CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson University has built a Social Media Listening Center (SMLC), with support from Dell and Salesforce Radian6.

The center enables students to monitor thousands of online conversations about organizations, brands, products and services on a global scale in real time. This allows for more sophisticated review, routing and response to social media posts and content.

“We are early, possibly the first, academic adopters of this technology and approach,” said Clemson Chief Information Officer Jim Bottum.

Bottum learned about a social media listening center during a visit to Dell’s headquarters last year. He proposed a partnership that would involve student engagement, faculty research and an environment to test the value of the center in helping an IT organization move into a more proactive service position.

“When I returned to campus and talked to faculty, students and staff about the Social Media Listening Center, I sensed a very high level of interest and excitement — more so about this project than any other technology we’ve undertaken at Clemson,” Bottum said. “They were from a wide range of disciplines, too, including business, communication studies, psychology, marketing, computing and others. The center is inherently interdisciplinary and focuses on an area where all students and a growing segment of our population lives: social media.”

Dell officials also were enthusiastic about the proposed partnership.

”The ability to bring what Dell has learned and developed in social media to academia is extremely exciting for us,” said John Mullen, vice president and general manager for education, state and local government, Dell. “Clemson University is a leader in the field and their desire to provide their students and faculty with innovative new technology is critical. We’re looking forward to seeing what we can continue to build together and, more importantly, finding new ways to really impact student life and learning on and off campus through the Social Media Listening Center.”

The SMLC has six large display screens that faculty and students monitor, similar to a small network operations center. Salesforce Radian6 provides the platform to listen, discover, measure and engage in conversations across the Web by capturing more than 150 million sources of social media conversations, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs and other online communities. The Radian6 summary dashboard provides a graphic display of social media content to convey sentiment, share of voice, trend information, geolocation data and much more.

Clemson faculty members mentor their students on social media research and issues through Creative Inquiry team projects and in communication and management classes.

Jason Thatcher, associate professor in the management department, is the center’s academic lead. Barbara Weaver, project manager in the Clemson University Cyberinstitute, is the information technology lead.

“My students are learning to listen to the online conversations around private, nonprofit and public organizations. By learning how to listen and what to listen for they can understand how to better engage in the civil discourse around different parts of our society,” Thatcher said.

Sample projects include student teams listening to:

  • the conversation among Millenials about an automobile brand to help another student team create an advertising campaign for a specific car;
  • conversations about emergency management issues to determine patterns in conversations that may help law enforcement deliver better services to citizens; and
  • online conversations around college athletics. They are examining the words people use to describe college sports, patterns and conversations about different sports, and why differences exist in conversations around women and men's college sports.

“This is the future of social media education, a listening center that doubles as a way to educate students on how marketing and service are changing,” said Marcel LeBrun, Salesforce Radian6 senior vice president and general manager. “We’re happy to work with forward-thinking organizations like Clemson and Dell to further demonstrate the social revolution.” 

At the university, the SMLC is a collaborative initiative between Clemson Computing and Information Technology, the Clemson University Cyberinstitute, the College of Business and Behavioral Science and the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.


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