May 2007 Archives

A new Weber Shandwick survey on advocacy by consumers (via Simon McDermott) provides support for the idea of paying attention to online conversations, although traditional media still outrank online for their ability to reach and influence consumers. The survey confirms the role of word of mouth advocacy as it reaches an eye-opening conclusion about international markets.

Key observations:

  • Decision-making among global consumers has accelerated.
  • 45% of global consumers identified as Advocates.
  • High-Intensity Advocates are critical to reach.
  • Badvocates waste no time.
  • Advocacy is more common in Europe and Asia.
  • Both traditional and new media play critical roles in forming Advocates' opinions.
I see support for defensive monitoring, influencer analysis and traditional media analysis in the list. What's really interesting is the observation about advocates in Europe and Asia, since most social media analysis companies say that US clients are ahead of European clients in understanding social media and the benefits to their business. It's also interesting to contrast with the English-centric services of many US and UK companies.

When I started asking social media analysis companies which languages they can handle, it seemed a simple enough question. English is ubiquitous, and a few predictable languages show up over and over again. Then I started seeing more obscure regional languages and dialects, and the language matrix started growing dramatically:

    Chinese (Mandarin)
The bottom line for clients is that you can probably find someone to monitor any language they can think of. But if you want to know what consumers in a given market are saying, you'll want a vendor who can understand their language.

Update: The Guide to Social Media Analysis (2nd edition) includes a table that summarizes the language capabilities of 63 vendors across 55 languages, from Arabic to Zulu.

Forms of social media analysis

I observed a while back that a few forms of analysis have emerged as industry standards in social media analysis. Just as clients typically start with the same question (what are people saying about us?), social media analysis companies use some of the same lenses to view the online world. There's a pattern in the way they package their services, too. After months of talking with the companies, I've identified six basic categories.

    Tracking social media sources (and, sometimes, traditional media) to know when the client’s keywords (company, brand, people, etc.) are mentioned. Monitoring is an ongoing activity with its focus on identifying individual items of interest (posts, comments, messages, articles) to which the client may choose to react. Frequently, but not always, delivered via client dashboard. Monitoring deliverables include clippings, metrics and alerts. Monitoring is fundamental, and many people use the term to describe the entire range of activities.

    Analysis, measurement and interpretation of social media data, usually as a form of market research. The focus is on aggregate opinion and market segmentation. The product of research is insight, which is typically delivered in the form of analyst reports, presentations and briefings. The distinction between monitoring and research is somewhat arbitrary, but it reflects different purposes. Monitoring is more likely to be defensive / reactive, while research is more likely to be proactive.

    Advice and suggested plans of action. Distinguished from research by the willingness to answer questions like “what should we do?” It doesn't sound like much, but the line between interpretation and advice marks a clear distinction between the services of some vendors.

    Campaign planning and execution. Takes the step from suggesting to doing. Social media analysis is the first step in a full-service social media marketing service for some companies. They're usually easy to identify.

    Web-based client interface for self-service monitoring and analysis. Some dashboards are used to deliver analyst reports. Dashboards are a delivery mechanism for monitoring and research, but I list them separately because not everyone offers one.

    Client software (typically web-based SAAS) for clients and agencies to use in building their own social media analysis capabilities. Services are typically limited to training and support—getting the client up and running.

Most companies offer more than one service area from the list, but I think this is a useful starting point for clients to understand the services available. I think it's encouraging to see an emerging set of standard services. Where it gets interesting is when you look at the different types of companies that offer similar services, and how that makes their approach to social media analysis different.

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4 Ps for social media


You can tell the future marketers in kindergarten—they're the ones who stutter as they get to P when they recite the alphabet. So, in the fine tradition of forced alliteration in mnemonics, I present my 4 Ps for social media to add to your collection.

If your alphabet drawer is overstocked with Ps, these writers have other collections of letters you might find interesting (and useful, all):

Let's see, that's 4 As, 7 Cs, 5 Es, 4 Fs, 4 Ms and 4 Ps, not including the original 4 Ps (which have been endlessly restated). It seems that everyone gets to have letters. Here are mine, presented in chronological order for most companies:

Pay attention to what's happening online and understand what it means to your business. Learn your way around the online environment (or hire a native guide). Know where people are talking about you—and your competitors—and listen to what they're saying (this has tactical and strategic applications). Notice when something new appears, and don't be caught off guard when someone else asks you about it.

Be prepared to react to events in social media. Customers complain; help them. If they point out product problems or areas for improvement, get that information to your product group. When critics gripe or point out your flaws, be prepared to respond—if not to the critics, to the mainstream media who might also read their complaints.

Join in relevant online discussions. Comment on blogs, join online communities. Understand and follow online norms and policies, avoid the Streisand Effect, and don't try to subvert the medium (by, for example, using a fake identity). Be appropriate, and you can be a constructive part of the conversation.

Once your listening skills are solid and you understand the new online environment, it's ok to use them yourself! Blogs, media sharing and social networking sites can be useful for promoting your business (just avoid the activities that lead to active opposition). Social media are also good for projecting your personal brand. As you speak, just remember to keep listening. This is a world of two-way communication, and listening will tell you how your speaking is going over.

Next: the 4 Bs and a P of Raspberries.

Free vs. paid services

There's an interesting discussion of the value of social media analysis services going on in the comments to this TechCrunch post. Duncan Riley started it with a challenge: Why not use free tools to track social media? Judging from the comments, a lot of people don't know the difference yet.

Whilst the continued growth in companies tracking consumer generated media is a positive indication of the continued maturity and acceptance of one of the most important drivers of Web 2.0, the question must be asked: why?

Why do PR Professionals need a service to find out what bloggers are saying about their clients by a third party? ...

Many PR Professionals contact and read TechCrunch so perhaps we can get some answers: is it that some PR Professionals can't type “Insert Client's Name here” into Technorati or Google Blog Search?

How difficult is it to set up feeds from services such as Google News, Yahoo News and Topix which deliver results based on corporate brand names?

Readers here will realize that the paid services go well beyond vanity searches and feeds. Multimedia sourcing, content filtering, analysis (automated or human) and customizable client dashboards with analytical toolsets are a start. The interpretation and consulting services many offer put them entirely out of the category of the free services. And, of course, there are lots of variations, which is a big part of what makes this interesting.

Hey, I know! Let's talk to everyone in the business and put together a clear picture...

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Blogs and communities

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Joshua Sinel brought up an important point in a comment today: social media analysis involves more than blogs. So much of the hype has centered on blogs and their role in stirring up trouble, but that's only part of the story. You might also look at online communities for insight. As usual, the question of what to analyze (and how) goes back to what you're trying to accomplish.

Conveniently, today's xkcd cartoon deals with a similar topic. Do these names look familiar (click through for a larger view)? Blogs are only part of what's going on.

Blogs get a lot of attention, because interesting things are happening in Blogistan. Mainstream media stories sometimes originate on blogs, so paying attention online can provide an early opportunity to take corrective action. We have case studies to encourage blog monitoring. But blogs have some limitations if you're looking for insight into the general population.

Bloggers aren't representative. Even with easy-to-use blogging platforms, blogging requires knowledge, effort and commitment. Bloggers are outspoken and opinionated, and most probably have an agenda. So while bloggers may be insightful or opinionated, they (we) probably aren't a good sample.

Josh's company, Kaava, was the first I interviewed for the Guide to Social Media Analysis. Kaava does its research on online communities—newsgroups, discussion boards and such—which have lower barriers to participation. As Josh wrote in his comment:

Threaded message boards have been around for a very long time, truly represent the most massive deposit of consumer insights online, and also truly represent an ongoing, mixed-constituency, consumer conversation.
Discussions in communities tend to be on topic, at least compared to the noisy blogosphere. The community has a topic, and its members are there for the purpose of discussing that topic. When they want to discuss something else, they do it somewhere else.

Blogs have their use, even in the context of research in communities. They can give a preview of topics that may move into communities. But those communities may be the better place to performs research that attempts to gather insights that traditionally came from survey research.

Or, to summarize the roles of blogs and communities as Josh and others have described it:

  • Blogs for awareness.
  • Communities for consumer insight.
Before you launch a monitoring or research initiative, do you know what you're trying to accomplish? What are you looking for? Where's the best place to find it?

I like questions. They're frequently more useful than statements.

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Part of the fun of social media is the way it touches so many disciplines—or, for you corporate types, so many functional silos. Word-of-mouth and all the forms of online media challenge the traditional divisions, so we get to see how different specialties approach them. An article in PRWeek discusses the view from public relations (via Sally Falkow):

While appraising and evaluating social media is often complex, it has impacted the profession in three specific ways (in order of increasing importance): it has added a new medium and hundreds of thousands of new outlets PR pros must ponder when pitching; it has provided companies and their agencies an inexpensive way to push their unfiltered message out into the increasingly cluttered media space online; and it has opened up a heretofore unimagined conduit of conversation between corporation and customer.
The article is full of good quotes and observations, which I won't try to summarize. Most interesting, though, is the observation that clients haven't settled on who they will go to for social media programs:
Given the likelihood that clients are becoming increasingly interested in the space, agencies from multiple disciplines are competing for digital and social media accounts. PR agency executives say that since they are increasingly included in pitches that also feature pure interactive and advertising shops, the industry, as a whole, needs to evangelize about why PR is the best discipline to handle the social media space.
The analysis side of social media is similarly open to companies from different backgrounds. In the last three days, I've talked with a clipping service, an interactive agency and a social media analysis specialist firm, all of which would be happy to monitor and analyze social media for you. How the analysis fits with their other services is one of the more interesting questions, and it's leading to a series of questions every company should be able to answer before picking a vendor.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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