Social listening refers to the process of monitoring digital media channels to see what people are saying. Brands use this information to influence consumers’ behavior; colleges and universities use it to improve student safety and enhance the quality of life on campus. Though not everyone is in favor of monitoring social media, it’s a responsibility that colleges and universities should take seriously. If listening on social media prevents a violent crime, it’s worth it.

Let’s dig deeper into five valuable pieces of information you can learn about your students through social listening. When you put this monitoring to good use and make constructive changes on campus, it’s a job well done.

1. Quality of Life Issues

Quality of life issues refer to anything that can enhance health, comfort and happiness on your college campus. It’s difficult to know how your students are affected by such things as parking, their walk to class, the meals being served and the cleanliness of the dorms unless you are living it. And often times, students don’t complain to anyone but each other because they think tasteless food and dirty dorm rooms are part of the college experience.

The trouble is that these quality of life issues can severely impact your enrollment over time. When students find things frustrating, they won’t hesitate to let friends and family know, and this will deter future students from applying to your school. If parking is an issue, for instance, current students will tell others, “Don’t choose this school if you’re a commuter. You can never find parking, and you’ll always be late for class.”

Thankfully, social media is a direct line of communication for these issues. When you see repeated criticisms and complaints (100+ likes on that post about a lack of parking), it’s your opportunity to step up and make a difference. This will strengthen the relationship you have with students and boost enrollment rates.

2. Student Bullying

Bullying is not something that goes away when students attend college. In fact, it can get worse because of increased stress and peer pressures. A 2011 study from the University of Indiana showed that 22% of college students reported being cyberbullied and 15% reported traditional bullying.

Some schools are watching for cyberbullying in an effort to identify those who are isolated and separated from everyone else. This was somewhat the case with Elliot Rodger in California who killed six and injured 13 more during a shooting rampage near the University of California Santa Barbara.

Colleges and universities also know they have a responsibility for students in the Greek system. These students often experience more cases of bullying and hazing than other groups, and many of these actions are documented on social media. Schools that step in and deal with the bullying not only protect students but also prevent negative media press.

3. Sexual Assault

Sexual assault has been a longtime problem on college campuses, but unfortunately, many of these crimes go unreported. The reasons for this include a sense of embarrassment on the victim’s part and a lack of understanding of what constitutes a sexual crime. Some colleges and universities are also under investigation for how they have handed past sexual violence reports. Bottom line: Now is not the time to downplay these crimes.

Luckily, social media can aid a hand in protecting your students and your college. It’s not uncommon for sexual crimes to be caught on camera, and this evidence can be used to follow the perpetrators involved in the crime. According to recent data, there were more than 3,900 reports of forcible sex offenses on college campuses in 2012, up 50% over three years. And despite the media attention that some of the larger schools get, data shows that some of the small, prestigious liberal arts colleges have the highest rates of reported offenses.

Schools have admitted that the best way to reduce sexual assault on campus is for victims to report these crimes, and for schools to offer adequate support services for those involved.

4. Violent Crime

Over 500,000 violent crimes occur each year on college campuses, and many of them involve the use of weapons or result in serious injury to the victim. Monitoring social media is an excellent way to single out students who are more likely to commit these crimes. It’s not uncommon for these individuals to have a history of being bullied or a background of mental health problems and family conflict.

Though school officials and law enforcement can never be 100% accurate when dealing with human behavior, they are getting better at preventing high-profile tragedies. In 2013, there were 27 shootings that occurred on or near college campuses. While not all of these tragedies can be traced back to things mentioned on social media, there are some pieces of evidence that surface during the investigations. Being able to prevent at least a few of these crimes equals more lives.

Additionally, social media can be used to find the intent of past crimes and who was involved. Students that do play a role in school shootings and other violent crimes should be held responsible and removed from campus.

It’s also important to recognize students who are at risk for suicide. It’s not uncommon for depressed students to post vague comments, grasping at straws as they contemplate their place on Earth. Reaching out and offering these students resources and psychological help can prevent suicide and untreated cases of depression.

5. School Reputation

What do students think of your school? Parents? Community members? Unless you’re out on campus, personally interviewing students and staff, it’s difficult to know what reputation your school really carries. Luckily, social media is a gateway to this information, and when you listen intently on these channels, you can learn a lot about your reputation without restriction or bias.

Students aren’t afraid to rant about their courses or professors. They won’t hesitate to complain about a school-sponsored event or their experience at the local health center. At the same time, they won’t mind raving about the things they love such as flexible courses, a healthy menu in the cafeteria or large dorm rooms for college freshmen.

It’s important to monitor these posts because these are the same bits and pieces of information that others are reading about your school. If students are constantly complaining about things that happen on campus, it doesn’t really matter what image you think you portray. Friends and followers of your current students will be more influenced by what is being posted on social media rather than information coming from your school.

Addressing problems head on is the best way to show your students that you are listening and that you care about their college experience.


No one can predict human behavior all of the time. But schools have a responsibility to protect their students and improve campus life issues to the best of their ability. Years ago, there was a disconnect between students and administrators, but today, social media bridges this gap. You can learn a lot about your school and your students through social listening, especially as it becomes more apparent of what to look for, what resources to offer and how to intervene with potential negative behavior.