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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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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