More than 98 percent of college-aged students use social media, according to consumer research from Experian. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and other platforms have become vital communications vehicles for students, providing channels for gathering information, staying in touch with friends, keeping up with news, making professional connections and just generally staying in the loop.
It’s not all about selfies, funny videos and new music, either. Social media activity is actually a source of rich data that universities can mine for student outreach, marketing, reputation management and more. That’s why more and more universities are investing in social media monitoring software to “listen” for information that will help them better serve their students.
For example, researchers at UCLA’s Institute of Predictive Technology found that monitoring social media can help indicate early warning signs of emotional distress among first-year students. In the study involving 181 freshman volunteers, the researchers monitored Twitter accounts for sentiment (positive, negative, neutral) and emotion (anger, fear, love or happiness). They then correlated levels of stress with the types of tweets students sent.
The study concluded that social media listening has a “significant public health application” with the potential to provide real-time monitoring of the students’ “emotional well-being.”
There are many cases in which universities have used social media monitoring to identify posts from suicidal students and get them help. Schools have been able to investigate or intervene when they’ve spotted an uptick in threatening or offensive posts. In other cases, social media traffic has alerted schools to infrastructure or maintenance issues.
Additionally, social media monitoring is helping universities to recruit students who show interest in their schools, engage alumni for fundraising purposes, promote innovative new programs, boost athletic ticket sales and more. The ability to spot negative messages, and investigate and address issues quickly is invaluable for reputation management.
Social media monitoring software makes this possible by using Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) principles to collect and analyze information from social media sites and a variety of other public sources such as blog posts, chat rooms and even the dark web. The goal is to capture actionable data that can be analyzed to identify patterns and trends.
However, universities aren’t looking to invade the privacy of their students. OSINT essentially refers to information or data that is openly available for anyone to access. Schools aren’t monitoring private social media accounts, just information that is being posted in public forums.
They typically focus on a narrow band of information. Social media monitoring tools allow searches to be conducted on user-defined characteristics such as keywords or target geographic region. Users can even create a geo-fence around the campus or a particular building and receive posts in real time from that area. Powerful visualization tools help identify patterns, trends and influencers.
Because OSINT information tends to be raw, noisy and unstructured data, monitoring tools use algorithms and inference engines to filter and analyze the data to produce results that are easy to understand and manage. User-defined search criteria helps eliminate much of the commercial content on social media feeds and make it easier to gather relevant data that can be acted upon quickly.
Today’s students have grown up with mobile devices and social media platforms, and they count on these tools to maintain personal connections, gather information and resolve problems. With social media monitoring solutions, higher-education institutions have new and powerful ways to engage with their students for a variety of health, safety and learning benefits.