Using social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing (webinar takeaways)

Using social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing (webinar takeaways)

5 minute read

Using social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing (webinar takeaways)

5 minute read

Using social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing (webinar takeaways)

Robert Mills

Head of Content, GatherContent

This is a short summary of our recent higher education webinar on how to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Presented by Liz Gross (CEO) and Steve App (Account Executive) at Campus Sonar, the webinar covers two topics: content marketing and online social listening. 

Using real-world examples from student social media and forums, they show how you can uncover audience insights for effective content marketing in HE. 

Here are five key takeaways from the webinar, with slides for context:

1. Changes in the Higher Education sector are leading institutions to invest in content marketing

There are many changes in the HE sector that mean marketers are turning to new sources of lead generation to meet enrollment targets. These changes include:

The internet and search

The internet and search engines have really democratised information so that seekers can become just as, if not more, educated than gatekeepers. And that shift has fundamentally changed the way students search for and evaluate colleges and universities now.

Image shows statistic: 79% of prospective students turn to search engines first to research their college options


This is one way content marketing has become so important. Because, when a search is performed online, your goal is to show up as the results pages of that search.

Test optional institutions in the US

Image shows statistic: More than 1000 four-year institutions do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor-degree applicants


For enrolment marketing, this is a good and a bad thing, because enrolment management teams rely heavily on these standardised tests to purchase names of students they want to market to. So, schools have adapted to this, and they've turned to other data sources for these lists. 

But that is actually a bit of a problem too. Because we’re also seeing a rapidly changing demographic shift happening in the US. We’re now starting to see a decrease in the “traditional” college-bound students:

Image shows statistic: 15% drop of "typical" college-going population in the United States, starting in 2026


In reaction to this, schools have started increasing their focus on graduate, professional and doctoral programs, creating more specialised programming, online degree and certificate offerings and continuing education and degree completion programs.

But again, many of these students you can’t recruit through standardised tactics. Things like name buying and college fairs; they aren’t taking tests or signing up for memberships on college review sites. So marketers are forced to think of new ways to reach these audiences. And what is that method that we are seeing more commonly? It’s content marketing.

So what exactly is content marketing?

Content marketing is about organically capturing prospective student information through the use of high value, high quality content like articles, ebooks, webinars, videos etc. There are a lot of definitions, but this definition has a few key words that stand out which are highlighted:

Image shows definition of content marketing: "The creation and distribution of journalistic (highlighted), helpful (highlighted) and audience-focused (highlighted) material that ultimately increases customer acquisition"


If your content marketing is going to work, it cannot be a sales pitch in disguise. If it is, your users, prospective college students, will snuff it out almost instantly. Google looks at user actions and feedback to rank different pieces of content. So content needs to be meaningful to audiences, and help them find the information they need. 

2. Audience insights - enter social listening 

Effective content marketing is built on audience insights. But while there are benefits to gaining these through traditional market research methods (surveys, interviews, focus groups), these can be cost prohibitive, time consuming and sometimes influenced by external conditions. Institutions need a more intimate understanding of goals, needs, and questions people are asking. Enter social listening:

Image shows two types of social listening for market research: 1) Audience Research and 2) Conversation Analysis

This is a new, alternative way of doing market research, and it’s online. We need to understand that today, online is ‘real life.’ People are doing jobs and having conversations online. Word of mouth is happening online, on social media, on forums, and we need to be paying attention and leveraging this. 

“Online conversations are an always-on focus group that you can ask any question, at any time.”

Social listening is just one component for strategic intelligence. It’s a research tool to inform content marketing and help you better understand your audience as a whole and make more strategic decisions on campus. Institutions can use it to find and analyse public online conversations to identify knowledge gaps, popular content types and sources, and develop audience personas to fuel their content marketing.

3. Study of annual social mentions of institutions 

At Campus Sonar, they were curious to know how much information existed about college and university campuses. For their starting point, they did a benchmarking study of institutions in the US. This was a statistically representative sample of 4-year US institutions - small, large, public, private not for profit, for profit.

They looked at all of the conversations about the institutions over the course of a calendar year. Then, to level the playing field, they took out mentions of athletics (who’s winning or losing games, the next championship etc). So they were looking at conversations about things like university life, prospective students, alumni and current student experiences.

The results 

The variation they found in the results was astounding:

Image shows a graph of annual mentions of institutions, ranging from 21 mentions, to 9 million mentions, with 3,509 mentions being the median


The annual mentions ranged from 21 to 9 million, but your institution probably falls somewhere in-between. The median mentions was around 3,509. That’s a lot of instances where someone has said something about your institution that can be found, analysed and used to drive content marketing. Every single mention is an opportunity to gain insight or engage with people.  

4. Social listening in action

“Social listening provides access to the largest searchable archive of human thought.”

In the webinar, there are heaps of examples of social media and forum posts for audience insights. These really show how we can find real artefacts of thoughts and behaviours that could have a huge impact on programming or content that campuses provide. Here are just a couple of examples:

Micro moments (Reddit and Twitter)

What are the key questions students are asking when facing a decision about an institution? Social listening can really uncover key questions that come up when they're doing research:

Image shows question on Reddit from a student considering Louisiana Tech
Image shows a student Twitter post asking about the University of Victoria admissions process


There are some really helpful, contextually rich answers to be found here. Social listening allows you to instantaneously find the information rather than waiting for results. What you get is unfiltered, raw challenges and pain points. Then you can use what you find to inform the topics you address in content marketing.

5. How to get started with social listening 

If you had access to all of this data, this archive of human thought, what would you want to find out?

There are over 100 million unique sources for social listening, but it does require tools to use the data strategically. There are many options to consider all along the spectrum, and certain tools are better at certain things. But generally you’ll want three things:

  • Comprehensive data
  • Powerful search
  • It’s free

The issue is you can’t have all three!

There are lots of free versions of social listening tools to get you started, and some campuses are using paid versions (these are all covered in the webinar). However, social listening is still new to organisations, and many need to build up the case to invest in it. Campus Sonar exists for campuses that don't want to buy and learn software and simply want the insights. 

For help on how to develop and refine your marketing strategy for social listening, download 'The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook'. Whether you're new to social listening in higher education or you've done some conversation analysis, you'll find tips and information you can immediately put to use.  

Watch the full webinar on demand

Why not watch the full webinar free on-demand? Liz and Steve talk in more detail about social listening, and give lots more examples, tools, strategies and resources to help you create informed, useful and engaging content.

This is a short summary of our recent higher education webinar on how to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Presented by Liz Gross (CEO) and Steve App (Account Executive) at Campus Sonar, the webinar covers two topics: content marketing and online social listening. 

Using real-world examples from student social media and forums, they show how you can uncover audience insights for effective content marketing in HE. 

Here are five key takeaways from the webinar, with slides for context:

1. Changes in the Higher Education sector are leading institutions to invest in content marketing

There are many changes in the HE sector that mean marketers are turning to new sources of lead generation to meet enrollment targets. These changes include:

The internet and search

The internet and search engines have really democratised information so that seekers can become just as, if not more, educated than gatekeepers. And that shift has fundamentally changed the way students search for and evaluate colleges and universities now.

Image shows statistic: 79% of prospective students turn to search engines first to research their college options


This is one way content marketing has become so important. Because, when a search is performed online, your goal is to show up as the results pages of that search.

Test optional institutions in the US

Image shows statistic: More than 1000 four-year institutions do not use the SAT or ACT to admit substantial numbers of bachelor-degree applicants


For enrolment marketing, this is a good and a bad thing, because enrolment management teams rely heavily on these standardised tests to purchase names of students they want to market to. So, schools have adapted to this, and they've turned to other data sources for these lists. 

But that is actually a bit of a problem too. Because we’re also seeing a rapidly changing demographic shift happening in the US. We’re now starting to see a decrease in the “traditional” college-bound students:

Image shows statistic: 15% drop of "typical" college-going population in the United States, starting in 2026


In reaction to this, schools have started increasing their focus on graduate, professional and doctoral programs, creating more specialised programming, online degree and certificate offerings and continuing education and degree completion programs.

But again, many of these students you can’t recruit through standardised tactics. Things like name buying and college fairs; they aren’t taking tests or signing up for memberships on college review sites. So marketers are forced to think of new ways to reach these audiences. And what is that method that we are seeing more commonly? It’s content marketing.

So what exactly is content marketing?

Content marketing is about organically capturing prospective student information through the use of high value, high quality content like articles, ebooks, webinars, videos etc. There are a lot of definitions, but this definition has a few key words that stand out which are highlighted:

Image shows definition of content marketing: "The creation and distribution of journalistic (highlighted), helpful (highlighted) and audience-focused (highlighted) material that ultimately increases customer acquisition"


If your content marketing is going to work, it cannot be a sales pitch in disguise. If it is, your users, prospective college students, will snuff it out almost instantly. Google looks at user actions and feedback to rank different pieces of content. So content needs to be meaningful to audiences, and help them find the information they need. 

2. Audience insights - enter social listening 

Effective content marketing is built on audience insights. But while there are benefits to gaining these through traditional market research methods (surveys, interviews, focus groups), these can be cost prohibitive, time consuming and sometimes influenced by external conditions. Institutions need a more intimate understanding of goals, needs, and questions people are asking. Enter social listening:

Image shows two types of social listening for market research: 1) Audience Research and 2) Conversation Analysis

This is a new, alternative way of doing market research, and it’s online. We need to understand that today, online is ‘real life.’ People are doing jobs and having conversations online. Word of mouth is happening online, on social media, on forums, and we need to be paying attention and leveraging this. 

“Online conversations are an always-on focus group that you can ask any question, at any time.”

Social listening is just one component for strategic intelligence. It’s a research tool to inform content marketing and help you better understand your audience as a whole and make more strategic decisions on campus. Institutions can use it to find and analyse public online conversations to identify knowledge gaps, popular content types and sources, and develop audience personas to fuel their content marketing.

3. Study of annual social mentions of institutions 

At Campus Sonar, they were curious to know how much information existed about college and university campuses. For their starting point, they did a benchmarking study of institutions in the US. This was a statistically representative sample of 4-year US institutions - small, large, public, private not for profit, for profit.

They looked at all of the conversations about the institutions over the course of a calendar year. Then, to level the playing field, they took out mentions of athletics (who’s winning or losing games, the next championship etc). So they were looking at conversations about things like university life, prospective students, alumni and current student experiences.

The results 

The variation they found in the results was astounding:

Image shows a graph of annual mentions of institutions, ranging from 21 mentions, to 9 million mentions, with 3,509 mentions being the median


The annual mentions ranged from 21 to 9 million, but your institution probably falls somewhere in-between. The median mentions was around 3,509. That’s a lot of instances where someone has said something about your institution that can be found, analysed and used to drive content marketing. Every single mention is an opportunity to gain insight or engage with people.  

4. Social listening in action

“Social listening provides access to the largest searchable archive of human thought.”

In the webinar, there are heaps of examples of social media and forum posts for audience insights. These really show how we can find real artefacts of thoughts and behaviours that could have a huge impact on programming or content that campuses provide. Here are just a couple of examples:

Micro moments (Reddit and Twitter)

What are the key questions students are asking when facing a decision about an institution? Social listening can really uncover key questions that come up when they're doing research:

Image shows question on Reddit from a student considering Louisiana Tech
Image shows a student Twitter post asking about the University of Victoria admissions process


There are some really helpful, contextually rich answers to be found here. Social listening allows you to instantaneously find the information rather than waiting for results. What you get is unfiltered, raw challenges and pain points. Then you can use what you find to inform the topics you address in content marketing.

5. How to get started with social listening 

If you had access to all of this data, this archive of human thought, what would you want to find out?

There are over 100 million unique sources for social listening, but it does require tools to use the data strategically. There are many options to consider all along the spectrum, and certain tools are better at certain things. But generally you’ll want three things:

  • Comprehensive data
  • Powerful search
  • It’s free

The issue is you can’t have all three!

There are lots of free versions of social listening tools to get you started, and some campuses are using paid versions (these are all covered in the webinar). However, social listening is still new to organisations, and many need to build up the case to invest in it. Campus Sonar exists for campuses that don't want to buy and learn software and simply want the insights. 

For help on how to develop and refine your marketing strategy for social listening, download 'The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook'. Whether you're new to social listening in higher education or you've done some conversation analysis, you'll find tips and information you can immediately put to use.  

Watch the full webinar on demand

Why not watch the full webinar free on-demand? Liz and Steve talk in more detail about social listening, and give lots more examples, tools, strategies and resources to help you create informed, useful and engaging content.

Webinar Recording

How to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Hear about real-world examples of student social media updates that can influence your content strategy and marketing efforts on campus.

August 15, 2019

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

How to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Hear about real-world examples of student social media updates that can influence your content strategy and marketing efforts on campus.

August 15, 2019

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Robert Mills

Rob is Head of Content at GatherContent. He is a journalism graduate and has previously worked as Studio Manager and Head of Content for a design agency and as an Audience Research Executive for the BBC. He’s a published author and regular contributor to industry publications including Net Magazine, Smashing Magazine, 24 Ways,WebTuts+, UX Matters , UX Booth and Content Marketing Institute. On occasion Rob speaks about content strategy and ContentOps at leading industry events.

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