Social Media Analytics Help Universities Listen to and Aid Student Conversations

What External Affairs can learn from the ongoing #Mizzou Dialogue

Amid universities’ efforts to promote end-of-semester sporting events, ready students for final exams, and prepare for the spring semester, recent events at the University of Missouri and others have sparked a conversation about race and ethnicity in American universities. In addition to on-campus protests and demonstrations, students, news sources, and activists have taken to social media to engage in the dialogue. While news sources have largely focused on several specific institutions, racial discrimination is not isolated to the universities in the media. Taking students’ perspectives into account is important for universities to successfully recruit and serve diverse student bodies. Social media analytics allow marketers and external affairs officials to react to recent happens and create proactive strategies for aiding all students.
Measuring the volume and sentiment of conversation is crucial for devising when and how to handle sensitive topics. Analyzing conversation from November 1st to November 21st captures the conversation that was sparked by the conflict surrounding the resignation of University of Missouri President, Tim Wolfe. The conversation was composed of roughly 112k tweets and there was a spike in conversation on November 11th. Auto sentiment analysis shows that the conversation is made up of a mix of positive (11%), neutral (52%), and negative (37%) comments.
Investigating the use of hashtags and location provide key insights into what social media users are talking about and where conversation is taking place. Top hashtags highlight that the University of Missouri is at the heart of the conversation, with the most-used hashtag being #mizzou which was used 64k times. Geographic data also shows that the conversation is centered in Missouri, with 468 Tweets per million far outweighing the tweets per million written in the rest of the 50 states. Evidence that the conversation expanded to the larger discrimination dialogue, with the appearance of hashtags such as  #blackoncampus (27k) and #blacklivesmatter (12k), highlights the fact that this is a growing conversation that external affairs officials must monitor and address in a timely manner.
Student Support Map
Digging deeper into the conversation content allows universities to establish what social media users are talking about and how they may be able to respond with official statements as well as policy changes. Topic wheels can be used to identify key conversation topics, sub-topics, and the posts from which they are composed. Quick filters that screen posts by categories like gender, location, and author interest allow for even greater specificity. “College campus” and its subtopic, “students”, highlight the emphasis that social media users place on campuses that are safe for all students. In addition to confronting the racism that afflicts students of color on college campuses, users also present their views of the consequences of racism and school policies that may improve the college experiences of students of color.
Finally, identifying who is participating in the conversation is vital for making sure the message is geared towards the right audience. When looking at Affinities, it is clear that political enthusiasts are highly engaged in the conversation. The audience is 285 times more interested in political campaigns, 32 times more interested in Benghazi, and 26 times more interested in conservative politics than the general Twitter audience. Similarly, they are very interested in political programs: 28 times more interested in Politico, 117 times more interested in MSNBC, and 6 times more interested in CNN. Monitor settings and quick filters help to sort through political enthusiasts and pundits so that universities can focus on the needs of students.
Difficult conversations about racial discrimination in American universities have taken place on college campuses and on social media. Students’ well-being is one of university officials top priorities and they must search out the best tools to serve and protect their students. Analyzing social media conversation provides valuable insights into the issues that students are facing and the solutions that they would like administrations to pursue. By identifying students’ voices in the conversation and listening to what they are saying, universities can focus services and policies towards students’ needs. While the University of Missouri remains at the center of the conversation, concerns about campus safety and a larger discussion about racial discrimination are crucial aspects of the conversation. Addressing these concerns with real-time social media analysis of conversation sentiment and content as well as audience characteristics provides a proactive avenue towards change rather than unsolved problems and reactive crisis control.
For more information on how to handle a crisis in a higher ed institution, read our case study analysis on the public relations controversy at the University of Oklahoma here.

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