UT Students to Provide Real-Time Social Media Analysis of Presidential Debates

A UT graduate research seminar will be monitoring social media discourse during the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates and on Election Day with the new state-of-the-art Adam Brown Social Media Command Center as its hub.

The students will be looking for trends and reporting them in real time for media use and public consumption.

Ten students, including both master’s and doctoral degree candidates, are enrolled in the School of Journalism and Electronic Media’s Political Communication seminar taught by Stuart N. Brotman,  JEM’s Howard Distinguished Endowed Professor of Media Management and Law and the Beaman Professor of Communication and Information. Under Brotman’s leadership, the class has formed The Political Social Media Research Group, which will be sharing its findings via Twitter (@PSMRG_UTK), Facebook (The PoliticalSocialMediaResearchGroup), Instagram (@psmrg_utk), and Medium (PSMRG), along with other social media outlets.

“Because social media have become so central to this campaign, we are the perfect group to be doing this,” said Brotman. “UT is one of the few universities in the world to have access to state-of-the-art social media analytic technology that can be used for this type of impactful research.”

The College of Communication and Information’s Adam Brown Social Media Command Center uses Salesforce Marketing Cloud Social Studio—the same technology Fortune 100 companies worldwide use to publish, engage, and analyze their social media marketing activities. The center was built and is operated through a fund established for the college by Brown, an alumnus of the college who is now executive strategist for the San Francisco-based Salesforce.

Brotman’s students, who come from journalism and electronic media, communication studies, political science, and public policy, meet weekly for a three-hour lab course. At the beginning of the semester they were trained to use the center’s tools. Since then, they’ve been practicing with the technology to become adept at monitoring various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and Instagram.

They’re also testing various search terms to gather the best information possible.

During the debates, the class will convene in the center. Students will have specific assignments as they monitor social media to look for trends and flashpoints—issues which spur the most social chatter—and also judge the sentiment of the chatter. The software will allow them to analyze how various issues spark debate on one platform versus another and in one region of the country or world versus another. The software can also generate charts, graphs, and word clouds.

Brotman said his goal is to help the students gain experience with social media analysis, and political communication, and see what it’s like to be part of a rigorous research team. At the same time, he wants to gain attention for UT, the College of Communication and Information, and the powerful research tools the center provides.

Brotman said he thinks his students working in the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center—which he calls the “gold standard” of social media monitoring—can generate unique data and analysis for media outlets nationwide and around the world, along with the public at large.

“We want to get cited widely, given the unique research we will be offering,” Brotman said, adding that he hopes many media sources will find the value in relaying some of the students’ findings in their coverage of the debates.

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)