By now, most of us have a social media strategy. We have a way to plan our content and see the metrics of the engagement on that content. Social media strategy, however, is much more than that. One of the most influential ways social media impacts your institution’s messaging is out of your hands. You might not even know the temperature of the social media conversation about your institution until it’s too late. That’s why we want to emphasize the importance of social listening across all platforms. Social listening is the monitoring of social sites to understand your target audience, identify trending topics, and keep an eye on the digital conversations about your institution. In higher education, social listening is vital and must include teen-dominated platforms like TikTok and Reddit.
TikTok is much more than a dance video app. It’s a place where teens flock for relatable content, including videos about applying to colleges. TikToks with the hashtag “#collegeapps” currently have almost 150 million collective views. The most popular videos in that category range from essay writing advice, college comparisons, and rants about the stress of the process. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, the username format of TikTok gives perceived anonymity to students who want to protect their privacy from the consequences of social media snooping from colleges. Today’s teens know they’re being tracked on social media giants like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so they’re more candid on TikTok. This allows you to socially listen to unfiltered messages from your target audience. Use TikTok to garner key insights about how students are really feeling towards the admissions process, marketing materials, and even your particular institution… no dance skills are required.
The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed everyone’s sense of normalcy, and students are no exception. Because the pandemic has redefined the high school experience, the college application process, and more, market research even of last year’s high school graduates is outdated. Students are facing more uncertainty than ever before when it comes to applying to college, and they’re using Reddit to connect with their peers for commiseration and insight. Reddit is a forum-based social media platform that operates unlike any other site. Instead of a homepage and individual profiles, Reddit users only operate inside of groups (subreddits). The subreddit r/applyingtocollege has over 300,000 members, mostly high school juniors and seniors. Students use this subreddit to swap stories and experiences about applying to schools across the country. Monitoring this subreddit and others, such as region-specific college subreddits or even a subreddit created by and for students of your institution, will show you the real-time observations and critiques of college admissions from students in the trenches.
One of the most valuable insights I gained from social listening on both Reddit and TikTok is this meme:
Simply put, they’re onto us. Students use teen-dominated social platforms most during their college application experiences because they don’t trust systems established by older generations. They’re cynical of college counselors, parents, teachers, and even current college students or recent grads. Speaking from the perspective of someone who most sources consider to be Gen Z and still has to dodge attacks from 17-year-olds – that snark is unreal. Posts on Reddit and TikTok prove that your prospective students know their data is in your hands, and they think that’s meme-worthy. That’s an essential insight into your demographic that you can only learn through social listening.
There is little quantifiable data and no relationship building through social listening, but its value cannot be understated. Especially on Reddit and TikTok, students are making their voices heard about your institution and their opinions on the admissions process. We want schools to be listening to the content made by this demographic because themes were discovered to have more effective and topical branding. Like we saw with the GameStop stock trading impacted by a subreddit, sometimes these conversations can affect a brand or an institution before we even catch on to what’s happening. By social listening, we can gain a better informed perspective on what matters to these students throughout their application journeys.