If you know a college aged millennial the chances are they have student loans.

According to Student Loan Hero, the average millennial owes about $37,000 in student loans. If you add up the entire amount owed by student borrowers, it equals $1.45 TRILLION, which is $620 billion more than total credit card debt in the U.S.

When students are preparing to enter college, one of the most confusing parts can be filling out the documents required to receive a student loan. That’s why loan servicers like Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation are not just in the business of providing loans, but they are also in the business of educating their current and borrowers about the financial decisions they are making.

One of our upcoming presentations at the Social Media Strategies Summit for Higher Education in Boston will feature Liz Gross from Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation, who will be presenting about how universities can use social listening to gain market insights.

We were lucky enough to chat with Liz ahead of November to get a preview of what she’ll be talking about in Boston. You can listen to the full interview on our podcast.

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#SMSSummit: Can you introduce yourself to our audience?

LG: I wear quite a few hats — so I would consider myself a researcher, marketer, and a bit of a teacher….but one thing that kind of blends all of that together is that I’m definitely a giant nerd. So that’s something I rely on for everything I’ve been doing.

I’ve spent seven and a half years working on campuses in the marketing function. I worked at UW Milwaukee and UW Waukesha, but about five years ago I was enticed to jump over to Great Lakes. At the time they needed someone to start their social media strategy so that they could reach approximately 2.5 million students that were going to eventually have to pay back their student loans.

We wanted students to learn more about loans a little at a time, instead of figuring it out when a bills due. So I joined Great Lakes in 2012 to creat and grow their social media program from a strategic perspective.

Over the last few years they have actually transitioned me over to a market research role, so that’s why I’m the Market Insights Manager now. I oversee a variety of market intelligence projects — from traditional research like surveys and focus groups to more interesting innovative research where we use social listening, which is why I’ll be chatting about that at the Social Media Strategies Summit.

Most recently at Great Lakes I’ve been working on figuring out how campuses can benefit from strategic social listening because I think it’s the next frontier for social media and higher education.

#SMSSummit: Can you touch briefly about social listening — what it is and how do you use it in your role?

LG: When I talk about social listening, I’m thinking about the action of identifying, transcribing and analyzing every online conversation that is of interest to you and your organization. So at GL we got started by wanting to know who was talking about us and our competitors as well as student loans in general.

So we used software to search over 80 million sources on the internet to find blog posts, Instagram posts, Reddit threads, forum group discussions, everything about student loans

So from a research perspective, if I want to know how people feel about their student loans at any point in that customer journey — whether that’s while they are determining what sort of debt they might be able to handle while applying for school. Or the feelings they have related to paying back the loans after they’ve graduated, we can identify tens of thousands of those type of conversations online and do some analysis just as if we had tens of thousands of comments from a focus group we could go to.

We’re getting beyond your standard twitter or facebook comments and really doing a broad search for big topics of conversation to learn more about either part of our industry who what students are saying about our company in general.

#SMSSummit: How has social listening informed how you are educating students about their loans?

LG: Oh, absolutely. We were listening before we were even engaging online. A lot of the content you see on our website were questions we saw regularly on social media — whether they were to us, or just in general. So that has had a lot of impact on our content development.

We also take complaints very, very, seriously, so when people are complaining about something we see that as an opportunity for improvement. We have changed how some parts of our website works simply based on some complaints we’ve seen online.

One of the lighter touches that we’ve done, is we actually saw people complaining tongue and cheek that when they finally paid back their student loan it was sort of a letdown because they wanted a party, and all they got was a really boring letter that said, “Congratulations, you’ve paid back your loan.”

Someone said, “You should be throwing us a party”, so we actually now have what we call the “Paid in Full Party” on our website, so when you log in after you pay off your loan, you have a great celebratory, animated GIF and you can share it on social. It’s actually one of the most popular pieces of content we’ve ever created. So we’re able to take the voice of our customers directly into the type of content we have on our website as well as on social media.


#SMSSummit: How did you approach moving from working for a university to a third party loan servicer and how you approached social?

LG: The interesting part was convincing the board of directors that what we were doing was worthwhile, essentially talking about the ROI of my job. So we started pretty strategically, and I looked at what audiences we wanted to reach. We have 9 million customers and we aren’t looking to reach all of them.

So we identified a target audience, which were borrowers who were still in school and not yet paying back their loans. As well as the financial aid administrators on campuses that work with us in a variety of ways.

So we identified our audience, figured out where they are online and where we were most likely to have an authentic and relevant part in the conversation. From there talked about what our goals would be, so we had measureable goals and why were would be engaging with folks and what our KPI’s would be from that.

We have a 1 ½ page strategic overview that can be handed to anyone who doesn’t understand social media and they’ll be able to understand where we’re going. Five years later we are still reporting on the same KPI’s, where we’ll be able to talk about success in a longitudinal way which is fantastic.

So we ended up going after in-school students and financial aid professionals. Facebook and Twitter are our main channels, we’re always evaluating others as options but we have really doubled down on Facebook because that’s where we see the most engagement with students and it’s where we’re being the most innovative.

Although I don’t have anything to do with our outbound content anymore, but our fantastic staff member who is overseeing that is doing some interesting things with both image based content and live video, which is somewhere we definitely think we can fulfill our goals and interact with audiences authentically in a way that will make us stand out and make it easier to ask the questions that students need to know.


#SMSSummit: When doing social, how much of that is organic versus paid social?

LG: With the exception of advertising open positions — we have not have paid social content in quite some time. That was a strategic decision for a variety of reasons, but when we did it was only to boost content that was already the most engaging.  So that’s not something we’ve had to do a lot of analysis on over the last couple of years.

We’ve had more engagement than the staff can handle.


#SMSSummit: Your presentation in Boston is entitled “Social Media Listening for Market Intelligence”, can you tease what you’ll be talking about?

LG: We’ll be focusing strictly on how campuses can use social media listening for market intelligence. We’ll start off with how social listening works, because it’s definitely something that isn’t done on majority of campuses right now.

So we’re talking about what does the software do and what are some of the types of things you can expect to get from social listening. Then I’ll jump into the different types of ways you can do social listening analysis; so you can look at things from a content perspective, you can identify emerging themes, be looking at the analytics behind a conversation, or be looking to enhance your PR strategy. There are a lot of different ways you can go at it, and I’ll take a stab at a few of those.

I’ll really get into why I think it’s so important to use social listening for market intelligence. Really that strategic value and what it can bring to a campus that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to without social listening.

Then, of course, I’ll be highlighting some of the campuses that are currently using social listening from a research perspective. For the last few months I’ve been working with a handful of these campuses and they have some awesome stories to share and I’m excited to debut some of those stories in November.


If you’d like to see Liz Gross’s presentation in-person at our Social Media Strategies Summit — Higher Ed event in Boston, make sure you register now! You can learn more by clicking the banner below.

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