Social Media | Project Spotlight
Students at Clemson U Monitor Social Media for Collaborative Research
Clemson University in South Carolina
has developed a Social Media Listening
Center (SMLC) for real-time monitoring of online blog posts, tweets, status
updates and other public social media communications. Students in the
Inquiry class use the SMLC for research projects, as do students in
management, communications and other classes. Clemson also uses it to monitor
online conversations about the university itself, and researchers use it for
partnership projects with industry.
Jim Bottum, Clemson's chief information officer, was inspired to create
the SMLC after a visit to Dell headquarters
in Round Rock, TX. He was there on unrelated business when somebody suggested he
check out the company's social media command center, which Dell uses to monitor
trending online conversations related to the company. According to Barbara
Weaver, IT lead of the SMLC at Clemson, Bottum is "a very visionary kind of
person," so when he saw Dell's social media command center, he immediately
thought of the undergraduate students in the university's Creative Inquiry class
for collaborative, multidisciplinary research projects.
"Jim's immediate thought was, Clemson students in Creative Inquiry will
discover things that faculty and staff would never think of because they don't
feel the same kind of constraints that we do," said Weaver. "They come up with
great ideas that just wouldn't cross our minds, so he was excited about the
possibility of having them use the Social Media Listening Center."
According to Weaver, Bottum had other visions for Clemson's SMLC as well. She
said he wanted to use it to learn what people were saying about the Clemson
Computing and Information Technology (CCIT) department, so they could use that
information to respond to customers' needs proactively; to work with South
Carolina businesses; and to monitor online conversations about the public
affairs office, admissions and other campus organizations. "But his first
thought was for our undergraduate students," said Weaver.
Implementing the SMLC
Dell mentored Clemson through the process of setting up the SMLC, and the
university used the same technology as Dell's social media command center: Dell computers and
Salesforce Radian6 social media listening software. Radian6 is hosted in the cloud by Salesforce.com and
provides a graphical dashboard of social media content, including trend
information, geolocation information and more. Clemson uses the Dell PCs to
drive the information from the cloud onto the center's video displays.
The SMLC is located in a single room with six large video panels arranged in
a three-by-two configuration on a single wall. "There are six computers tied to
the six different screens," said Weaver. "It's all hardware driven and there's a
touchpanel on the wall where the professor or the student can say, I want this
computer's screen on that display and that one on that display, or they can have
it on all of them, or whatever best fits what they want to see." The room also
has a a little teaching area for presentations or training.
Clemson's SMLC welcomed its first students in the spring semester of 2012,
and it was so successful, the university has already developed a second Social
Media Listening Center in another building on campus. Because the team already
had experience implementing that type of facility, they tried some different
technology the second time around.
The second room also uses Salesforce Radian6 "because we were in a contract
and things were going great, so we didn't look at anything else or think about
replacing it," said Weaver. But the team wanted to try something different with
the second listening center so they could experiment and learn new things. The
second Social Media Listening Center uses Mac Minis instead of Dell computers, operated via a Hiperwall video wall system.
"Hiperwall drives what is being shown on each screen, so instead of having a
touchpanel, we just use a wireless keyboard and interact with the Hiperwall
software to get what we want on the screen," said Weaver.
SMLC in Action
The university uses the Social Media Listening Center for collaborative
student research projects, as well as for industry partnerships and funded
research. Students using the center come from a wide variety of disciplines,
including management, psychology, communication studies and computer science, as
well as the Creative Inquiry class.
"Because we're able to view complex visualizations across different screens,
we're able to have much richer conversations around the data," said Jason
Thatcher, director of the
Social Analytics Institute at Clemson. "It's really different working on a
13-inch monitor and a laptop or standard overhead projector versus a
three-by-two video wall and two HD-quality monitors. So we're able to see the
data more effectively. We're able to coordinate activities. We have a much
better workspace for spreading out and for consistently working with industry.
We have a higher speed access in the room. We're dropping a 10 Gig line into it,
so we can move data around more effectively. We have access to more processing
power, more storage and more state-of-the-art software in a secure location to
Thatcher illustrated what the SMLC can do using election night monitoring as
an example. "Say you're monitoring election night and you've got multiple races
in play. If I'm only able to see one monitor at a time, all I can do is monitor
that single conversation," he said. "However, in the Social Media Listening
Center, we can roughly monitor six different conversations in real time, as well
as what you're able to do on a laptop, or multiple laptops in the space. You can
plug in to HD-quality projectors from the laptops, so anyone working on a
project can take their analysis, plug it in and punch it up to the big screen,
and we can have a really rich conversation around what's happening and then take
that information and loop back and do something different."
Student researchers have also used the SMLC for "monitoring of the National
Parks Service around stakeholder management; monitoring around packaging and
brands for a large company; monitoring around the Affordable Care Act for the
South Carolina division of Health and Human Services; and we have another
project looking at Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement," said Thatcher.
"That's a smattering of it. It's a mix of social, government and business
issues, which is probably the right mix because we have students who come from
all disciplines — communications, political science, engineering, management,
information systems and computer science."
According to Thatcher, the SMLC enables students to conduct research that
wouldn't be possible otherwise. "It's possible to run an analysis on any computer
because most of these tools sit in the cloud, but what's not possible is really
collaborating effectively," he said. "And what this lets us do is collaborate
effectively. It allows us to do real-time monitoring when we need to for a
specific project or activity. That unique capacity of the room is really
But Thatcher emphasized that the SMLC is just a tool, and people are still
the key component of social media-based research. "There's still a qualitative
piece to this," he said. "A lot of people think this is an automated process.
It's not. It's a blend between using software and then interpreting the data so
the kids really have to go through and learn a rigorous process on how to build
a search, what are the limits of the tools. They can get all of this
information, but they have to step back and reflect and actually figure out what
it all means."
What Does the SMLC Mean for Clemson?
The SMLC has resulted in numerous benefits for the university and its
students. Thatcher described Clemson as "a little tiny college town in the
middle of nowhere," which can make it difficult to give students experience
working with industry. But the SMLC has put Clemson on the map. People from
industry visit the SMLC, and students give presentations on the SMLC and its
capabilities. "As a direct result of this, we're now sending kids to New Jersey
with a large publishing house to go intern over the summer. Our kids have
presented at conferences. Those are opportunities that weren't there for us
before," said Thatcher "So it has really let us connect better with the external
world, which is an unexpected outcome."
A second benefit of the SMLC, is that it has "really pulled together people
that don't normally talk to each other on campus. You have people from the
business school, communications, the arts and humanities. And that's because of
the way it was designed. It was an interdisciplinary project," said Thatcher.
"We hear a lot of university campuses talk about the importance of
interdisciplinary collaboration, and we're actually doing it. It's not just lip
The third benefit has been improved collaboration between university staff
and faculty. "We all work together, but we don't really collaborate all that
often," said Thatcher. "And this has been a really good collaboration between
these two parts of the university."