For thousands of students, opening the mailbox to find a Clemson University acceptance letter is the realization of a lifelong dream. Enhancing the dreams of those incoming freshmen is a goal of innovative social media research being conducted by undergraduates at Clemson to help smooth those new students’ transition to college life.

In an effort to provide incoming students with a warm welcome into the Clemson Family, researchers and students in Clemson’s Social Analytics Institute (SAI) have teamed up with the university’s admissions and public affairs offices to track these elated future Tigers’ social media posts announcing their acceptance.

Social media research by Clemson students will help improve the admissions process here and at other universities

Kristy Ward, a junior marketing major, believes the SAI project experience has enhanced her employability.

Through Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program and with the help of the University Professional Internship Co-op Program (UPIC) interns, Jason Thatcher’s classes have tracked more than 30,000 social media posts of future Tigers for the past three years. The project builds processes to identify posts from soon-to-be freshmen, along with how and when to reach out to congratulate them on their acceptance and to answer questions they have concerning the next four years.

“This is a student-driven process,” said Thatcher, a professor of management and director of the SAI. “My Creative Inquiry students have a deeper understanding of the technologies of their future peers, not to mention a stronger grasp on effective communication over social media, than “less hip” faculty and staff.”

The project has led to development of a professional response team of university ambassadors who address questions posed on student posts, while the undergraduates supply the data and back-end analytics to supplement the university team.

Crystal Bennett, a web content developer for Clemson’s creative services department, led the initial charge of examining social chatter around admissions by sharing professional templates she uses in her daily work. That collaboration provided students a first-hand glimpse into the world of social media strategy.

“This project has helped me so much on my way to getting a job in this industry,” said Kristy Ward, a junior marketing major and student in the Creative Inquiry program. “It was really interesting to see the varying reactions when kids get their acceptance letters. It’s even better that we get to collect data and work with the admissions department to improve Clemson’s processes.”

An SAI intern and member of the Creative Inquiry class, Ward and fellow project members used Radian6 software to elevate this year’s iteration of the project by identifying trends in conversations surrounding admissions. Her work uncovered organic hashtags created by the accepted students, pockets of conversation surrounding weather-delayed envelopes, and more.

SAI’s Creative Inquiry class has played a key role in understanding how social media contributes to college recruitment at Clemson and beyond.  Faculty and students have presented results of the admissions workshops at leading universities, such as Yale University and the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong as well as industry conferences such as Dreamforce and Dellworld. These presentations have served as platforms for widespread dissemination of Clemson’s research.

The project’s success has led to Clemson teaming up with Baylor University in order to further explore how to apply social analytics to admissions. Ward is leading this early-stage project, focusing on the effects media events have on the quality of students applying to Baylor. She will be helping Baylor students track the relationship between sports, social media, and admissions as part of a capstone information systems course.

The SAI-Admissions partnership is a prime example of Clemson’s campus-wide commitment to collaborative undergraduate student research, with contributions from the College of Business and Behavioral Science, Clemson Computing and Information Technology (CCIT), the Office of Admissions, and Creative Services.