Drinking from the Fire Hose: Social Media on Campus

March 15, 2016
Campuses should implement specific social media strategies based on their unique environment and size

Universities and campuses realize that it is more important than ever to listen to and engage with social media for the safety and protection of students, staff and visitors. There are many social media analytics and situational awareness platforms that exist today, and education administrations all over the world utilize these tools for risk mitigation strategies. Athletics, Student Life, Community Relations and Campus Safety departments, for example, are creating processes and procedures around the use of social media in daily operations.

The amount of social media data is massive and continues to grow daily. Large social channels like Twitter and YouTube report seeing more than 500 million posts per day and over 1 billion monthly active users. Social media has completely transformed the way people all over the world communicate, especially young adults. Over 90 percent of young adults ages 18-29 are active on social media today, up from only 12 percent in 2005 (Source: Pew Research, 2015).

College students are early adopters of emerging social media channels as well as active users of the most popular channels. The result is an abundance of social data on college campuses that can provide administrators with an extra layer of information to predict developing topics and trends, analyze behaviors, and act on real-time conversations to drive engagement and maintain safety. With so much at stake, administrators and other campus departments must add social intelligence to ensure a secure environment. Each department can utilize social data in different and specific ways to mitigate risk throughout all campus activities.

Athletic Departments

Faced with providing a fun experience for students, fans and visitors at every event, event staff can engage directly on social media to provide special offers and address complaints or issues. Even more important is maintaining a safe environment for attendees and participating athletes. Social media can often reveal plans for, or witnesses to, altercations between fans or disruptions to the game before security staff is even aware. Identifying this content quickly through a real-time platform and understanding crowd sentiment improves response times and allows for more efficient allocation of resources. Media credential and ticket sharing on social media has also become an issue, especially at large universities and high-profile games. By easily identifying when and where these types of posts occur, counterfeiting or incidents of unapproved event access decrease.

Student Life / Student Affairs Departments

Multiple campus activities are happening every day on campus, and while administrators of Student Life/Student Affairs can’t be everywhere at once, they can understand what is happening and engage with students via social media. Analytics tools enable listening of social media in a variety of ways – by location, keyword, topic and more. Depending on the campus activities, Student Life professionals can focus on the topics or locations that matter most. Understanding sentiment surrounding campus activities makes it possible to predict trends or potential issues and mitigate risk before any problems develop. In addition, social media is an outlet for many students who might need assistance. Posts that reveal signs of mental health issues, substance abuse or violence are important for Student Affairs professionals to engage in and provide assistance. Identifying and evaluating these situations is vital for student well-being and safety on campus.

Community Relations / Campus Safety

Depending on the size of the school, campuses can have thousands or millions of visitors each year. Community relations and campus safety departments want to ensure that each person who steps on campus has a good experience. Social media can play a big part in that. Engaging with visitors on social media about activities on campus, news, and announcements, special promotions or other information enhances the overall visit. Conversations about campus can sometimes span globally, so understanding international trends and conversations are also important. Should situations such as protests or riots arise, Community Relations departments need to stay ahead of and manage conversations on social media that could have local and global implications. Protecting the university brand and reputation is important for all departments, as it will have an impact on all activities across campus.

With real-time information and alerts, internal and external threats to campus can be prevented. Crisis situations such as active shooters on campus are all too common in today’s world. Social media provides additional intelligence and situational awareness to safety officials working to protect everyone. Information from social media that might otherwise go unnoticed is often integral to campus investigations.

Best Practices

Each campus should implement a specific social media strategy based on its unique environment and size; however, every school can utilize best practices for more effective implementation and day-to-day use. Here are five ways to ensure campus engagement on social media mitigates risk and drives engagement:


  1. Start with Location: By narrowing the location focus of social media, social data from specific campus locations (buildings, streets, arenas, parking lots, etc.) as well as surrounding areas of campus, provides the most actionable information. Administrators should first focus locally, then take into consideration national or global trends for the most success.
  2. Real-Time: Monitoring content as it’s created improves response time and efficiency. Many campuses have a command center or operations center that listens and analyzes many different data sources 24/7. Social media platforms that deliver real-time content and analytics provide instant intelligence to inform decisions about resource deployment and response strategies.
  3. Automate: Effectively detecting the signals from the noise can be a full-time job without automated alerts to provide the most actionable posts. Alerts can be generated on many platforms based on keyword, user or even emoji. With these alerts, officials can more effectively respond to social media activity and mitigate risk.
  4. Analyze: Mining archived data to identify keyword trends, time-based activity, influential posters, activity trends, social media sources and more enhances real-time and future responses for the most effective strategies. In addition to historic data analysis, applying date, time, keyword, username and network filters allows for quick access to the most relevant content in real-time.
  5. Go Mobile: Mobile applications of social media intelligence platforms enhance the information sharing between departments and greatly improve situational awareness for teams on the go. Information can be sent directly to mobile devices of team members in the field, ensuring faster and more effective responses.


Social media provides important insights to a variety of departments on campuses. Athletics, Student Life, Community Relations and Campus Safety departments are only some of the many departments that benefit from the intelligence that comes from social media. Administrators and safety officials not listening and engaging in the social conversations on campus miss a critical data source for keeping students, staff and visitors safe. In today’s world, it is more important than ever for campuses everywhere to pay attention to all sources of intelligence and put social media to work, using analytics and situational awareness tools as part of risk mitigation strategies. Social media will continue to grow and evolve. Stay ahead of the trends and protect campus by paying attention to the social conversations happening every minute.

 About the Author:

Phil Harris, CEO and co-founder of Geofeedia. Harris has a long history of operating high-growth businesses. From 1994 to 1996, he worked with one of the largest cable operators, Continental Cablevision (now Time Warner), to develop their Internet broadband strategy. From 1996 to 1998, Harris served on the senior management teams of such ventures as Move.com and Match.com. From 1998 to 2000, he was the SVP of Corporate Development at priceline.com (NYSE: PCLN) where he led a variety of strategic initiatives prior to its IPO. Harris graduated from Ohio State University in 1991 and received his MBA from Harvard University in 1996.


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