Our Social Toolset: The Importance of Social Media Analytics on College Campuses

With each passing year, young adults further dominate the social media scene. Over 90% of adults aged 18 – 29 use at least one form of social media according to a Pew Research article, and in many cases these young adults have been using online technology since childhood. From maintaining and growing their own online image to managing the social medias of various businesses and organizations, college students seem to have solidified their role as gurus of web popularity. However, many college students are underutilizing an invaluable tool for online navigation: social media analytics.

Social media analytics, in its most basic form, is the collection, organization and understanding of various social media data. Popular programs such as Google Analytics and Meltwater allow users to quickly and efficiently discover how people are using various social medias and what’s trending at any given time. This is nothing new to the corporate world: many businesses and professional organizations have been using these tools for years to improve their marketing to audiences worldwide. With them, businesses can discover if they are discussed favorably online, detect themes within the texts of their advertising campaigns, and predict movement in trends that may impact company growth.

With all these tools at their disposal, why are many student organizations with online presence not using analytics to improve their spread? The simplest answer is that most universities don’t emphasize its importance. While many colleges and universities offer marketing and advertising degrees with a focus on online development, few offer courses that focus on the usage of social media analytics technology. Many students are content to make social media decisions based on intuition, unaware that tools exist to help them map out trends through statistics.

Illinois State University has many organizations that could benefit from using social media analytics. Several Registered Student Organizations already have a sizable online presence, such as the ISU student radio station WNZD’s 2800 Twitter followers, and student news organization The Vidette’s impressive 6500 Twitter followers. As many student organizations rely on capitalizing on current events while they’re relevant, the ability to analyze online trends and make predictions would be invaluable. Analytics could also find use among social media staff working for official ISU departments, as these staff are often hired students or student interns. Illinois State Athletics’ official Twitter account, ISU Redbirds, has over 34000 Twitter followers. The way people talk about ISU sports online tends to fluctuate frequently depending on how well ISU does. The ability to analyze the audience sentiment, or their positive/negative opinion, as it grows and shrinks over time will help student social media workers deal with backlash or take advantage of the hype. Finally, educating students on how to use these tools will provide them with highly marketable skills for the post-graduation job hunt. Students hoping to work in marketing, communications and public relations fields will find the ability to analyze online data will allow them to produce better digital marketing campaigns. This is will likely only become more desirable as companies continue to focus on the internet and social media as a means of reaching audiences.

How do we better educate Illinois State students in the ways of social analytics? Through directly marketing social media analytics programs, such as ISU’s Social Media Analytics Command Center (SMACC), to student organizations and official ISU departments, we can ensure more students at ISU are aware of these valuable tools. It would be especially helpful if programs such as the SMACC themselves had prominent online presences, to illustrate to students the usefulness of social analytics.

As social media platforms continue to grow in size and popularity, hopefully so too will the tools used to analyze and understand them. As we students continue to learn more about the ins and outs of navigating online media and the tactics of online fame, we should remember that it is important to know not only how to use social media, but how it works at its core.

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