Clemson U. Turns to Control System to Run Social Media Command Center

Projectors, LCD displays and classroom PCs are controlled from a single touch panel.

Social media isn’t just a way to stay connected. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and even Pinterest are powerful indicators of public opinion. The things we post, tweet and pin say a lot about who we are and how we think. That’s why a technique known as social media listening is emerging as a powerful research tool in both the education and corporate worlds.

“Social media listening is the process of collecting data across all of the social media websites and taking those conversations and figuring out how to extract some kind of meaning and value from them,” says Jason Thatcher, associate professor in the College of Business and Behavioral Science at Clemson University.

Last year, the university completed construction on a state-of-the art social media listening center located in a renovated building on campus. The room is part social media command center and part classroom. It uses Radian6, a social media monitoring software, to analyze and assimilate data and the room includes six PC’s tied to Radian6 servers, a digital switching system from Crestron, six flat panel LCD displays and two Panasonic PTDZ570 projectors.

The Design

The listening center isn’t associated with any one college at Clemson. A wide range of disciplines including management, psychology, communications, engineering and computer science use the facility.

“We use it to monitor conversations around politics and brands,” says Thatcher. For example, students have used the listening room to analyze conversations around the Clemson athletic program. You can create a heat map that shows what topics are hot where. You can also scan multiple social media sites and pick out the most influential voices in the conversations across each platform. Analyzing this type of information allows an organization or a brand to better understand its customer or audience. From an academic standpoint, it allows students to extract themes from a conversation and make predictions or conclusions on a particular topic.

“We’ve done the Clemson brand itself. I have students that are working on a project monitoring a stream with admissions so it’s more than a class. It’s actually real business applications,” says Thatcher.

The university’s listening room was designed to look like the Dell Social Media Listening Command Center in Austin, Texas. In 2011, Clemson University CIO Jim Bottum toured the Dell facility and was impressed with what he saw. Bottum was interested in building a similar operation at Clemson to use the research gleaned from social media for academic purposes. Dell became a partner in building the facility.

“CIO Jim Bottum came up with the idea and we kind of ran with it,” says Thatcher.

The room was ultimately designed through a combination of efforts including IT staff, faculty and the Clemson A/V engineer Chuck Heck. Unlike the Dell command center, the university’s listening center also had to work as a functioning classroom. Although the room isn’t necessarily used for traditional lectures, it is still a learning environment and had to be designed as such.

“I managed to combine basically an operating center with a small eight- to twelve-seat classroom environment,” says Heck.

While there aren’t desks or lecture hall seating, there are a number of conference tables and smaller round tables from which students can see the six LCD display panels. The displays are purposely arranged too far apart to be considered a video wall, something that may surprise visitors.

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