Simple thoughts, ideas and opinions: They quickly become complicated when they’re multiplied by tens of thousands of social media users: think Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and more.

Whether you’re a journalist seeking to supplement news coverage of a political coup or you’re a multimillion-dollar corporation trying to better serve your customers — hearing what people have to say is important business.

What’s even more important is figuring out what all the chatter actually means.

That’s where social media experts and Clemson professors Jason Thatcher and Joe Mazer come in. Thatcher is a professor of management and director of the University’s Social Analytics Institute. Mazer is an assistant professor of communication studies and director of one of several social media listening centers housed at Clemson.

The two men work in concert with the University’s information technology team and its vast network of high-speed computers, helping to simplify and make sense of enormous datasets. The result is a social media command center unlike any other in the nation, one that serves Clemson students, staff, faculty and a variety of corporate partners.

“Clemson University has emerged as a national leader in the area of social analytics and is changing the landscape of how we listen and learn from online conversations,” Mazer offers. “Clemson students are gaining invaluable experience working with cutting-edge technology and are learning to apply their knowledge to their professional endeavors.”

It stands to reason, the issues that get people talking are, oftentimes, the most emotional issues facing our world today: Politics. Health care. Choosing a college. Going to war. Introducing critical thinking where emotion clouds the conversation helps sort out what’s perceived versus what’s real; what’s temporary versus what’s permanent.

Mazer and his communication studies students have worked with everyone from ESPN to local news stations, helping them turn social media conversations into insightful news content. Thatcher and his business-oriented student researchers, meanwhile, use their analysis of social media to help corporations and agencies better meet the needs of their customers. That might mean using it to develop a shipping box that looks easier to open or helping create an online health care exchange that’s simple to navigate.

Their work has attracted companies large and small, as well as government agencies such as the National Park Service. Their research has also drawn National Science Foundation grant dollars. The clients are diverse, but they all share a single goal: understanding, answers and insight into people’s perceptions of the world we live in.

“We not only show what people are talking about, we’re able to visualize how they talk to each other — where they’re having these conversations, when they’re having them and what it means,” offers Thatcher. “We’re out to extract meaning from conversations and see how people respond.”

Determined to advance social understanding — Head On.