Creative Inquiry

Project Spotlights

They're Watching You: Conversation Analysis in Social Media

Updating your Facebook status and adding pictures from your weekend trip might seem like typical college activities, but there may be a lot more to these tasks. A new Creative Inquiry team is collecting information presented in social media outlets and analyzing how this material will affect numerous aspects of society, from businesses and stocks to law enforcement.

The team, led by Dr. Jason Thatcher, is using a Social Media Listening Center (SMLC) to collect what is communicated through social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn, as well as various blogs and online social communities. Clemson University was the first campus in the United States to start a facility like this. The SMLC is a collaborative effort through Dell, Clemson University, and Salesforce Radian6, the platform for the program. The center uses six large screens to monitor thousands of conversations that are taking place online in real time. Dell provided the advanced technology, while Clemson offered them the opportunity to use this system in an academic setting. Salesforce Radian6 allows the students to track, monitor trends, and analyze discussions taking place in social media posts and comments.

In order to obtain the best results, the team works on building "profiles" using important and specific keywords. Senior Heather Woodward notes, "It isn't easy. You have to put a lot of time and effort into your projects. If you have ever tried to use Google to search for something really specific, you have a small idea of what we do! You have to be persistent if you want to get any relevant results from your search."

After capturing and compiling target conversations, the students work to filter, sort, and prioritize the information. While these collection procedures are interesting enough, students are taking it further and applying the results to real-life situations using analytical tools in Microsoft Excel. Woodard explains, "Social media is the great unknown in the marketing world.

No one is really sure how much it helps or hurts a company. It is important to analyze it and understand it so it can be used correctly." Most importantly, students are learning to monitor trends that arise from over 150 million sources of social media discussions.

The Creative Inquiry team is broken into numerous small teams that are working on independent projects simultaneously. For example, one group is currently analyzing comments about companies, like Nissan, to predict stock market changes. Another group is working with a local emergency line to set up a program that can help track or report crime. What have these efforts taught the students? "Be careful what you post! If we can formulate a search that can help find criminals, then your potential employers can probably find you," Woodward advises.

The team is divided into two main sections based on levels of expertise, but they work in collaboration to learn and gain insight from each other. Students involved in this Creative Inquiry are majoring in a variety of disciplines, including marketing, business management, computer science, and engineering, among others. Kyle LePrevost, a student on the team, noted, "There are three things in life that I absolutely love: technology, statistics, and social media. Luckily for me this project hits all three of those passions."

Through the real-time insight that this project provides, the students are able to use highly advanced technology to track conversations in numerous social media outlets on the internet. Businesses can use this information to tailor their product line or marketing strategies, as well as determine the common public opinion of their company. While students are able to track information about major corporations, another question comes into view: where do we draw the line on the invasion of our privacy?

By: Rachel Wasylyk (Decipher Issue 1, Fall 2012)