Articles on Social Media

I recently finished reading Social Media Marketing by Liana Evans. It’s a great book. Comprehensive with a high-level focus for marketers and managers new to social media. I’ve recommended it to people new to the field who just don’t know where to start. At the same time this book has enough technical depth and unique perspective to keep Web marketing and social media professionals engaged.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the National Conference on Health Communication, Media and Marketing conference in Atlanta. Social media has been one of the main areas of focus at this conference over the last couple  years. My presentation was intended to inform the audience about emerging strategies and approaches to social media monitoring and analysis. Many Federal Government agencies have now embraced social media as a communication and marketing platform, but few have leveraged its power as a platform for researching public sentiment and behavior.

I used a project I’m currently directing for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Investigating the Use of Social Media for Environmental Health Communications – as the foundation for the 30 minute talk. Our project is providing groundbreaking research on how the public is using social media to discuss and share health information.

As use of social media has exploded over the last few years, companies and government agencies have struggled to keep pace with the constant flow of information and opinions.  Not only are organizations struggling with how to monitor social information, they’re also not sure how to analyze what they are monitoring. As a result we’ve seen a new market called social intelligence take shape.

Social Intelligence

Social intelligence is the process of monitoring, collecting, and analyzing social data to inform business decisions. I.e. “Let’s see what people are saying, see what meaning, insights, and patterns we discover, and act accordingly.” Social intelligence attempts to make sense of the endless stream of tweets, comments, posts, and other social data. This market generally involves three components: social media monitoring, social media analysis, and social media strategy.

I should note that the term social intelligence is not new – see original definition on Wikipedia – but it is relatively new in context we’re using it.  Much the way social networking is an old term given new meaning through the context of the Web and social media. It seems that Zach Hofer-Shall at Forrester is one lead voices in this area. Nielsen and McKinsey are also using the term to describe their new joint venture – NMIncite.

Social Media Monitoring

Listening platforms

Listening platforms refer to software created to allow organizations to monitor social media information. The term “social media monitoring software” could be used interchangeably. There are dozens of companies in this space now. Some are full-featured solutions to monitor all social media (or anything else on the Web) while others focus on specific platforms such as twitter. Obviously the latter are much less useful for organizations that need to see the big picture.

Forrester recently put out a great paper analyzing some of the best enterprise-level solutions. The only drawback to the report is that it’s limited to products targeting the “enterprise” market, i.e. companies over $1 billion in revenue. Unfortunately this approach leaves out great products like Scout Labs. Forrester needed some criteria to narrow down the 100+ potential vendors in the market, and that probably was the most logical selection criteria to use.

Social Media Analysis

Social media analysis comes in a variety of flavors. Listening platforms usually provide dashboards with aggregate trends and statistics. At the most basic level social media analysis involves analyzing these types of aggregate usage statistics. Many listening platforms promise to deliver more qualitative research in areas like user sentiment and tone, by using natural language processing (NLP) . However, anyone with experience using these platforms understands that limitations of NLP for social analysis.

An area that listening platforms tend to do well with is identifying key influencers – at least from a quantitative standpoint. Key influencers – whether they be bloggers, or twitter or Facebook users – are usually identified by the number of times they use targeted keywords, and by the size of their following. We then need to do some qualitative analysis to determine who are the true influencers.

We can take social media analysis to the another level by conducting a content analysis. Content analysis (AKA media analysis) typically involves manual data coding. This is a very labor intensive process but the flexibility, detail, and accuracy cannot be replicated by any software. Our team conducted a content analysis of social media data for a CDC project that I currently manage. The end result of a detailed content analysis will include statistics and usage patterns that aren’t possible with automated software – e.g. accuracy of posts and sentiment towards specific topics.

Social Media Strategy

Social media strategy should be based on organizational and project goals, but also as a result of what is learned through social intelligence. By conducting environmental scans and implementing ongoing social media monitoring organizations can learn a lot about how they should be leveraging new media to meet their target audience’s needs. Additionally, information gleaned through social intelligence will often drive larger marketing and business decisions.

I recently attended a presentation by a marketing executive form the Red Cross. A great quote she had was “social media is our canary in the coal mine for reputation management.“  I think this quote speaks well to the power of social intelligence.

Social media monitoring companies

Social media monitoring and engagement software

Anyone who works in Web consulting or communications has likely seen some variation of a Web 2.0/New Media presentation that includes the ubiquitous slide showing a montage of 2.0 companies.  I thought that I would do my part and create a graphic showing the next logical company collection… social media monitoring software companies. I created this slide for a recent presentation I gave at the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media in Atlanta.

This is a market that is blazing hot right now as companies and public sector agencies struggle to understand how they should monitor and analyze social media. Which is great progress from where we were just two years ago. Now that most organizations have embraced the power of social media, the next step is making sure we are understanding and reaching our target audiences using all the right channels.  Social media monitoring and engagement is extremely powerful for doing just that.

Future of Online Advertising
Twitter, LinkedIn, and Zynga execs discuss the future of online advertising. Gotta love a CEO that can get away with sporting a beat up t-shirt.

AOL, Display Advertising Still Dominant
AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong says display advertising will still dominant.

Sapient’s Freddie Laker on the future of social media
This is a repurposing of his earlier article, but it’s also nice to see it in video format.

Lithium’s Paul Greenberg on the state of Social CRM
This is an area that many in the industry still aren’t aware of.

The upcoming release of the Radian6 Engagement Console promises to improve the way companies monitor and engage customers, or their client’s customers, through social media.  I have looked at a variety of social media monitoring systems over the past few months – including entry level tools like Trendrr or SocialMention, as well as mid to enterprise level applications like Vocus and Nielsen’s Buzz Metrics. There are dozens more I’m anxious to take a look at – including products from Converseon and Autonomy. Take me to Your Leader has a nice list of dozens of free tools.  However, I’ve been less than impressed with most of the products I have used.

I’m currently leading a project for a large Federal Government agency to evaluate the effectiveness of social media for health communications. So these tools are of particular interest to me now.  This new Radian6 release has me excited. I’ve yet to see a product that systematically streamlines the engagement process like this. Does Autonomy offer this type of functionality? Does anybody else?

I’m also curious about what platforms Radian6 will monitor.  One capability that most systems lack is the ability to monitor and engage through non social media channels that have certain Web 2.0 components. For example, a news story on ABCNews.com may generate dozens or hundreds of user comments. These data are just as important as anything being said on Facebook or Twitter.But many products seem to ignore these more traditional Web channels.

I’ve setup a Radian6 demo, and can post a follow up if anyone is interested.

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