Archive for August, 2009

No Man’s Blog on Problems with Social Media Monitoring

Nice post here by Asi Sharabi on some of the shortcomings of social media monitoring services.  If you sum up his analysis to “they don’t work like they’re supposed to, they take too much time, and they’re too expensive,” it comes off as a little trite.  He didn’t sum it up like that, of course, but that’s the gist of it.  I haven’t seen as many services in action, but I don’t think he’s too far off-base.

The comments here are worth reading, because a few things emerge.

1) He gets little argument.  Comments tend to agree with his anaylsis.  It’s unclear whether it’s a surprised agreement or recognition of familiar but unarticulated sentiment—I think a little of both.

2) As Jeff Scott points out, given how many monitoring companies have responded, “we know they’re drinking their own kool-aid.”

3) It’s a nascent technology.  Sure there will be growing pains, but data are there and knowing how to use them is going to be important.  You’ve got to start somewhere.

4) What really sparked my interest was the observation of the intersection between market research and social media monitoring, both in the problems they address and the tools they use.

How the value proposition can be worked out remains to be seen, but I think monitoring services have utility, even in their current state.  I have not seen a service that will autonomously deliver meaningful results, but in the hands of a capable user, even the current technology—with all its limitations—can be valuable.

I thought Brian Johnson really nailed it:

You didn’t really state what your goals in using those platforms. While there are use cases for monitoring (crisis management, directly engaging influencers, etc), I believe that the real value is thinking of social media like a massive dataset, much like what CRM has evolved to. It’s an incredible dataset, when you sit down and think about it, offering based on the sheer volume, authenticity, and real-time nature of the data. There is amazing value to be had by performing in-depth analytics on that data and using it to inform strategic marketing decisions. Far greater than simply counting how many times your brand is mentioned, and whether it’s good or bad.

Two examples  from a couple local (Kansas City) vendors (who weren’t mentioned in Asi’s hit list).  I’ll say upfront that these reflections are impressionistic.  I don’t have deep experience with either, but I’ve learned a bit about them, and here’s what I was left with:

Social Radar/Infegy’s game is mass data aggregation.  By collecting feed data (as in RSS) and warehousing it, they are able to maintain a remarkably consistent database.  Will it still include spam?  Sure.  Will it miss some important (non-RSS) conversations?  Yep.  But the theory is that you’re accumulating so much information and in a consistent manner such that trends over time will still be meaningful.  It’s not foolproof.  I’m unaware of any studies indicating that variation in spam conversation correlates with actual conversation, but it also seems a reasonable hypothesis.  There will be error in any dataset; acknowledgement and consistency seem a step in the right direction.   Though such monitoring wouldn’t meet all needs, I can see how it would meet some.  The other advantage of the warehousing approach is that from the moment you start, you can look at historical data.  Social Radar seems like a good approach to quantitative analysis.

Spiral 16’s approach, on the other hand, achieves consistency by limiting the universe.  Whether their precise algorithm for identifying the right ecosystem is the best one, I’m not sure; but the case for doing a restricted search is compelling.  Find the relevant web.  Even if you miss some sites and conversations, monitoring an 80% accurate ecosystem can have value.  And categorizing types of conversations (traditional media, blog, video, etc.) seems especially useful.  There may be some back-end work to make sure these categorizations are accurate but once defined, there’s a lot of value in knowing how conversation about your brand is happening.

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The Role of PR in Social Media Outreach

Here’s another perspective on disciplinary responsibility for social media (via @TDefren via @Aerocles on Twitter).  There’s a four-point argument for social media marketing as the natural domain of PR professionals.  The most concise summation can be found in the comments (thanks, Stuart Foster):

If we do our jobs right, Social media will no longer exist. It will simply be known as PR (and live within that category). The concept of social media belongs to outreach, engagement and corporate communications strategy.

The tactical parts? Can be handled by customer service/community managers. The overarching control should go to PR though.

Okay, I said “another perspective,” but really this is another angle to the same perspective, which is that—for all the newness of social media—traditional marketing disciplines nurture the qualities necessary to effectively manage a new channel.  The outreach and communication functions are as natural to PR as the monitoring function is to market research, which I think coincides with the research vs. action divide Whitney brought up in her comment.  Aerocles doesn’t touch the monitoring aspect—not sure if that’s intentional or not.

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The Role of the Researcher in Social Media Monitoring

Spiral16 put this poll on their blog recently:

Who do you think is best suited to handle social media monitoring for a company?

  • Social Media Software Provider
  • Public Relations Firm
  • Advertising/Digital Agency
  • Direct Company (MarCom or Other Department)
  • Social Media Consultant/New Media Agency

This is a pertinent question, not just for brands and brand managers trying to settle on a vendor, but for “integrated” agencies where the responsibilities in the Spiral16 poll may or may not be clearly assigned. Leaving aside the issue of disciplinary silos vs. multidisciplinary collaboration, there seems an obvious omission from the prompted answer set: a market research consulting company.

Clearly, I come at this with a certain bias. And I know certain natural characteristics of the market researcher—a cautious approach to new methods, a generally poor track record of marketing themselves—have helped to cede this ground to ad agencies, PR firms, and new media gurus.

But the skills of the researcher really dovetail nicely with social media monitoring (SMM) in several ways that are clearly missing from the conversation.

  1. SMM is a measurement tool. Customer satisfaction, attitude and usage studies, market tracking…all are regular tools in the researcher’s kit. The biggest difference with social media is that the researcher is not instrumental in generating the content. This difference has some implications for analysis, but the overall analytical framework is similar. And experience with large, ongoing datasets—as well as traditional methods of brand tracking—can only help make SMM more effective.
  2. SMM is a form of listening. Your direct marketer, your advertising creative, your PR pro—their job has traditionally been to deliver a message (and hope it translates to action on the part of the consumer). The researcher’s job is to listen to what people say (and hope it translates into action on the part of the brand).
  3. SMM requires a deep understanding of how to use quantitative and qualitative data. The amount of data covered by SMM services is unfathomable. Data sets are where the researcher operates. The business objective dictates research methodology, and the same is true for SMM, which can yield an absolute number of brand mentions per week, a single serious complaint about a product, or a detailed review by a heavy influencer—depending on the approach (and the SMM service). Market research has always involved these kinds of negotiations.
  4. SMM demands you know who is talking. Good research data always begins with knowing your universe and understanding your sample. The biggest flaw in new media studies (and sometimes monitoring services) is a lack of transparency about where the data come from. You may have 80% positive sentiment or have doubled your web chatter from last month. But 80% of what? And who is chatting?

There are a lot of smart people in social media, without research backgrounds, who are dealing with SMM the right way. And those in the research business, some late to the game, have their own learning curve. But overlooking the experience of research professionals stands to make the curve sharper for everyone.

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