By Jeff Alderson, Principal Analyst
For some educators, students, and alumni, academic and social lives routinely collide online as the lines between educational and recreational technology blur. We are beginning to see some examples of Orwellian education technology entering our homes and mobile devices to monitor our social media conversations, keyboard strokes, mouse movements, and even our facial expressions. As the general public becomes more aware of the capabilities of this technology and how prevalent it has become within education, stories like these will become commonplace:
- Pearson’s monitoring of social media for violations of standardized testing agreements
- Orange County, FL school district monitoring students’ social media posts to prevent incidents of crime and bullying
Before we resign ourselves to living every year like its 1984, it’s important to pause to understand the motivations behind these technological advancements and see how they might be used to benefit students and institutions. Eduventures recently met with several vendors that provide a new breed of technology solutions that aim to get to the heart of how students feel about institutions and their relationships with them.
Other industries have used these technologies for some time with great success in managing crises and conducting high-stakes assessments. They are only now being applied to more traditional higher education paradigms, and the early adopters of these tools are seeing great success from university relations through enrollment, retention, and alumni development.
Before you’re swayed by negative public perceptions and press about these technologies, understand that there are valid reasons for using them to better understand your prospects, students, and alumni. When implemented properly and with the appropriate safeguards for data privacy and security, social sentiment measuring can be an invaluable tool for enrollment, retention, and advancement purposes. Understanding how prospective students, current students, and alumni feel about your institution and the specific questions they have is critical to engaging them in more meaningful conversations.
Getting Sentimental over Social Monitoring
Companies like Netbase and Tracx provide tools for analyzing the fire hose of data from popular social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. They also incorporate thousands of other blogs, media sites, and any place else you can think of where someone may be talking about your institution. These analytic tools give your university relations team insight into what is trending about your institution and can quantify the degree to which that sentiment is positive or negative. Netbase can even score students’ use of emoji to assess whether or not they are enjoying their chemistry classes ( 🙂 vs 🙁 ). Both solutions can integrate with your institution’s CRM to hand off specific mentions for follow up by the appropriate departments with targeted content. As covered previously, companies like EverTrue can then tell you more about the alumni who are talking about your institution, link their social sentiment score to comprehensive alumni profiles, and forecast the likelihood of their willingness to give to your institution.
Alternatively, vendors like Sprinklr allow institutions to manage real-time responses to inquiries received through social channels by employing a case-management approach. Using Sprinklr, school staff tag mentions of their institution. They can use those tags to triage inquiries, channel them to the appropriate department and staff member, and provide responses through social or other channels. Sprinklr provides robust dashboards to track service-level agreements and response times. By combining this with social sentiment monitoring after responses are made, institutions can measure whether they are doing a good job of responding to inquiries from student prospects in a timely fashion and with the right information.
If your institution pays attention to the national rankings game and is always trying to assess its standing relative to peer institutions or those with similar programs of study, then consider the competitive intelligence features of Simply Measured. The biggest draw of their platform is the ability for an institution to see how its social sentiment scores rank against those of other institutions. You can compare institutions by name or define a cluster of similar institutions and track your school’s progress against the group. Simply Measured’s top-of-the-line reporting output options include a presentation mode that combines top-line facts with charts and graphs in a single file for sharing with team members and university management. This automated reporting is so good that you should consider reassigning your social media “interns” to interacting with students directly in response to social chatter about your institution.
Socializing in Private
We recognize that not every institution will want to embrace social media as it exists on public sites like Facebook and Twitter. Those that don’t should consider WamBiz, a private social network for colleges and universities, as a way to get the benefit of social collaboration without fear of external monitoring. WamBiz worked with staff and student groups to understand their perceptions and current use of technology. They found that students didn’t like staff’s overwhelming use of email to communicate with them. And staff’s use of Facebook identified other weaknesses, including a lack of monitoring and other controls to prevent cyberbullying. While students have shown that they aren’t willing to create another set of credentials for yet another online site without a significant academic reason, WamBiz addresses this with deep integration with the LMS experience through single sign-on and with the user experience. Their feature set is simple and familiar to anyone who has used other social networking tools, although users can only make connections with other users within the school from a selection of authorized students, faculty, and staff. Students on the system typically behave because they are aware they are being watched, similar to how LinkedIn users keep it professional, as there could be repercussions given the audience.
Eduventures will cover these vendors in much more detail in the coming months. In the meantime, please contact us with your inquiries about how social sentiment monitoring and management can positively impact your institution.