At any given moment, vital conversations are taking place online. The modern consumer shares experiences and opinions on Twitter, blogs, and interest-based communities. These conversations are undeniably beginning to wield huge amounts of power.
To tap into this essential resource, the role of community manager has emerged as part of the social media value chain. This job requires listening to conversations across the web, tracking sentiment determining what people are saying and sharing, and channeling company responses to certain comments or questions.
In the beginning, community management typically entailed one person equipped with state of the art "listening tools." Community managers diligently tracked keyword and brand mentions -- and often ended up staring at an endless stream of updates. In many cases, brands receive thousands of mentions per day -- far too many mentions for one person to follow. And so, a company hires another community manager, and another and the cycle continues.
While this is going on, conversations are amplifying on the social web at a breakneck pace. Over the next 30 minutes, approximately 22,000 blog posts will go live; 2.3 million tweets will fly; and Facebook users will post 2.77 million status updates plus 41 million pieces of content. Factor in the steady stream of online articles from traditional media outlets, and an untold number of niche sites and other networks.
Companies can try to keep pace with the sheer number of voices on the social web by adding more staff. Or, they can look for a smarter way to tackle the problem by giving community managers a way to identify which voices are the most important to their brand, market, and company. These "influencers" or "opinion leaders" are the individuals who carry most weight in any given market or topic area. They can impact particular communities, shape opinions, and even incite offline behavior from other consumers, like a boycott.
There are tools that measure a raw influence score, gauging the importance of the person behind a blog, tweet, or comment. However, here's where it can get tricky: These scores are generic -- meaning one score is assigned to an individual -- and that's not how influence works.
Influence scoring is only possible when considered in the context of topics. For example, Joe is a frequent blogger and contributor in the world of commodity futures. When it comes to talking about silver prices, he's regarded as an expert. However, he rarely or never talks about cooking tools, gardening, etc. It's clear that Joe's level of influence is markedly different when discussing commodities trading vs. car engines. So, how's it possible that a single influence score could represent Joe's influence across countless markets and interest communities out there? It isn't.
Obviously there's room for media monitoring improvement. Influence scores can indeed help companies determine where to put their limited resources and focus. However, such scores will be beneficial only if they take into account topical relevancy.
Here's how it works: When a community manager or marketer plugs in a keyword to track, they can see the most important people talking about that specific area -- not the people with the highest number of followers on Twitter.
Listening is just the first part of the process. The magic comes when a company chooses to act on this data. How do they respond to brand mentions? How do they engage key influencers and communities? How do they learn and adapt? This is the work of thoughtful human beings, not the latest software tool.
Getting the right kind of help from technology can go a long way to identifying the best place to focus efforts and produce the highest ROI. Given the sheer number of voices out there, a well-defined focus is key to success.
By listening and building the right kind of target list, you can free up huge swaths of time in order to build relationships, design creative engagement plans, and much more. Marketers can spend their days on the tasks and action items far more worthy of their time. It's the only way for brands to keep up with the spiraling growth in conversations and communities.
Gary Lee is CEO for mBLAST.
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