October 2009 Archives

Is it a problem of overpromising/underdelivering, or are people developing these unrealistic expectations on their own? Either way, I'm seeing more examples of people who seem surprised that software doesn't do all of the work in social media analysis. I really don't think this is controversial: regardless of your choice of tool, there's a necessary human contribution to the process.

This notion that the software isn't good enough because it requires a person to do something with it seems to be picking up speed. The first post that really kicked off a conversation was probably Asi Sharabi's. I saw a couple this morning, including one from Mark Schaefer that focuses on the graphics:

I’ve been spending time studying the trends in social media monitoring and have been impressed with the rapid progress. But there is still a lot of noise like this chart that really tells us nothing. The fact is, the most meaningful keyword and sentiment analysis is all still being done MANUALLY.
I'm not arguing that anybody's tool is perfect (the steady stream of updates strongly implies that the vendors don't think that, either). This is still a new category, and the software will evolve. So observations about which pieces work well—and which pieces need improvement—provide a valuable contribution. But we're not going to see a product that (a) analyzes the world, (b) develops meaningful insights, and (c) delivers it in a tidy, executive-ready package.

Building the social media spreadsheet
Think about spreadsheet software. When you first open a new spreadsheet, the software gives you a blank page. In the right hands, the software is a power tool for running financials, forecasting results, analyzing historical data... I've seen some impressive examples, but the most powerful spreadsheet software is useless without someone who knows how to use it. Which, if you think about it, is true of most software.

Social media analysis tools are software; they do some of the work, but to get the most out of them, you need someone who knows how to use them. The more you expect from your tool, the more the user needs to know. Anything that's fully automated either isn't doing much, or it has a lot of human effort baked into it.

Regardless of the tools used, at some point people take over. It may be earlier in the process (manual content analysis) or later (analysis and reporting), but eventually, a person takes what the computer produces and does something with it. All of those agencies that sell services based on the same SMA platforms presumably think this is where they add value.

If you want it done for you...
There is an answer for the company that wants the insights without putting in the effort, of course. Have someone else do it. You can't bypass the requirement for a human analyst, but you don't have to do it yourself. When you're shopping for social media analysis, just be sure to include analyst services among your requirements. That eliminates some of the best-known software companies, but it opens the door to an entirely different set of service providers.

If you want to make spreadsheets, you buy Excel. If you want financial projections, you roll up your sleeves or hire a financial analyst. It's up to you to decide whether that analyst will be an employee or work for an external service provider.

Where's the disconnect? Are unrealistic customer expectations coming from vendor hype, or is it just hope that things will be easy?

Taking Social Data To Go

I try not to be too obnoxious with my iPhone, but it's hard to avoid being impressed with how it's changed my expectations about mobile computing. I've been wondering when social media analysis apps would start showing up, and now I've found one to play with: iCrossing's new Say What?

Compared to the tools I usually look at, Say What? (iTunes link) is pretty basic. It runs searches across Twitter, Digg, forums and blogs, returning a sampling of the results from each. It's not much, but it might be enough to get a quick sense of what's going on with a topic (especially if it's currently controversial).

Why are people talking about that?
Say What? is best used for getting a clue about a current topic—especially if it's controversial or newsworthy. Looking at results, four per screen, you're looking for someone to provide a hint about what's going on.

Looking up (Rush) Limbaugh, I immediately found mentions of his interest in buying into an NFL franchise. Ford returned items about the latest product recall. But when the company isn't making news, the results are far less interesting—people are apparently having breakfast at Dunkin' Donuts.

From Search to Analysis
I've been looking into web-based collaboration and project management tools for my own company, and as soon as I realized that some of these tools have iPhone apps, that became a requirement. We have so many web-based tools for monitoring and analyzing social media; who's going to be the first to offer a simple dashboard that delivers clients' data to smart phones?

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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