Working with Social Media Data: Activity

DashMonitoring social media. Measuring social media. Social media analytics. All of these treat social media as data, but social media generate at least three types of data: content, activity, and people. In the last post, I wrote about content data, which is the starting point for listening. This time, let's talk about activity. What are people doing that we can analyze?

What is activity data?
Activity data is just what it sounds like: data about the behaviors of people as they use social media. When we're tweeting, pinning, tagging, posting, commenting, sharing, and liking, the systems we watch are watching us back. It's like web analytics, except that social media support many more activities than most web pages, and the activity takes place on social media sites instead of companies' own web sites.

Analyzing activity data
If you're used to measurement conversations with an unstated assumption that you're talking about content data, you probably talk a lot about sentiment and topics. If you listen to web analytics folks talk about social media for a few minutes, you hear about entirely different metrics: friends, followers, fans, likes, shares, retweets, and more.

Compared to content data, activity data presents a set of harder metrics, meaning there's not much doubt about the actual numbers. They're based on observing the use of features built into the software, rather than an interpretation of someone's writing. There's little ambiguity in clicking on a Like button, for example. It's either been clicked or not. The real question is what that means.

An embarrassment of metrics
The challenge in using activity data is less about the underlying technologies and more about tying them to business objectives. We have a lot of available metrics to choose from, and to complicate things, similar-sounding metrics from different social media sites can't always be compared. Always start with the most important question ("what are you trying to accomplish?"), and be sure you understand what the metrics really represent.

With activity data, the web analytics folks have an advantage, because their existing metrics tend to be closely tied to business performance. They already measure how well their web properties generate interest, leads, and sales. It's not too much of a stretch to extend the marketing funnel to include social media properties, too.

Besides its effectiveness in leading customers directly to the e-commerce store, you might measure social media activity as evidence of customer or community connections (engagement), or think of users as an audience for your messages (reach). Some metrics may have value with minimal interpretation, such as product ratings scores. Any tactic you employ that is designed to lead to an action has the potential to be evaluated with activity data, so—again—what are you trying to do?

Lines that go up and to the right make for successful presentations, if you understand what the line represents and how it relates to the business. Activity data can give you those charts; all you have to do is pick the right metrics. And as you're considering metrics, remember the three types of social media data.

Next: Working with Social Media Data: People and Groups

Screen capture by Darren Krape.

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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