Grady College unveils new social media monitoring lab

Social media monitoring and analysis are two of the most sought-after skills from employers of recent graduates in public relations and advertising, and to meet that demand, Grady College has unveiled one of the largest learning labs of its kind in academia.

“It’s a very learn-by-doing environment,” said Itai Himelboim, associate professor of advertising and the director of the new SEE Suite.

The SEE Suite, or a Social media Engagement and Evaluation Suite, opened on the first floor of Grady College in January and features 20 double-monitor stations where students can examine cross-platform social media data, analyze brand engagement, identify actionable consumer insights and collaborate with agencies and clients.

“We need to train our students for these growing employment opportunities,” Himelboim said.

In addition to the student work spaces, the lab also features:

•    Two 80″ social media data screens used for instruction and live stream of social media data.

•    Two 70″ cable news screens to monitor traditional media.

•    The ability to transform into a social media war room for strategizing and live engagement.

•    Full video conferencing capabilities allowing students to work with agencies.

Not only is the social media analysis important, but, so, too, is being able to analyze big data. The tools in this lab allow for this dissection.

“The lab is providing us access to data and analysis for cutting-edge research by graduate students and faculty,” Himelboim continued. “Understanding how to analyze and make sense of big social data is key for understanding many timely research questions. Ongoing research includes topics in brand engagement, health communication, political communication and civil engagement.”

Since the goal of the new learning lab is to teach students in preparation for their future careers, input from industry professionals was vital in creating the space. An advisory committee was created to produce feedback on the lab and on curriculum.

Advisory committee members included Jack Boland (ABJ ’13), Dynamic Web Solutions; Rachel Borrelli, Jackson Spalding; Paul Broft, Salesforce; Kristen Green (ABJ '07), Huge; Kristen Heetland (ABJ '13, AB '13), MSL; Christie Nichols (ABJ ’02), Kids II; Kaylea Notarthomas (ABJ '11, BS '11), Porter Novelli; Mallory Perkins Schroth (ABJ '08), Walmart; Melissa Read, Sapient Nitro; and Hillary Traylor (ABJ '10), 22squared.

“The SEE Suite was such a collaborative effort among our faculty, staff and advisory committee, and one that will pay great dividends for both our students and future employers” said Tom Reichert, the UGA Athletic Association Professor of Advertising and head of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations. “It couldn't have happened without the key support from Dean Davis, Brooke Rooks, and our IT manager Cletus Stripling, and we are especially grateful for the guidance of our professional advisory committee, and to committed alums like Gretchen Erwin for their support.

Erwin, who is a 1977 Grady graduate, made a generous contribution to help fund the SEE Suite.

Creating a space that was large enough to teach numerous students, but also one that is similar to current industry standards, was important.

Notarthomas, who was part of the advisory committee, kept this in mind when she was providing feedback on the new space.

“Equipping students with top-of-the-line tools is so important, as it allows them to conduct deeper analysis, broad social listening and meaningful engagement,” said Notarthomas. “With so many moving parts, computer screen real estate is also significant – with larger screens and powerful processors, students in the SEE Suite can work effectively and efficiently.”

She sees similarities between the crisis and issues analysis service where she works at Porter Novelli and the SEE Suite. “The advantage of our service and the SEE Suite is that rather than focus solely on social media, the space features television feeds, which allows students to draw connections and make inferences about online conversation and traditional media coverage.”

The most important element, however, is the transferability of this education into the real world.

Himelboim concluded: “We teach students the measurements, how to ask the questions, how to tell the story, and how to report it. Yes, they apply it with top social media analytics tools available at the SEE Suite. Our students also learn to learn independently: they apply their understanding of key concepts in analytics and engagement, to a new set of tools, because they will not necessarily have the same software when in their first job.”

Current classes taught in the SEE Suite include Social Media Analytics, Listening and Engagement and Applied Network Analysis of Social Media.

More information can be found on the SEE Suite website, or by following its Twitter account @SEESuiteUGA.

Date: February 26, 2016
Author:  Sarah Freeman,
Contact:  Itai Himelboim,