SMART Lab expands horizons in social media analytics

ATHENS, Ohio (April 29, 2016)—The new Social Media Analytics Research Team (SMART) Lab in the Scripps College of Communication provides students and faculty in the college with the ability to research and analyze the impact of social media on surrounding specific events or organizations.

The facility, currently being envisioned and built with equipment, a whiteboard wall, collaborative meeting space and large touchscreen monitors for visually sharing compelling data analytics to large groups, will be fully online in mid-May for students and faculty in the Scripps College of Communication and across Ohio University.

“SMART Lab is what the name says it is, we have to be very smart in the way we strategically deal with the objectives of an organization and address measurement issues which are the core of any business organization strategy,” said Dr. Laeeq Khan, SMART Lab director and School of Media Arts & Studies assistant professor. “Anywhere, anyplace that data is generated we should be thinking about measuring what’s going on. If we can’t measure it, we can’t do anything about it.”

The SMART Lab, located in Scripps Hall Room 212, will utilize several different software tools to help faculty and students “listen” and analyze different social media trends or topics. Astute Social is a social media management tool that can “listen” to social media conversations and “understand the nuance of language and emotions, including slang and sarcasm”. Semantria can monitor text and sentiment analysis, which is determining whether a piece of writing online is positive, negative or neutral. Netlytic is a social networks analyzer that can “automatically summarize and discover social networks from online conversations on social media sites”. The Lab will also build capacity for coding to analyze large datasets by using Python and R software.

“When you talk about tools available at our disposal we have several, which are quite beneficial in making sense and listening to what is going on out there,” said Khan. “For example, the current election is coming up so being able to monitor debates and the reactions that are coming from those audiences online would be something that we could do. We are also in the process of subscribing to Nuvi, that is a fabulous listening tool that can also visualize data for us.”

Some analytic tools are already in place and being used for student and faculty led projects even though the physical SMART Lab space is still under construction.

Late spring semester Khan and Dr. Greg Newton, a SMART Lab research collaborator and associate professor in the School of Media Arts & Studies, began gathering data and data mining Twitter about the Zika virus and its impact on the Olympics. The Zika virus is a disease which is transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes. The team will be running several analyses on the data collected and trying to understand the reaction to crisis situations and what a specific emergency preparedness would look like. According to Khan this project will be in full swing this summer and later this fall they plan to send their findings to conferences and journals for publication.

A student project on the Syrian refugee crisis is utilizing Semantria, a tool taught in Khan’s MDIA 590 Social Media Analytics class, to study the impact it has had, how it is being portrayed in international newspapers, the sentiment impact it has had on individuals and its impact on policy-making. Another student-led project is focusing on how universities are engaging with their current and future students, using Netlytic to collect the data and SPSS, software used for statistical analysis, for data analytics.

While the main objective of the SMART Lab is to promote research and provide faculty and student partners to help conduct it, once the Lab is fully-operational it can provide assistance on social media topics to other entities within Ohio University and to potential clients outside of the institution.

“One of the major things we want to do besides the research component is facilitating other schools and colleges and entities within the University to benefit from our expertise,” said Khan. “If they have a social media strategy our team will be more than happy to help them optimize it using social media analytics. I understand that everyone has a good social media presence, but what we mean by “good” can mean very different things. Making sure that we’re reaching the right people at the right time using the right content, but most importantly being able to measure what we’re doing.”

In addition to using the facility for both data mining and analytics on hot topics, Khan intends to host an analytics summit, graduate research seminars, coding workshops and brownbag lunches. Additional industry and academic partnerships are also planned to assist in research projects.

For more information about the SMART Lab, visit their Facebook page.

Original article by Claire Berlin

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