Judging from the way people are talking about it, social media analysis is segmenting into at least three subspecialties. As usual, we're using multiple labels that occasionally overlap, so the potential for miscommunication is great. Whatever the utility of any one approach, companies need a complete set of tools, so let's keep these emerging specializations in context.
In 2007, I asked for opinions on a generic term for social media monitoring, analysis, research, etc. I settled on social media analysis as an existing term that could stretch to fit the tools and services then on the market. Since then, I've also argued for an expansive interpration of the listening metaphor. Lately, though, I'm seeing a lot more of these labels:
- Social media monitoring
In 2005, companies started to learn that people were talking about them online and they needed to pay attention. Today, we have tools and case studies, and more companies are prepared to notice and respond when someone mentions them. The response might come from a customer service or PR function, but the basic idea is what Radian6 calls "the social phone:" social media represent a new customer-service touchpoint, and companies need to respond to every mention that merits or requires a response.
- Social media analytics
Every 15 minutes, someone announces a new tool for measuring social media. Most of these focus on the structured data of social media: seemingly hard numbers, such as friend/follower counts, mentions, shares, likes, and Facebook pageviews. This approach blends social media and web analytics, and it's good for questions such as, "is my Facebook campaign working?" If your ROI comes from online sales, this approach is an especially powerful tool for managing social media marketing efforts.
- Social media intelligence
Analyzing the content of what people say online—topics, sentiment, emotions, and the trends and underlying causes—is starting to be called social media intelligence (I refuse to use the unfortunately abbreviated buzzword, social intelligence, in this context). This is perhaps the least consistently applied label, but whatever you call it, measuring and analyzing online content looks increasingly distinct from measuring online activity (the analytics view).
We're inventing new terms faster than old terms fade away, and the boundaries are anything but clear. I haven't quite figured out whether Social CRM is the intersection of social media monitoring and CRM or a superset of CRM and all three of the above. Social media measurement combines aspects of the analytics and intelligence views. Here and elsewhere, the definition of the term seems to depend on who's talking about it.
This doesn't begin to cover all of the variations in terminology we're using, and these categories aren't even mutually exclusive. But they do represent a division I'm seeing in both the thinking about, and the capabilities of the tools for, listening in social media. We're getting better (?) at talking past each other, which is not making it easy for beginners.
Update: All that and I forgot to mention social media research—thanks to Annie Pettit for the reminder in the comments. Also, here are a few of the many posts that inspired the topic:
- Social Media Monitoring is Not Research, Tom O’Brien & David Rabjohns (MotiveQuest)
- The Difference Between Social Media Monitoring and Measurement, Eric Melin (Spiral16)
- When to say Monitoring Social Media means nothing, Gianandrea Facchini (Buzzdetector)
Photo by Dan Thompson.