April 2010 Archives

Let's pick on one of the social media crowd's favorite buzzword bingo entries: engagement. Amber's thinking about what engagement means, so I'm going to bypass that question and move directly to the follow-up questions. Who is the object of your engagement? Why do want to engage them online? How does your relationship with them affect your engagement tactics?

Is this the party to whom I am speaking?
—Lily Tomlin as "Ernestine"

Engagement—responding, conversing, connecting, sharing—it sounds like a good thing. Whatever you mean when you say it, I'm sure I support it. In the spirit of and not or, I want to suggest that you consider some different types of people you might engage online.

This isn't an academic exercise. In my recent review of social media analysis platforms, I found engagement features with implicit assumptions about the object and purpose of engagement tactics. Click on the Engage button in one product, and you're in a tool for managing responses to customers. In another system, the button takes you to a media relations tool. The different objects require different tools, which will be used by different groups for different purposes.

Before you can decide which one works for you, you have to know what you mean by engagement.

  • Customers
    Well, duh. This is probably what everyone assumes engagement is all about—using social media as a channel for building a stronger relationship with customers (past, present, and future). Good stuff, but not the whole picture.

  • Influencers
    People you value because of their presumed ability to influence others. They may be customers, but the goal and approach are different when you think of them as influencers.

  • Media
    Professional influencers with different motives and expectations. You're probably already engaging reporters, but how does that play out in social media?

  • Employees
    You remember these people, right? How do they figure into your social media environment? Did I miss the memo that says that engagement means external?
We can add more. Just think of all the labels we apply to people, and ask how those different relationships might inform how, and why, you might engage them online. You could start with external business partners or investors; I'm sure you'll think of more.

If you want an answer other than "it depends," ask a more specific question.

And Not Or

Here's a simple tip that leads to thinking bigger thoughts: when confronting a list, think and, not or.

If we've talked in the last few weeks, you've probably heard a version of this. It's central to how I think about things, and it's why I'm having trouble with most of the usual labels for listening tools and services—the labels imply boundaries that limit the potential applications.

Most people seem to approach things as a series of or questions. I see a lot of it in social media circles:

  • Just social or just media?
  • Monitoring or measuring?
  • Analyzing or responding?
  • Marketing or customer service?
  • Software or human intelligence?

The thing about or questions is that they expect right and wrong answers. What if both choices are right (possibly in different contexts)? What if options not on the list are also right?

Focus with Or; Explore with And
Or questions simplify things, which makes them easier to understand. They're great when you need to be very clear about what you're doing or what you need. When choosing between a hammer and a screwdriver, it helps to know if you're driving a nail or a screw. Once you know your objectives, or questions are invaluable.

On the other hand, I do a lot of exploring around the edges of the market. I want to know what change is coming, and where it's coming from. Approaching the market as a series of and questions helps me find the adjacent spaces that the or questions exclude. A typical yes, and question is "what else can it do?"

I find that most questions are more interesting if we replace the or with and, and see where it leads.

Soapbox photo by Steve Rhodes.

Searching for a title made up entirely of Boolean operators: priceless.

Social CRM's Reese's Cup Question

Let's say you're ready to get serious about responding to customer needs expressed in social media. You're answering questions and responding to complaints, and you want to move that capability into full production. Here's a question for you: what software platform do you want to build the operation on, one built for social media or one built for managing customer interactions?

When building a customer service capability for social media, you can start with a social media analysis platform or a customer relationships management platform. Some of the SMA platforms have CRM-like workflow features, and some CRM platforms are getting social media features.

This is the Reese's Cup Question. As social media become more important as a customer service touchpoint, how much social media do you want in your CRM, and how much CRM do you want in your social media?

From the vendor side, it's easy. You start where you are. For the buyer, it's trickier. Overlapping capabilities raise questions of purchasing rationalization and integration of both systems and processes. I don't think we've reached the major decision at most companies, but it's coming.

As companies scale up their commitment to provide customer service through social media, what do you expect? More chocolate in the peanut butter, or more peanut butter on the chocolate?

Related: Social Media for CRM or Workflow for SMA?

I'll take Outdated Cultural References for 400, please, Alex.

Why is it that so many people talk about the effects of social media on reputation, but so few mention the more interesting models for measuring reputation? Instead, we argue over how to read the sentiment mood ring, or which media-oriented measurement tracks reputation. In most cases, I don't think we're measuring reputation at all. Instead, we're measuring media coverage.

Media analysis reports on published statements. In the recent past, it focused on media created by professionals, but even as it includes media created by everyone else, it's still mostly about reporting aggregate data based on coverage. The usual metrics—volume, sentiment, topics, and voices—reflect that media-centric view, which is now adapting to summarize consumer's opinions in online media. It's good data for some applications, but it's the shallow end of the pool for understanding reputation.

Wading into the deeper water, we find some companies that take a more nuanced view of reputation. These models start with survey research and are typically calibrated to focus on the relevant attributes for a specific company or industry.

  • Reputation Institute: RepTrak
    Measures 23 attributes of 7 dimensions: products/services, innovation, governance, workplace, citizenship, leadership and performance.

  • Harris Interactive: Harris Reputation Quotient
    Measures 20 attributes of 6 dimensions: emotional appeal, products & services, social responsibility, vision & leadership, workplace environment, and financial performance. Harris recently released its 2009 report (PDF).

  • APCO: Reputation Insight (PDF)
    Multi-factor models customized for each client.

  • Millward Brown: BrandZ (more)
    Evaluates the financial return attributable to the company's brands, based on an analysis of financial data and consumer research.

I know that these models can be incorporated into routine measurement programs, but I almost never hear about that. I don't hear about these models in the usual PR and social media measurement discussions, either. Why is that?

Is this stuff not accepted? Is it too advanced? Maybe too confidential? Or is it just above the social media paygrade? The audience in the room where I first learned about this was rather senior.

Hat tip to Leslie Gaines-Ross for pointing out some research I hadn't seen.

I was in London for the first time last week, having a great time. After a lunch meeting in the shadow of Tower Bridge, I walked around the Tower of London. As I looked up at the main residence, the first thing that came to mind—no kidding—was, "Oh, king, eh? Very nice!"

Which would have earned me the wrong kind of castle tour back in the day.

Among the many sights I saw, I think the funniest was the warning sign on some construction scaffolding: "Pedestrians beware: water on sidewalk and pavement."

It was raining.

Can Analytics Be Taught?

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I've pointed out some of the elements of the learning curve for social media analysts. In the middle of looking at almost 30 social media analysis platforms for my recent report, I realized that the software itself isn't the main challenge—developing the analytical mindset to know what to do with the tool is. The question is, how much of that mindset can be taught? How do we teach people to ask penetrating questions using a simple set of analytical tools?

How's your logic?
Here's an example of the challenge. Most social media analysis tools use keyword searches to define topics or to segment the data with subtopics. The query typically takes one of three forms: a simple search, a Boolean query, or an advanced search that simplifies the process of building the query. (Boolean logic isn't the only technique used to define topics, but other methods are more complex, and the companies that use them set them up for their clients.)

Search using Boolean logic seems simple. You use operators like AND, OR, and NOT to include or exclude keywords from your results. Some tools let you get fancy with proximity operators (x within n words of y), and you can nest your statements for finer control. But many of us think we understand how it works.

So it could be a bit of a shock to see the queries presented by Integrasco's Aleksander Stensby at Monitoring Social Media Bootcamp last week. This little one finds the telephone company Orange in English-language content:

(Orange OR subject:Orange -subject:light -light -"Clockwork Orange" -subject:"Clockwork Orange" -"orange box" -subject:"orange box" -juice -subject:juice -fruit -subject:fruit -peel -subject:peel -"Orange Wednesday" -subject:"Orange Wednesday" -"orange county" -subject:"orange county" -"clock work orange" -subject:"clock work orange" -"orange ink" -subject:"orange ink" -"bright orange" -subject:"bright orange" -"dark orange" -subject:"dark orange" -"light orange" -subject:"light orange" -("color orange"~3) -subject:("color orange"~3) - ("style orange"~3) -subject:("style orange"~3)) AND ( (SMS OR MMS OR HDSPA OR "Mobile Phone" OR GSM OR GPRS OR 3G OR SIM OR handset OR "Sony Ericsson" OR Nokia OR HTC OR Motorola OR BlackBerry OR iPhone OR PAYG OR "pay-as-you-go" OR "Network Provider" OR UMTS OR WAP OR PDA OR "PAC Code" OR Cellphone OR OFCOM OR phones4u OR voda OR vodafone OR tmobile OR tmob OR "T-mobile" OR T-Mob) OR subject:(SMS OR MMS OR HDSPA OR "Mobile Phone" OR GSM OR GPRS OR 3G OR SIM OR handset OR "Sony Ericsson" OR Nokia OR HTC OR Motorola OR BlackBerry OR iPhone OR PAYG OR "pay-as-you-go" OR "Network Provider" OR UMTS OR WAP OR PDA OR "PAC Code" OR Cellphone OR OFCOM OR phones4u OR voda OR vodafone OR tmobile OR tmob OR "T-mobile" OR T-Mob) )

He showed another one, about nine times as long, that finds discussions in multiple languages of the form factor of a particular mobile phone. You can see that endless query in Aleksander's presentation.

So, yeah, we know Boolean logic, but wow.

It's not difficult, just hard
These intensely focused queries illustrate the difference between the two learning curves. A query like this could be pasted into many—maybe most—of the available tools for social media analysis. Working out the nested Boolean logic is the trick.

Eric Garland puts a competitive spin on things with this note from a discussion of the future of intelligence at GWU:

Asymmetry of analysis will be more important than asymmetry of information—it’s not who collects the most data, but who is the best at deriving insights who will be most effective.

The question is, how easily can we develop the right combination of logic, curiosity, and perseverance in those who would analyze social media? Is it teachable, and how much of it depends on existing inclinations in future analysts? Or is there really, as someone at MSMBC suggested, a business opportunity in crafting complex queries as a service?

I wonder how many on-topic posts include exclusion keywords: "I called Orange to complain about my phone while eating a piece of fruit."

At last week's Monitoring Social Media Bootcamp, several speakers highlighted the importance of the human analyst. Having several of us stress the continued requirement for a knowledgable user to do something useful with the tool was apparently a surprise and a disappointment to some. So it must have been a shock when some later speakers showed examples of just how complicated this stuff can be. For those who aren't shocked, that complexity will be a lingering source of competitive advantage as the tools continue to improve.

Software still doesn't replace people
Jason Falls describes the lack of strategic services as where social media monitoring services fail, but that's not a fair summary. The market has both software companies and service companies, and clients can decide how much of the work they want to outsource. The software model requires that the user do something useful with the tools. The services model adds highly skilled consultants to the mix, at a higher price.

It's a familiar decision: build or buy. In this case, it refers to analytical skills and the ability to link analysis to business insights. In the journey from raw data to insight and strategy, some of the distance can be traveled by software. The rest requires people, no matter how sophisticated the tools. The available choice is whether the people who complete the conversion of data into insight are employees or consultants.

This response from Sysomos nicely summarizes the importance of both the software and the analyst:

When you think about it, neither side can be successful or effective without the other. The technology is interesting but not useful or valuable without people to do something with it, and people are only able to do a limited amount of monitoring without the assistance of technology to sift through millions of conversations.

All of this is in the pursuit of insight—the monitoring and mining modes of listening. In the monitoring and response mode, the emphasis is less on insight than on action, but similar logic applies. A monitoring platform can automate the discovery of items requiring a response. Although a few automated response products are available, most companies will want a person in the customer-service loop.

I'm surprised that people are surprised by this.

As a person myself, I'm glad that computers haven't replaced us.

About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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