The basics of social media monitoring

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social-media-monitoring-toolsThis is our first post from the Social Media Monitoring - 2010 review series. In it we’ll cover the basics of social media monitoring.

Background

Social media tools make it possible for people to have conversations online. The uptake in conversations, comments and reviews has been explosive and the importance of these conversations is growing by the day. Among many other things, people are discussing brands, describing their purchase intentions and asking for assistance in making buying decisions or product support.

The opportunity for organisations is clear. They can now listen-in on the conversations of their customers, potential customers and other stakeholders in a way that was previously impossible. Through social media monitoring it is possible to gain insights from the conversations people are having online every day and to make improvements to products, customer service and marketing as a result.

Real-world ethnography has been around for a while – the process of analysing the context in which people act, usually researched by observing subjects in their natural habitat. It can teach us a lot about behaviour and influencing factors, however it is expensive and subject to The Observer’s Paradox (see also Schrödinger’s Cat).

Social media monitoring brings observational research to a mass audience. By tracking what is said in forums, on Twitter and in other social networks, brands can gain customer insight. But beyond getting geeky researcher’s excited, it can also offer very practical benefits to organisations. Customer service teams can listen out for customer issues online and then and resolve them. Competitor Intelligence departments can find out what customers are saying about competitors’ products. PR Managers can get early warning of pending PR disasters before they hit main-stream media and most of all, by listening first, companies can be better prepared to join online conversations and become social.

Social media monitoring clearly has tangible business benefits and as a result it’s a hot topic. Furthermore, the power and importance of what people are writing online is increasing. The reach an influential blogger can have is extraordinary. And according to Neilsen, consumer recommendations have now become the most powerful form of advertising (78% of people trust customer reviews). As a result companies need to monitor word-of-mouth more than ever.

Using search engines to monitor online conversations

Many online conversations can be accessed with ease and for free using Google or other search engines. Simply using your brand name as a search term, or using keywords that are associated with your brand (eg, for Starbucks you could search for “Starbucks” or “whole bean coffee”) you can find conversations that are related to your brand. Taking that process a step further you can set up Google Alerts so that you get an email when someone mentions your keywords.

However, if you search in this way you’ll probably end up with hundreds of thousands of returned results and a limited number of ways to analyse the data further. You will also get a mixture of professional and user generated content. It is possible to use some free buzz tracking tools to focus on certain areas. For example Omgili and Board Tracker are great ways to search forums. But until Google enters the social media monitoring market, the best way for enterprises to track social media is by using a paid-for tool.

The benefits of using social media monitoring tools

Social media monitoring tools deal with the two problems of searching and analysing the online conversation. The tools use similar web crawling technology to search engines in the way that they read online conversations. However, unlike search engines, the tools clean, de-duplicate and categorise the conversations and then store them in a database.  As our report and future posts will show, some tools do these things better than others.

Social media monitoring tools also allow you to enter search terms into the database so that you can customise the way you view the results. The tools count the conversations that contain your search terms and provide you with the ability to display this information in graphs and charts.  Most tools also allow you to divide by location or media type (eg, Twitter or blogs) and at the cutting edge, some social media monitoring tools provide workflow management process that can help you disseminate conversations within your organisation, others are starting to combine buzz tracking with CRM in a bid to create single-customer-view Social CRM. And there are some tools that allow you to respond to conversations across the web from a single dashboard.

One key feature that marketeers have been most keen on is sentiment analysis.

What is sentiment?

Sentiment is a thought, view, or attitude that is often based more on emotion than reason. In the context of social media monitoring, it is the concept of deciding whether a specific online conversation is positive or negative. This is really useful in helping you determine the themes and topics that are driving both good and bad conversations about your brand.

Sentiment can also allow you to track the overall impact of marketing campaigns or news about your brand. We suspect the main reason people have latched onto sentiment is because it gives the impression that the plethora of web conversations can be summarised in a single number. Businesses love to track numbers and sentiment is often the KPI of choice for social media.

This is dangerous. Sentiment is more nuanced than a single number and using an automated tool to assess how people feel puts too much faith in the today’s software. We don’t believe that the tools on the market have nailed sentiment analysis yet. The tools can be extremely valuable, but it is important to understand their limitations as it is to understand their capabilities.

One piece of advice - it’s not about the bike

The most important thing to bear in mind when choosing a social media monitoring tool is that ongoing human interaction and interpretation are essential to get real value. If there is one mistake that companies are making it’s that they buy into a dashboard expecting insights on a plate. Months later they look back and wonder why the dashboard hasn’t changed their business.

Buzz tracking opens up opportunities for insight, but it is worthless without sufficient people resource and internal processes to act on information.

I am biased. My background is research (FreshMinds, our sister firm, has been twice named UK Research Agency of the Year by the Market Research Society) and we’re not selling a tool. Rather we help companies select the right tool and help them get value out of it on an ongoing basis. But I think you’ll find most of the software vendors will concur that their happiest clients are the ones who have properly resourced the listening effort and invested sufficient time in interpretation, dissemination and action. After all, what’s the point in listening if you never act on what you hear?

The next blog post in our series will be about setting up each of the leading tools to get the most out of them.

Social media monitoring breakfast seminar

We’re also holding a free social media monitoring breakfast seminar on 15th April in London, where we’ll be presenting the findings of our report, as well as giving practical tips and advice about social media monitoring and the best way to analyse results. You can register for the event by clicking on the button below:

Register for Social media monitoring in London, United Kingdom  on Eventbrite

Read the other posts from our social media monitoring review 2010.

Foursquare, Google Maps & Sysomos social media monitoring

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fourwhere-logoI’ve just been playing with FourWhere. It’s a mashup of Foursquare location data and the Google Maps API. It has been built using the Sysomos social media monitoring tool

It is neither as fun as PleaseRobMe nor as useful as Wikitude, but it is mildly interesting to see what is being said at venues near me. And more features are promised in the future.

fourwhere mashup google maps

Most of all, this mashup reminds me of why I have been impressed with Sysomos recently. Sysomos is behind this mashup and they are  one of many Social Media Monitoring tools that we use. Over the past month they have really cranked up their PR efforts and seem to be emailing me with news every week. For examples see their analysis of Oscars buzz and their look at how people use YouTube.

In the next month we’ll be releasing a study of buzz tracking tools (subscribe to the blog to ensure you get to see it) and Sysomos have scored highly with many of our team. Their tool is very easy to use - especially good if you are likley to have multiple people from your company accessing your social media monitoring dashboard. They also allow for post-search filtering of results; essential for international or multi-segmented buzz tracking projects. And they also offer a simple influencer search.

There are drawbacks - for example,  I would treat the sentiment analysis with care. One test we ran on blog sentiment showed a 40% innacuracy in sentiment analysis (once you strip out neutral comments). But overall, it’s a good tool if put to proper use. They are definitely one of the market leaders and we look forward to telling you how they compare to Radian6, Neilsen Buzz Metrics, Alterian and many more over the next few weeks.

Three popular series from the FreshNetworks Blog in 2009

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Image by SlipStreamJC via Flickr

We posted on New Years Eve the most popular posts on the FreshNetworks Blog in 2009. Alongside some popular posts we covered a number of series of posts that were well read and referenced - here are three of the most popular.

1. Getting Started in Social Media

In this series we outline our thoughts on four steps any brand should do when they are getting started in social media. The aim is to give any brand who is looking to use social media (or indeed to use it better) a framework to work through, some ideas and also a lot of questions and decisions that will need to be made.

  • Part One:  Do you know what people are saying about you? Buzz tracking, social media monitoring, the power of understanding who is talking about you where and why, and some great free tools for any brand to use
  • Part Two: What do you want to achieve? Working out your brand’s aims and objectives (and making these measurable) is the single most important factor in a successful social media strategy. Do this before you think about technology.
  • Part Three: Have a go and experiment with social media Once you have clear objectives that are measurable it’s time to get going. Try things out and experiment, but make sure you do them where you know you will have the greatest chance of achieving these aims and engaging the people you want to engage.
  • Part Four: Track and evaluate the success you are having When you are using social media tools it is essential that you are measuring and tracking your performance against these aims. Measurement is critical and assessing the benefit you are having will help you to refine and improve your strategy overall.

2. Online Community Examples

People are always asking us for great examples of online communities in their particular industry, so we thought we’d start a series of great examples from different industries: Online Community Examples. Each week we looked at a different industry and showcased three short case studies of online communities, whether for marketing, customer engagement, market research or other reasons.

3. Insight from online communities

Not all communities are online research communities, but all communities can be a useful source of insight. Just watching the conversations can be invaluable and bring real insight to any organisation, but there are ways that any community can get real insight value from the insight of your members. In this series we described eight ways of getting insight from online communities:

  • Profiling data: gathering the right information and then analysing the profiles of  your community members can bring significant understanding of the people who join your community.
  • Focused discussions: focusing the discussions in your online community make it easier for people to join the debate and also let you concentrate on those issues that are of most interest to you and likely to bring greatest insights.
  • Learn their language: the language community members use is often overlooked, but provides a real insight into their lives and their perceptions on a product, market or issue.
  • Rating and voting: not everybody wants to begin or even add to discussions, but we can understand what they think and get insight from them by offering and than analysing their use of different ways of communicating.
  • Photo uploads: photos offer a real insight into what people think and also allow us to gather opinions people who are not as comfortable expressing themselves in words.
  • Photo activities: get community members to upload photos on a specific theme or in response to a specific question. Isolate the most interesting photos by using the opinions of community members.
  • Discussion events: as your community matures, people start to use the community at regular times.Take advantage of this by offering discussion events where people discuss a different issue at a certain time each week.
  • Quick polls: any community can use some simple insight tools, and quick polls are one of these. They are a great way to get instant and top-level quantitative insight from your community.

Are Fortune 100 CEOs social media slackers?

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Image by Dan Dickinson via Flickr

There’s a misconception that everybody ‘gets’ social media. That everybody is taking part. And that business, in particular, are all developing social media strategies. This just isn’t true. Whilst we have witnessed a monumental rise in social media use over the last 18 months or so, there are still some who are significantly more innovative than others. In fact we often surprise our clients are FreshNetworks by telling them that they are among the most innovative companies in Europe in their use of social media, and online communities in particular.

In July we’re starting a series looking at Why Social Media Matters and in particular how you can convince a CEO that social media is the single most important thing that their business should embrace. That’s why it was great to see a presentation from the US that looks at social media use by Fortune 100 CEOs. The findings are not a huge surprise - most CEOs are not actively using social media themselves and those who are typically work in the tech industry.

I’d love to drill down further in this area and look at use by Fortune 100 companies - even if their CEOs are not personally making active use of social media, are the companies themselves? And if they are is there a correlation between social media active CEOs and the extent to which the organisation embraces social media.

However, it’s interesting to see the level of social media adoption among the people who run some of America’s biggest businesses and that’s why the presentation is our Required Reading for this week. Clearly some work to do here.

Fortune 100 CEOs Are Social Media Slackers
View more presentations from Sharon Barclay.
  • Offline Word of Mouth Still More Powerful Than Online Analogue (profy.com)
  • Throwing Sheep In The Boardroom (accmanpro.com)
  • Fortune-100 CEOs Remain Social-Media Hermits (marketingvox.com)
  • Top CEO’s Appear to be Anti Social (Media, that is) (marketingpilgrim.com)

How organisations can use Twitter - some ideas

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LightbulbImage by MartinPhotoSport via Flickr

This week I was asked to talk to the Marketing Directors Network in London about how organisations are using Twitter. We’ve written before about how celebrities are using Twitter and how organisations are using Twitter as an engagement tool. In both cases, perhaps the best advice is just to try using Twitter and to see what happens. As a rapidly growing site, Twitter is changing on a daily basis. New people are joining and using it for new reasons. As such it’s a great environment for brands to experiment and to see what works for them.

And if you are going to experiment, three ways that organisations are using Twitter are as follow.

1. To put a public face on your brand

This is what Ford, Southwest Airlines have done so well. Taking a large brand, that to many has seemed faceless, and putting people centre stage. Using Twitter as a way of putting a face to the brand and providing a route for people to engage. There are many benefits of putting a public face to your brand, overally it provides a personal connection and helps build the emotional relationship with your consumers that can be so useful, especially in the current economic climate.

2. Allowing you to segment and then target different groups

Dell is a great example of how to use social media, and how to experiment with it. It has a large range and variety of Twitter accounts that are used by different people to engage different audiences about different things. Twitter is a great search tool - you can monitor and analyse the different conversations people are having about your brand. Start to understand the segments and the give them different messages using different accounts. The marginal cost of another Twitter account is practically zero and so it’s a great way to engage different people in different ways.

3. Using Twitter as a gateway

The best use of Twitter can be as part of a hub-and-spoke model of social engagement. Use it to engage people in Twitter just as you might engage people in Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and other social networks and online communities. Then provide your own site or online community that you can take people to. It is when they are on your own community that you can really work with them, share and discuss ideas with them, get a better understanding of who they are and what they think. And bringing them to your own space makes them feel special. You move from interrupting them where they are doing something else, to providing a direct line to engaging with you.

How organisations can use Twitter - some ideas
View more OpenOffice presentations from freshnetworks.
  • Ryanair doesn’t believe in online PR, but it’s working well for other airlines. (bigclever.blogspot.com)
  • Perfect storm: JetBlue versus Southwest on Twitter - real incident (simpliflying.com)
  • HOW TO: Use Twitter for Customer Service (mashable.com)
  • People are fed up of joining brand pages on Facebook (freshnetworks.com)
  • Why We All Benefit From Big Brands Being in Social Media (mashable.com)