by that, I mean, a community on Reddit that is dedicated just to talking about your institution. If you have one of those, again, once a week, week, every two weeks, just check in and just search for some words that might be of interest to you in your role. 

That could be a post from prospects and admits. Those could be comparison posts. Those could be student life or financial aid posts. You know, we were just, working with a client and a student, uh, had posted on a, on a Reddit. Or on a dedicated subreddit that they hadn’t heard from their financial aid office in three weeks. And they were trying to get a question answered.

You know, you don’t have to respond to that post within the minute, but if, at least as part of maybe your Friday routine, you’re checking in and can see a post like that, where someone saying, I need answers to this question and no, one’s getting back to me from Financial Aid. Now you can at least make that connection to your financial aid office and figure out how you can connect that student to the resources that he or she needs.

So you don’t have to be in it on a daily basis to get value from it. It can be a good spot too, to just do some spot checks every so often. The other thing I’d like to mention is if you’re going through a crisis and we can define crisis as, not a pandemic. 

Joel Goodman: Yeah. 

Steve App: Not a pandemic, but you know, if, if some, if, you know, if you’ve had a student death on your campus, if, there’s, you know, free speech, protests, things of that nature that are taking place on your campus, those are really valuable times to tap into a dedicated subreddit, especially if you have one on your campus, just to get a sense of, what’s the vibe? What is the feeling? What is the mood among our student body right now? And that can be some that can serve as some really kind of down and dirty market research when you need it in an agile manner.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: It feels kind of like the way I was using YikYak back in the day, whereas 

Steve App: Oh yeah.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Oh yeah. Where like once a day I would, I would just check into it, like, again, the vibe of the campus, you know? And when I was first starting out and, you know, looking for a full-time social media job, and I was interviewing at different schools, I would go to those schools and get on YikYak and felt like I could get the true vibe of the campus a little bit more than I could from just looking on Twitter. Which, you know, if potential employees, of course, it’s a skewed audience being me being social media. But like, if you know, an employee is possibly doing that, of course, your students are, right?

Steve App: Well, and that’s the thing. So if you’re a VP, if you’re a director, right? These are the folks generally who are not aware of Reddit and are. Maybe discounting Reddit a little bit more than a social media manager, digital content, you know, strategist, or something of that nature. And that, that is the thing, right?

So you can, you can have your brand, you can advertise, you can market. You can pick up your bullhorn and pump your message out into the marketplace as much as you want. But at the end of the day where your prospects are going to go to get the true message, the true brand, the true culture of your campus is Reddit.

So essentially you’re, you’re essentially shouting out into the void. You know, your, your message may not pass the sniff test if, when someone, if you’re shouting about a tight-knit, You know, community, and then someone goes to your subreddit and here’s nothing but poor things about the faculty-student ratio or the relationships that someone’s having.

Your, your message is void. And there is you have no control over that anymore.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: So speaking of control and you mentioned, you know, stumbling upon like a student who’s asking about financial aid, with Reddit, as opposed to other social media mediums brands have to tread very lightly because there are areas where we are not wanted. 

So one, how does a university, or should a university ever engage on Reddit? Should they do it as the brand or as an admissions counselor or, we were talking about YikYak earlier, you know, I used to log in to that every day and downvote bad things

Joel Goodman: I remember you, you talking about that.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Uh, to get them off there, you know? It only, YikYak, I think it only took like five downvotes before it would, would go down. So I had like five people in the office with YikYak, like, Hey, that’s really bad. Get that off of there.

Steve App: That’s a pro move right there.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yeah. Um, but definitely can’t do that with Reddit. So, so how, how can universities use Reddit, you know, for, from that standpoint as well, to engage?

Steve App: Yeah. So, it depends on the substance of the content that’s actually being published on Reddit. what I like to say is if you are an administrator, if you work in your marketing office, if you work in an admissions office, the piece that you’re looking for in terms of actually engaging with that student is anything technical.

And this is, this is the part that’s even bonkers to me, right? Where you have students and prospective and admitted students who are going to Reddit to ask very technical questions about credit acceptances, about scholarships, about financial aid, that their fellow students have no business answering. And this is the downside of this peer trust issue, right? Is that sometimes you end up with misinformation that gets spread on this platform because the people who don’t actually know the answers are still sharing answers and they’re trusting those answers. 

So if you’re an administrator you’re looking for that post where your relationship, your role within an institution actually adds to your credibility. If there’s a question about credit hours and you work for the division of Student Affairs, you are the voice to chime in on that conversation and say, this is exactly how this is going to be treated. If you have more questions, email me here.

That conversation, that engagement, that will be welcomed in that channel. But if you’re going to come in on a, “can someone tell me what the student life is like on campus,” or, “Hey, what’s the culture here?” And you chime in as the Dean of students and say, Oh my gosh, you’re going to love it here. We have a hundred percent student satisfaction rate. Yeah, you’re going to be voted off the island pretty quickly. 

So it’s all about, what are the right types of posts? But, what I like to say with those, you know, what’s the culture, what’s the vibe, you know, do you like your roommates? How good is the dorm food? Right? What’s the surrounding area like? Is this a party scene? Which are all real questions that people are asking about campuses. You know, I don’t recommend administrators chime in on those posts. 

But what I do recommend is that they work with members of their student body, that they know and trust that could be student ambassadors. Those could be campus tour guides. For a lot of schools I know they’re one and the same. Get them on Reddit, ask them to chime in on those questions. 

Do not tell them what to say. Do not say, go chime in and say that you love your roommate. And even if you’re reluctant to a quad for your first year, it’s going to be the best experience of your life, but send them that post and say, Hey, here’s a really great question about the first year living on campus. Can you respond to this with your honest, honest opinion? And that’s, that’s all you need to do. Because you, again, this, again, trust is going to come up, trust that the people you’ve hired student ambassadors, campus tour guides, that they’re having that positive experience enough that you don’t have to tell them what to say, that they are going to share what they honestly feel, that it will come across as authentic, but that it will reflect on the school as yeah, another student is answering my question. And the prospect or the admitted student is going to say, I trust this response.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Well, I mean, you trust them to go out with a group of students and parents. Who knows what they’re saying while they’re doing that, you know, you’ve been through training, but you know, people say things and, you know, go off the cuff and off-script a little bit. So why not trust them digitally? You know, but what you say there too, with that level of trust and why students are going asking this when years ago when I was searching for my college, right? The best piece of advice I got was, don’t always trust the tour guides. It was, go into the cafeteria and look for the stoner guy staring blankly into his, his bowl of Cheerios, and ask him what he thinks of the university. That was exactly it. Stone, stoner guy staring into Cheerios.

Joel Goodman: Well, I think this is a super important point for everything that institutions do with, digital media. It could be social media, it could be content marketing or whatever else. Like we talk so much internally about how we’re striving for authenticity. But Reddit is actually one of those platforms that demands that authenticity, because you were saying earlier, Steve, the democratic way that content is upvoted and downvoted and, and given weight and importance.

But, but I mean, it actually is crucial. You, you have to, I think, I think for a lot of schools, they’re going to have to look at the type of content that they create and write and produce for other channels and realize that it may not work on Reddit. 

But at the same time, like maybe you should question that content as well that you’re putting on other platforms and,  put it through that filter of how actually authentic is this? Is it appropriate? 

J.S. started to bring up influencers earlier in our conversation, but, you know, I think that’s one of those dangerous, those dangerous sides as well. It’s like, how authentic is that content? And you know, is it, on the one hand, you could, you could be managing that in, in the way that you would manage your brand ambassadors and, and hopefully putting that amount of trust in those people. But, but we don’t see that a lot. It really does. It was just turned into advertisement for the sake of pushing out advertisement. And that authenticity is lacking. 

So I think there’s,  there’s a really precise balance that has to be drawn and it has to be kind of weighed out there and, I don’t know may maybe, yeah. Maybe hire the stoner guy to go talk, you know, to, to go in and share his thoughts on Reddit.

Steve App: like to say, look, you know, dig into your subreddit and figure out who that student is or young alum that’s already in that platform. Who’s already answering those questions? And who is doing it in a way where you’re like, Yeah, this is, this is content that I’m okay. Sharing with future prospects or admitted students?

They may not work for your office, but if they’re engaged in the platform, if they’re showcasing the kind of student that you want to showcase as an institution, DM that person. Hey, you know, I see you answering these questions, can I send you future questions in hopes that you’ll answer? That’s fine. You know, it doesn’t have to be in an official arrangement where, they happen to be a student worker for your office. 

And in most cases I think, J.S., is that student, probably the stoner in the corner of the cafeteria, you know, but, but the content might even be one sheet more authentic than that of a campus tour guide who probably even subtly is trying to tote the brand line a little bit.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Well, I’ve gotten multiple questions on the university Facebook page like, Hey, I’m thinking about coming there to study X, can you, can I talk to a student? And I’ll reach out to, faculty first say, Hey, do you have a student that you would feel comfortable talking to this person and, and setting that up? And I think that’s incredibly beneficial, you know? And also that’s the kind of student we want at her school. That’s, you know, doing that level of research and really wants to know about the university. 

So, bending over backwards to assist them is what we need to be doing.

Steve App: Reddit can also be, you know, and I’m talking a lot about admitted students, prospective students. Which essentially, right, what we’re talking about is, is Reddit for yield, which I make a focal point a lot when I talk about Reddit, because at the end of the day, whether you’re in central marketing, whether you’re in enrollment marketing like your job is to bring in students and, and help earn revenue for the institution, so many of which are tuition-dependent now. But it can also be an incredible tool for student retention and honestly, just meeting the needs of your student body. 

You know, the great example here. It’s a great example. It’s a terrible story, but it’s a good example is you know, an institution where they did have a student death on their campus. And, administration does what administration does any time that, unfortunately, happens on a campus, right? They all gather around and they talk about what statements they want to draft. Well, you know, what is the president going to say about this? What is the dean of students going to say about this?

When the social media manager looked at their dedicated subreddit, they found that the students were already talking about what they wanted from the institution, which was an open townhall, where they could gather, and they could ask questions about how this reflected on their student community and on the culture and on the mental health of students overall.

And so then the social media manager was able to go back to the president and dean of students and say, forget the statements. This is what we need to do on our campus. And so they did that. 

You know, talk about customer service and making your students feel welcomed and heard. That is a direct outcome of, “this has happened. This is what our students want. Let’s give our students what they want.” Is it should be, it sounds simple, but it should be that simple.

Joel Goodman: Yeah. Well, I wanna, I want to underline this too because I think it’s one of those, you know, we’re using a very specific example with a social media platform, but this is just good practice in higher ed. It’s, it’s listening to the community, wherever that community is at. It’s having empathetic listeners that are able to take in what those people are saying, and then turn those into actual solutions and, and hopefully actual change at where those friction points are and those pain points.

It’s, it’s weird. I mean, it’s. It’s what I, as a designer, when I’m doing user experience projects for websites, that’s what I’m thinking about. All the research that I’m doing is people coming from all over the place. It’s actually maybe a little bit more work because they’re not all gathered in one central area where they’re doing it. And I’m having to sift through a lot of, a lot of usability patterns and trying to, trying to guess in some way, or make, make data-informed decisions about where people are having issues on a website. 

With doing this kind of, you know, social listening, with Reddit, with Twitter, with Facebook, despite the, you know, not having automation, not being able to automate because of some of the privacy restrictions they have on their API and that sort of thing, but just paying attention to those conversations, you have, you have people actually saying exactly what is wrong. And it, all it takes is, is a little inclination from, from someone or a little, a little of your employment budget going to someone or some person to, to pay attention. 

I mean, institutions should take that seriously because it’s, it’s low hanging fruit. Like it’s they’re saying exactly what you need to do. You just have to listen, internalize, and implement it in some way that addresses what those, what those pain points are, or amplify what those awesome points are. Those points that people are really excited about and really value in their experience at your institution.

Steve App: Well, you want to, you want to talk about low hanging fruit and celebrating those milestones. The, you know, the literal lowest hanging fruit that I talk about often with social listening and this isn’t really a Reddit thing per se, but it happens everywhere, are when students announce where they’ve decided to commit to. With their institution, you know? I’m so excited, I just got my acceptance letter from state university. Or I’m, I’m ready to make my decision. I’m committing the state university. I’m so excited. 

It’s amazing to me, the number of those posts that go unanswered, you know, unlike, and commented on. And a lot of times it’s the ones, you know, what I like to say is students and their parents to be clear. They’re so excited, they, they honestly don’t even think to tag the school. They’re just, they’re just putting it out there in plain text. And that is where it gets missed, is because the social media manager, more than likely, does not have the bandwidth or the, or the tools to do searches for plain text mentions.

But those are posts. you know, if we’re talking about the student/customer journey here, the very peak of excitement, you know, until graduation, it will not be beaten, is when that student gets their acceptance and makes their decision. And all you have to do at that moment is celebrate right alongside with them.

And yet those are mentions that are still missed way more often than they should be.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: And it’s something that’s as simple as clicking a button, too, right? Like, you know, I try to respond to all of those, but like when it’s heavy, sometimes I just have time for, you know, a quick, like that makes all the difference in the world. But on top of those, you also get the, I’m trying to choose between school X and school Y. And if one of those schools replies and the other doesn’t, that says just so much. Or how, how does that make that student feel? When two university Twitter accounts are fighting over them? 

I used to do that all the time, you know, and, and because, you know, it doesn’t happen here quite as much because some of the other schools in the area don’t get on those as much. But when I was at Texas State, you know, we would have these back and forths with other schools in the area. And it was, one, it was, it was fun, but also it was a, a great way to engage those students.

Steve App: It was back in I want to say it was in March, you know like early pandemic time is truly all melded together at this point. But, I want to say it was in March when a student on, it was on Twitter in this case, had posted about their, their dorm tour or their, campus tour had been, I canceled at Purdue. And so their family had, you know, within their own house, their family had made like a makeshift pretend campus tour of Purdue. 

And she had, I think something like 83 followers, 183 followers on Twitter. Like this is not someone with a huge following, but Purdue, and I believe it was Purdue Nursing, which were the schools that were mentioned or that she was applying to, or had been accepted to. They picked up the post and they wrote back and you know, talked about Your family is so creative. You’d be the perfect Boilermaker. But what you saw is once the main account picked it up, well, now the provost is chiming in. Now alumni are chiming in. Now other parents who sent their kids to Purdue are chiming in because all of a sudden, now the impressions are growing and it’s scaling.

There’s zero chance that that student didn’t see that response and decide to enroll at Purdue. There’s zero. I mean, who else is going to make that impression on a student? And all it took was a bunch of different individual members of a community taking 30 seconds to write back and congratulate the student and her family.

But when you add it up and you see this network effect within, you know, an institution’s ecosystem and it starts to build, build, build, build, build, it becomes incredibly powerful.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: And it’s not about that one student alone either. Right? I mean, how many people saw that and thought about the community that Purdue has and what’s going on there and going, Oh, you know, that’s something I might want to be a part of as well?

Steve App: Yeah, for sure.

Joel Goodman: I’m starting to sound like my own little echo chamber on this show, but I, you know, we’re talking about all these things and they’re, they’re super great. Like these are the things that universities, colleges and universities should be doing. They should be putting attention into doing these searches for their name on every platform.

The problem is, as J.S. said, when things are heavy and there’s a lot of work, it doesn’t get done. And it’s not because social media managers are lazy. it’s not because they’re kicking back, you know, updating their personal Instagrams all day long.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Or, heaven forbid, You know, Joel, they want to take a day off!

Joel Goodman: Or they want to take a day off! Yeah, no, exactly. Or, or, you know, spend, spend, spend the dinner hour with their family instead of with, you know, Twitter and Reddit and, angry parents on Facebook Messenger. But that’s not at all why it doesn’t happen. 

I think it’s important to note, again, I say this all the time, money is not being spent to bolster these valuable, valuable assets to what a university has. It’s frontline comms, but it has to be, it has to be active, right? it’s the new call center. you know, it’s, this is where money needs to be invested because, you know, one, I mean, honestly, what one full-time employee that is dedicated to doing just the listening part and reaching out to people, they get two full time enrolled students and their salaries paid for, for the year.

Like it’s the value of it is so much higher than I think is realized or is paid attention to. And it’s because a lot of times we’re just stuck in this old mentality of, well, no, we put our money into, I don’t know, last time we talked about new buildings and

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Well, here’s the thing we can’t afford not to do that anymore. You know, there’s, there’s a big debate on, on Marketing Twitter right now about the, uh, the TikTok video of the guy, uh, skateboarding, lip-synching to Dreams and drinking cranberry juice. And, you know, Fleetwood Mac has replied and, you know, Mick Fleetwood, the drummer, like copied the video, but everybody’s waiting like when is Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice going to weigh in? And it’s like, well, maybe they shouldn’t, maybe they should just rest on that, earned media and like, You know, they don’t, they don’t have

Joel Goodman: That’s exactly it.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: And Ocean Spray can do that cause they got that Pepsi money. But for us in higher ed, we can’t afford to miss those opportunities. And we have to get, get in on that. Because for us, you know, it’s, that guy never buys a, a thing of Ocean Spray again, it’s not a big deal. But, if that student is deciding to make a major life-changing, altering decision of going to a university, we damn well better be there and be a part of that experience when they are talking to us.

Joel Goodman: Well, let me spin it the other way. If you can’t afford, like really, like, there was no possible way to afford hiring another full-time person to do that. Hire Campus Sonar. They are not sponsoring this, this show at all. I just really,  I, appreciate and find value in the work they’re doing. And I think there was a time when higher ed didn’t really understand what social listening is. And you know, and I, I hope our show is being a little bit more of an informative base for that. To show how social listening can be applied to make these incredibly important marketing moves and decision moves and, and reputability moves for colleges and universities because it is it’s super important.

It’s, it’s not the next frontier. It’s the current frontier and it’s been the current frontier for years.

Steve App: Yeah, I’ll, I’ll act like Ocean Spray and sit on that earned media coverage for a moment. But, uh, but the one thing I’ll say is you’ve we talk about allocating your resources correctly. You know, we can talk about new buildings or, back in the day, everyone loves to rail on lazy rivers, um, but even now, right, let’s not forget colleges and universities are still spending hundreds of millions of dollars on direct mail. On sending postcards to students that don’t have an interest in the institution and will probably throw that mail in the trash. And, this is not a hot take. Schools know that two-thirds, three-quarters of that mail is just going to be thrown in the recycling bin, but they will spend enormous amounts of money on that anyway. 

And what, this is as much of a soapbox as I’m going to get on here, but what I’m really having a hard time wrestling with right now is why an institution is so willing to spend incredible amounts of money to try to get people into their funnel, but why they’re so reluctant to spend money on engaging those individuals once they’ve entered the funnel. I cannot figure out why, why that is the situation that so many institutions are still stuck in right now.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: We’re supporting the post office, Steve.

Steve App: Somebody has to.

Joel Goodman: Well, we talked about this with Mike Richwalsky several episodes back and I mean, he experienced it firsthand with his, with his own son prepping to, to choose a college, to go to and, and, you know, and the amount of cold emails that they would get and then not hear from someone for seven weeks. And that was really the only, you know, the only thing they had or they would get like some elaborate print package in the mail, and then there’s no followup or, you know, it’s, from an institution they don’t, they didn’t look at, they didn’t care about. Like, it didn’t sway them one way or the other. And he says that in the episode. 

I mean, it’s, there, there is a reality, and I think there’s, it’s, it’s again, it’s one of those, it’s one of those old systems that’s in place and there isn’t enough time or energy allocated to actually doing research as to whether that worked. You know, back in the day, back in what I guess, like 2010 back a decade ago, uh, you know, we would, I would go to a HighEdWeb conference and people would be talking about how they were trying to integrate short links into their viewbooks and QR codes and, and trying to find ways to be able to track whether or not those things performed.

there isn’t a good way to do it, for one. But I don’t know, maybe try and follow up with the parents or just do it on the back end and be like, okay, we sent out, you know, 10,000 viewbook packages and, you know, we here’s a list of names that we had that we sent it out to. And like, you know, what five of them ended up enrolling in?

Is that worth it? Like, maybe it is, maybe it’s worth it for you, but I, but I think there are better ways to spend that money. And there’s, there’s this whole level of marketing efficiency that is. It’s just so lacking in higher ed at times. And like, I really hope that we’re on a, on a path to trying to, trying to tweak some of that and pick the best value places to spend that money and to spend that time and to allocate our employees hours, honestly.

Steve App: There’s a, there’s a wonderful early episode of the Freakonomics podcast and, uh, you know, they’re, they’re telling a story of a company they were working for who used to put out a huge newspaper piece out every year, right as the holiday season was gearing up. Cause it was their busiest time of the year for sales.

And the consultants were saying, you should stop running those ads because they’re not making a difference. And the company’s like, are you crazy? We, can’t stop running this ad. And then somebody accidentally made a mistake and one of the major markets that they advertise to did not get the newspaper ad.

And so then the economist is like, this is wonderful. We can compare this market that didn’t get the ad to these other comparable markets that did get the ad, and we can look at how many sales and revenue you made from those two markets. And what they found was that the newspaper ad did not do any lift! It hadn’t actually made it the difference in the sales. So they said to the, to the group, well, hey, this is great. You can not run your ads in the next holiday season. And the company’s response, basically, it was like, are you crazy? We can’t not send that ad out. 

And, and I think that’s sometimes the thing that we’re experiencing in higher ed is, and this is something that I try to empathize with. When you get high enough in higher education, you’re essentially on a one year contract: Did your class come in or did it not? And if you decide not to do direct mail and you don’t reach that class, you may be building the foundation for a longterm innovative digital marketing strategy, but if you didn’t meet your class, it’s going to be some other VP that’s experiencing the fruits of that labor because you’re not going to be around to see it.

And I think oftentimes that is the challenge, right? Is it’s really hard to get someone to stop doing something because if they do the things that have always worked in the past and it doesn’t work. You know you can kind of say, Hey, you know, I, I did our process but if you change that process and it doesn’t work well, there’s no one else to throw the stone at. It’s the attention is going to be on you.

And, and that’s a scary thing to do. I, I do recognize that.

Joel Goodman: All that fear.

No, I mean, yeah. I mean, it’s very true. And that’s I think it’s, it’s disappointing that that’s, that’s the way that it’s set up. And I think that goes back to a previous episode where we just talk about how there’s a lack of innovation that happens. And I think that’s just one of those systemic structures in place that, that does make it hard.

And I, it makes it hard when you need a job, you know, when you’re, when you’re that VP and you don’t see any way that you can get a job at another institution or you’ve got a family to take care of or that sort of a thing, like it makes it very hard to do legitimately good future-forward, pressing work.

And I hope that changes. I hope that I hope we can make, I hope we as an industry can make progress towards that because those are the things that are going to future proof us for future pandemics, future disasters, future drop-offs in enrollment and interest.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Joel, all it takes is one, right? You know, we’re an industry of imitators, right? So the one university that does this and, you know, says, okay, we’re going to cut our mailing budget, we’re not going to do as many billboards, we’re going to really focus on digital and then has a higher yield that year. We can guarantee that the dominoes will start falling.

Joel Goodman: Just gotta be loud about 

Jon-Stephen Stansel: But somebody has got to be the first one to do it.

Joel Goodman: Yep.

Steve App: Yeah, and I don’t, I don’t mean to, uh, I don’t want to make this episode, episode appearance of just casting blame and, and doubt on our industry, you know?

 Joel Goodman: No, that’s my job, Steve.

Steve App: Because I think it’s, it’s tricky, you know, and Joel, we talked about this earlier with resource allocation and now we’ve completely gone off the rails of what the purpose of this episode was. So I apologize to all of your listeners, but

Jon-Stephen Stansel: That’s what we do.

Steve App:  Okay, good, good. But you know, for the social media manager who doesn’t have. You know, the staff numbers or the advertising budget that they want. Well, they’re going to look to their director or VP and blame that person. Well, the director and the VP is going to say, well, you know, I’m told that I’ve got a third of the budget to work with than I usually do, or previously did, and that person is going to blame, you know, the president or the CFO who’s doling out those resources. Well, the CFO is going to blame the state system, if you’re a public institution, because your state appropriations have been cut since the latest recession. And they’re not going to be re you know, replaced.

So, you know, it’s, it’s not. It’s not any one person’s fault or responsibility to fix the situation or, or, you know, or that the situation is what it is when it comes to all the things we’d love to change about marketing within higher education. it’s become an industry-wide issue that we’re going to have to get innovative and creative about because the situation is probably not changing anytime soon.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Can we end with the Spiderman, poignant Spiderman pointed his Spiderman GIF?

Steve App: But anyways, Reddit is great, and you should all use it.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: But with that, we can take those small steps, like being active and getting in on social listening and paying attention to our students’ voices and acting upon that in order to take those small steps towards the change. And I think you hit on that, that perfectly. Perfectly, Steve. 

So with that, thank you for being on the show. Do you have, plug your pluggables. What do you, what do you have to plug? Where can people find you? I know Campus Sonar has a book coming out very soon.

Steve App: We do have a book coming out very soon. I’ve heard it has some expert guest contributors that played a role in that book.

Joel Goodman: I heard something about someone that might be on this podcast being a contributing editor. Uh

Steve App: And it’s not the person who works for Campus Sonar. I’ll tell you that.

Huh. That’s amazing. And it’s not me either. So I’ll let our listeners do the sleuthing.

Steve App: It’s a wonderful book. I’ve gotten some previews of it thanks to our design team. And, uh, the content, I think if, you know, you know, hopefully, you know, from the work we’ve done in the past, is going to be incredible. And the layout is incredible too. I’m really excited for people to get their hands on it.

And on a personal level, you know, Twitter is where you’re going to find me, @StephenApp, Stephen with a P-H, if you spell it with a V, you spell it wrong.

Jon-Stephen Stansel: Yes. Yes, we will take that hot take and we will. That is a hill I will die on.

Steve App: And, uh, you can find me on LinkedIn as well. Just search for Stephen App there too.

Joel Goodman: Thank you so much for listening to the Thought Feeder podcast. If you’d like to leave us a rating or review, we would greatly appreciate it. You can find us on Apple Podcasts. You can follow us on Spotify. We’re on Google Podcasts. We’re on, I don’t know whatever podcast app you use, we’re going to be aggregated there.

And we would love for you to subscribe as well. You’ll be notified of all of our future episodes. And if you want to listen to past episodes, you can visit thoughtfeederpod.com. We’ve got downloads. We’ve got streams. We’ve got transcripts. We’ve got well, that’s actually, that’s about all we got and, uh, you can follow us on Twitter at thought feed pod.

 We want to thank our guest, Steve App for being here. One more time, Steve. Thanks so much. It was a great conversation. We really appreciate you being on the 

Steve App: Thanks gentlemen. Appreciate it. I really had a good time.