In March of 2017, a high school senior, Taylor, sent out a tweet. In it, she included two photos. On the left, she stood on top of a small brick wall, next to a virtual-looking futuristic ‘M’ on Maryville University’s campus. On the right, she stood in front of a partially-ivy-covered wall with the words ‘Missouri State University’ affixed. Her message: “Send Help.”
send help pic.twitter.com/RGDsi1Wvpx
— taylor baumstark (@taybaum9) March 30, 2017)
Taylor, the HS senior struggling to make her decision, tagged both Maryville University and Missouri State University in the photo, and was immediately bombarded with replies from both universities. Christopher Reimer, who runs Maryville University’s social media, said he was drawn to Taylor’s tweet for its personal nature. “I knew exactly what her tweet meant,” said Reimer. “She was having a hard time making her decision. I will always respond to a tweet like this.”
As Maryville and Missouri State attempted to virtually one-up each other with gifs of campus, athletic banners, and presidents with swaggy sunglasses, students from both universities chimed in, at once extolling the virtues of their university and offering heartfelt advice for making what they knew was a challenging decision.
It was, in essence, a full-court press.
“Our student body is a tight community, and that really showed during the “Twitter War” with Missouri State,” said Reimer. “That allows prospective students to get a true look at Maryville, which will hopefully let them make the best choice for themselves.”
Taylor, for her part, didn’t see it coming. “I assumed that some of my friends would argue over it, just joking around,” she told me in a series of direct messages on Twitter. Taylor had to get to soccer practice shortly after sending the tweet, but right before she put her phone down, she saw that Maryville had favorited the photo. “I was honestly shocked when Maryville favorited my pictures,” she said. “I told some of the girls on my team that the verified Maryville U account had favorited my post and I was happy about something so minor. When I came back after practice was over, my Twitter had completely blown up.”
The entire Twitter exchange lasted a few hours until Taylor made up her mind roughly seven hours after asking for help (she chose Maryville, if you must know.)
Taylor admits that she was already slightly leaning towards Maryville University at the time of her original tweet. She had recently finished a tour there when she sent the photo. Still, she says the passion that resonated from some of the students and staff reaffirmed her inclination. “Even now, my Twitter is still blowing up from people at Maryville welcoming me to the family and congratulating me. I think Maryville really does care about each student as an individual, not just another statistic.”
The event serves as an excellent reminder that it pays to be monitoring your social channels for @ replies, photo tags, and other mentions on social media. But social listening needs to go beyond that, and right now, there’s evidence to show that it’s not.
Because while Taylor’s tweet explicitly tagging her final college choices received a potentially overwhelming response, a week earlier, another high school senior, Maddy, tweeted out a similar call for help.
At this point I’m putting all my college acceptance letters into a hat and which ever one I pull out is where I’m going
— Maddy Ford (@maddy_jean_17) March 23, 2017
But Maddy didn’t receive a single reply from any of her college choices, nor did any students rush to vouch for their future alma-maters.
The difference here is clear: Maddy didn’t tag any of the universities she was considering in her tweet, nor did she @reply them or even write out their names in plain text. But that doesn’t mean the universities to which she was accepted to couldn’t see that tweet.
CRMs and marketing automation platforms have evolved to the point now where social listening isn’t confined to @replies and tags. HubSpot, for example, allows users to quickly and easily set up social streams sorted exclusively by customer lead status. That means that, theoretically, a college or university could monitor all tweets by accepted students, regardless of whether those tweets mention the school in any way, shape, or form.
Reimer uses Meltwater and Salesforce Social Studio to monitor the web. “We’re looking for keywords, hashtags, and definitely keeping an eye on our “@“ mentions on Twitter. I also monitor a Twitter list with over 170 Maryville-related Twitter accounts, so I often find tweets of value in there that don’t include a hashtag or an “@“ mention.”
Now, I get what you’re thinking: that sounds like a lot of time and effort to monitor, and it’s not guaranteed that a student will light up the bat signal looking for help on Twitter, though there are filters in place to highlight the tweets that do. There’s also no guarantee that your sales pitch will land. After all, while Maryville University was rewarded for its customer listening and agile response, Missouri State came up empty despite similar best efforts.
But for schools willing to put in that effort, the chances of victory improve dramatically. Remember, Maddy didn’t receive a single reply to her tweet. Imagine the impact a reply from a single college, emerging from the hoard of overwhelming options with an offer to jump on a phone call or DM with an advisor, would have had.
Of course, how you respond also matters. “I have full freedom to respond on behalf of the university, so that lets us get things done more quickly,” said Reimer. “Not every tweet requires a response, but if it’s a compliment, an honest criticism, or a question, we will respond. And I like to respond like a human being, not a corporate PR person. Emojis are the language of social and mobile devices, so I use ‘em.”
As colleges compete for fewer students and compete with more colleges for those students, the schools that invest in deeper levels of social listening will find themselves with more opportunities to make a personal connection with students dealing with the ramifications of college shortlists that number in double digits. In our increasingly digital landscape, those opportunities are worth the effort.
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