Empowering the Future: Clemson University’s Brandon Boatwright inspires students by advancing social media research

Jaimie Selwa

July 19, 20235 min read

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Brandon Boatwright is an assistant professor in Clemson University’s Department of Communication. His career in research began when he was studying for his master’s degree and started to get involved in research projects.  

“I had already fallen in love with teaching,” he says. "But the more I got plugged into research projects – specifically those that focused on social media – the more I came to realize how much I enjoyed the challenge and opportunities associated with research.” 

As director of Clemson’s Social Media Listening Center (SMLC), he’s had the opportunity to grow that passion — and to ignite the same spark in the hearts of his students. We sat down with Boatwright to learn more about his work at the helm of Clemson’s social media lab. 

Tell us a little more about the SMLC. 

The SMLC is an interdisciplinary lab that utilizes cutting edge technology to listen to, measure and engage in online conversations across various digital and social media platforms. We have three main focus areas in our space: student success and engagement, academic research and industry partnerships. Since 2021 the lab has been powered by Sprinklr Insights.

We’re one of the first labs of its kind, and we’re always trying to stay on the bleeding edge of both industry and scholarly trends. We have a 1,200 square foot space in the library on campus that is highly visible to students. We use Sprinklr Display to project summaries of local, national and global conversations, which students and faculty then see while they’re in our space.  

What do you focus on in your research? 

My research interests primarily focus on the intersection of strategic communication, opinion leadership and social media. I’m a big sports fan, so I like to study the ways in which sport organizations, media companies and athletes use social media to advance social justice initiatives. I graduated from Clemson with my undergraduate degree in Communication in 2010 — and again with my master’s in 2013. I’m so honored to be back in my home department that shaped me into the person I am today and eager to pay that forward to future students that join our Clemson family.  

How do you incorporate real-world experiences into your teaching to prepare students for careers in social media research? 

Students’ access to Clemson’s Social Media Listening Center and to Sprinklr sets them up for success by providing hands-on experience using a best-in-class, AI-powered platform. In class, they work on the platform to learn social media best practices as well as data analytics and interpretation. 

Having this resource on campus — and having students come up to me after they’ve had a year or two of experience working in the real world and telling me they got their first job or their first internship because they had this experience on their resume — is an incredible thing for us. 

How has the SMLC and Sprinklr technology changed research at Clemson?  
The academic world is known for silos because it’s structured around academic disciplines, which can create barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. Clemson’s SMLC has begun to chip away at these silos by shifting the narrative — and the methodology — for how research is done in an academic setting. 

We often use Sprinklr for its capacity to pull data from hundreds of millions of different sources, and my colleagues will tell me this saves them hours of time in data collection. That’s because we don’t just pull reams of data. Sprinklr helps us get the right amount of data and the right kind of data that they need for their studies. 

This past year, my colleague, Andrew Pyle, and I used Sprinklr to collect data that would help us analyze how Ukraine and Kyiv have used their online platform to win the war of public opinion. Our research, “‘Don’t Mess with Ukrainian Farmers’: An examination of Ukraine and Kyiv’s official Twitter accounts as crisis communication, public diplomacy, and nation building during Russian invasion”, was published in the prestigious Public Relations Review journal. With Sprinklr, we are able to get data within a couple minutes versus a few hours or even days coding in Python or R.

The Department of Communication currently has upwards of ten projects in various stages of review, and SMLC has received more than 30 requests for data from university faculty for their respective research projects.

How does SMLC stay up to date with the latest technology advancements in the field of social media research? 

This really is a challenge. The landscape changes so frequently: new platforms emerge, new features are incorporated constantly and legal and ethical questions seem to crop up all the time. I definitely read a ton of industry newsletters and follow a lot of opinion leaders in this space. But I also try to keep up to speed with the growing body of scholarship on social media in any field of study. I’m housed in the Department of Communication, but social media has begun to emerge as a focal point in other disciplines like political science, agriculture, engineering, history, etc. In my role as director of the SMLC, I’m always trying to keep up to speed with what’s going on, so that I can assist students and faculty from a variety of disciplines. It’s incredibly rewarding to find ways to make both theoretical and practical advances in the study of social media.  

What’s next for you? 

I hope to establish a multi-disciplinary faculty associates program at Clemson — as well as a computational science certificate program. With the data that we're able to pull from Sprinklr, we can really start to train students and faculty from across the university in these research skills. It's a huge untapped area of research that is interdisciplinary in nature. We’re really just getting started, and we’re so excited to be partnering with Sprinklr as we move the space forward in the years to come.

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