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Introducing Social Media Analytics

Learn more about the importance of social media data during crisis.
Hello, my name is Sorin Adam Matei and I’m a professor at the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. I designed this future learn course to help students, professionals and learners in general. How to use the huge amount of data available on social media sites to make better decisions and increase the return on investment for any communication campaign involving social media. Social media has become a fact of life. And as you have probably seen in the news lately, one of the defining aspects of social media is that it generates vast amounts of data. One of the most exciting things about this data is that it goes beyond the text that people type into the little windows on their phones.
That’s just the start of the story. Let’s consider an example. On October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy devastated coastal areas of New York and New Jersey, causing billions of dollars in damage and killing thousands of people in the US and the Caribbean. In the hours and days before Sandy made landfall in the northeast, the region was in a state of worried anticipation. Sandy was not technically a hurricane. Despite the warnings issued by federal agencies that Sandy would be worse than anything the region had seen since 1962, the fact that it was not a hurricane meant that local government officials were left to make their own evacuation decisions. Instead of the federal government making that decision for them.
That vacuum of centralized decision making in the face of tremendous risk and ambiguity meant that there was a great amount of interest in reporting in what was happening with Sandy. Due to the real time quickly unfolding nature of events, Twitter became a very powerful tool for communities to report to each other what was happening as it happened. This was a fascinating opportunity for a Purdue research team, including the Vaccine Center, led by Dr. David Ebert. This team shared with me and my colleagues over 40,000 tweets issued during the storm. We used them to explore several issues, such as, how do people behave in a crisis? When there’s danger, do people avoid or not avoid danger areas?
What characterizes the people who move toward the danger? What characterizes the people who move away from danger? A paper which you can find on this site captured this information and our conclusions. In order to address issues like these we have to know how to listen to the data. We have to know how to separate the significant from the insignificant. And that’s exactly what you’re going to learn how to do in this course. Beyond the kind of research that I do, these skills are highly sought after in the business world. For companies such data represents an incredible opportunity.
But in order to seize that opportunity, to know more about who your customers really are, to learn the perfect place, to open your next store, or to spot emerging trends before they break. Business leaders will have to know how to transform that social media data into business intelligence and actionable insight. If you decide to learn more after these three weeks, you’ll be able to enroll in subsequent modules, and you’ll get an opportunity to do a project that proves that you are able to apply social media analysis. That all together is equivalent to one course in our Master of Science and Communication program.


Social media is everywhere (think: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat—the list goes on). When it comes to social media, the content is more than words, pictures, and links. All of these social media platforms generate massive amounts of data. The platforms collect information about the way people feel, as well as human interactions and viewpoints, among other things. This data can capture cognitions, emotions, behaviours, and attitudes—all of which are constantly changing, yet insightful and valuable.

In business, this data can be used to learn from customers, improve products and services, and even gain a competitive advantage. However, social media data most often contains messy, unstructured information, which is notoriously difficult to handle. That means we have to know how to separate the significant from the insignificant and analyse the data accurately.

We know that social media is a powerful tool. As discussed in the video, during Superstorm Sandy it was used to pass on vital information to people who could not access traditional news outlets, like TV or radio. As we learned, information about the storm generated at least 40,000 tweets. The vast amount of information being sent on social media became a huge asset to people in the path of that deadly storm.

With all of the posts out there, how would you sort through these tweets? What kinds of trends would you look for during a situation like that?

Social media analytics presents many possibilities by gathering data and analysing social media data. However, the role of social media analytics is to make data from the content useful and effective. In this course, we’ll discuss the opportunities and limitations of using social media data, explore the basic types of social media data, identify the possibilities and techniques available, and use data to answer questions and report actionable insights.

This week, you will learn about the net benefits and opportunities offered by social media in supporting your social media communication, advertising, or PR campaigns.

  • From your experiences, what are some ways that social media analysis is useful for businesses?

Download the paper on social media and natural emergencies to read more about how Dr. Matei’s research team at Purdue University analysed Superstorm Sandy tweets to explore how people react in a crisis.

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Digital Media Analytics: Introduction

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