As the social web continues to fragment, marketers are struggling to make sense of all the conversational noise that pertains to their brands. Here's how to hone in on the right conversations.
At this point, most digital marketers understand why they need to monitor the conversations that are happening on the social web. But in doing so, are they really listening? It's one thing to know what is being said about your brand on social networks. But it's quite another to draw actionable insights around which future campaigns and communications can be crafted.
iMedia talked with Dan Neely, founder and CEO of Networked Insights, about the importance of being a good listener in social media, strategies for properly weighting the voices you hear, and the ways in which the social web will continue to evolve.
iMedia: Tell me a little bit about the difference between social media monitoring and listening analytics.
Dan Neely: Monitoring attempts to track as many conversations as possible to tally brand or keyword mentions. It tells you a little bit about a lot. Think of it as a net that will catch every kind of fish. Listening allows you to go deeper, to draw actionable insights from a smaller set of important, relevant conversations. It's a net that pulls in the kind of fish you set out to catch.
iMedia: The social web continues to fragment into an increasing number of platforms and forums, creating a lot of conversation noise. What general tips do you have for marketers looking to make sense of all these conversations? In other words, how can they find and track the most valuable ones for their brands?
Neely: The first step is to have a good question. What do you want to know? If you just want to listen, that's possible, but the noise will be hard to screen out.
Imagine you're at a crowded happy hour networking event. You could try to talk to everyone there. You know there are useful connections and valuable nuggets of information in the room. But you can't find it all; there's too much going on. You get stuck talking to someone about their basement seepage. Now, if you walk into that room with a clear idea of the connections and information you need, you'll spend your time in the right conversations.
Choose a community to listen to. Be brave and let go of what's not relevant. And once you've narrowed it down to a manageable universe (which can still include tens of thousands of posts per month), you can and should listen for the unexpected. SocialSense, our listening tool, reveals customer buzz and needs around questions you hadn't thought to ask.
iMedia: When it comes to listening to the social web, sometimes it seems that a small handful of very vocal consumers dominate the conversations. What tips do you have for marketers looking to tap into the more understated or timid social media voices out there?
Neely: Above all, you have to find a way to listen to those who are not speaking. About 15 percent of those online account for most of the chatter. That leaves 85 percent in the silent majority. Many of those people are highly engaged. They're reading, forwarding, and making purchases based on those interactions. They're also influencing others through those actions. Influence must be judged by solid metrics. The person shouting the loudest is not always the most influential. And not all speak with equal standing: If Steve Jobs and your dentist both post comments about the iPhone, they shouldn't be weighted the same. A good listening platform measures the engagement of that silent majority and accounts for influence and reach.
iMedia: Listening to social media conversations is important for brands. But how can marketers decide when to interject themselves into the conversations that are happening? When is this appropriate?
Neely: Enter when you can bring value and contribute to what's already being said. Sometimes, there's monetary value, like an offer to replace a faulty product. But more often the value is in your open engagement and information sharing. Be honest about who you are. Show you understand and are reacting to the ongoing conversation. Remember: You have to be a groupie before you can be a rock star. It may be your product, but the customer is the star of this show. And make sure you have the resources to finish what you start. If people are talking about your product, they'll usually be enthusiastic when you join in. And they'll expect you to remain in the conversation.
iMedia: Social media is constantly evolving. Where will the future take us?
Neely: Data is growing at an exponential pace. There will be more data created in the next two years than all the data that has previously existed in the world.
But we're faced with more than the challenge of processing lots of data. Important information and nuances of meaning can be cloaked in slang, contained in a URL, conveyed in multiple languages, or indicated with an emoticon. We need to be able to read, understand, and analyze all of the above. Consider sentiment analysis. It's difficult for one person to judge the tone of what another says. Sure, they mentioned it. Did they like it? Dislike it? To what degree?
The challenges are becoming clear. The greatest rewards will be found by increasing the accuracy of social media analysis in four key areas: semantic search, organizing information, influence, and sentiment. At Networked Insights, that's where we see the future.
Lori Luechtefeld is editor of iMedia Connection.
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