Tag Archives: Social Listening Platforms

Three Keys to Insight Discovery in Social Listening

13 Dec

True social insights, as opposed to social findings or social observations, have the potential to inform, shape or drive marketing and even business strategy decisions, not just social strategy decisions. Discovering that tweeting with a link on Tuesday between 10:00 – 11:00 AM drives higher levels of engagement is a social finding, not an insight.

Social media is a microcosm of the larger Big Data problem/opportunity – too much data, not enough insights. Or if you prefer, too much noise, not enough signal. If you want to improve your ability to discover insights, here are three simple approaches you can take to improve your insight hunting.

First, start all analysis with a hypothesis or series of questions the analysis is designed to answer. It is much easier to prove or disprove a hypothesis, or answer specific questions, than it is to “find out what people are saying about us in social media”. The more specific the request, the better the answer is going to be. The hypothesis may be one you develop based on preliminary analysis or it may come from the ‘customer’ for the insight. Here are two examples of hypothesis:

  • “Conversation about us in social media is quite negative. My boss believes ‘everyone’ is aligned against us. I disagree. My hypothesis is that there is a very vocal and active minority of consumers who are posting large volumes of negative content about us. And I believe this group is a small fraction of the total number of people who post. The majority of consumers are actually neutral toward us.”
  • “When we look at Twitter, Facebook and Blogs we see pretty low levels of conversation about our product and the medical condition it treats. We believe there is actually a fair amount of conversation, but the conversations are occurring in Forums which may not be crawled by most social listening tools.”

While the hypothesis is a great way to begin to focus on what is important in the data, a further focusing mechanism is the second insight discovery key – the concept of targeted listening. With targeted listening we are not trying to capture all conversations that mention the brand or product. That is a ‘boil the ocean’ approach. Instead, we listen for very specific types of conversations or conversations by very specific groups of individuals within social conversations. The trick is to have the discipline to only listen to your focus areas and not be tempted to boil the ocean in hopes of finding a few pearls. Here are three examples of targeted listening strategies:

  • An insurance company resists the temptation to try to capture ‘all’ mentions of the brand and decides to focus only on conversations where customers are thinking about non-renewal or switching companies.
  • A gaming company launches a new product and listens to understand what features are being discussed, what people like most/least about the new game and to gauge their specific reactions to the cover art.
  • A consumer products company listens only for consumers who are actively in the purchasing process for the type of products they offer.

The third key to discovering insights is to provide context for decision-making. Remember with insights we are trying to inform, shape and guide decision-making. Context is incredibly important to making better decisions faster. Good social analysts understand how marketing and business work and how strategic alternatives might impact results. Understanding this helps you put your insights in the proper context for decision-making.

Here is an example of how context can lead to better decisions. Company X has a crisis. You are asked to do real-time listening of the crisis and help the PR team decide when and how to engage in the conversation. You come back the next day with a line chart showing a large spike in content mentioning the crisis – thousands of mentions. You know the sentiment in negative to neutral and on which channels the content appears. Unfortunately you have not given the people deciding Trend.BlogPost

whether or not to engage enough information to make a decision. What information would provide the necessary context for decision-making? What questions do we need to try to answer? Here are a few:

  • How much above ‘normal levels’ is the spike in content? (Normative data)
  • How does this event compare to that event we had last year? Or, how does the event compare to competitor X who had their own crisis last year? (Comparative data) Comparisons help decision makers determine ‘how bad is bad’.
  • How long do we anticipate seeing negative content at relatively high levels? (Comparative data) This might be the most important question to answer to provide context and guidance for the engagement decision. If we anticipate volume will drop back to normal in a reasonable period of time, then not engaging may be a viable and effective strategy depending on the brand involved and the nature of the crisis.
  • Which stakeholder groups are active in the conversations?  With robust social analysis we always want to look at both the post – what is being said, and the source – who is saying it. In a crisis, who is talking is particularly important.

Normative data, comparative data and examining both post and source data are all effective techniques to provide context for decision-making. InsightButton

The tough part about discovering insights is there are no shortcuts and it is a human activity. No social media analysis platform that I have found has an insight button. The key barrier is lack of people who understand how to search for and discover insights. Hope these tips make you a more effective explorer.

Happy Holidays!

Social Media Listening Platforms – Plan, Select, Deploy (Part Three – Deploy)

17 Jun

In Part Two of this series on social media listening platforms we offered a process for selecting a social media listening platform vendor.  Now it’s time to deploy the tool across your organization effectively and with minimal disruption.  And put the tool to work.

Configuration – We talked about value-added services in the first post in this series.  One of the services offered by many listening platform vendors is configuration.  You’ll have to decide if you want to have the vendor perform system configuration or do it yourself.  In some cases you have no choice – you submit keywords, topics and themes to the vendor and the system is programmed for you.  In other cases some basic configuration must be done by the platform vendor but the bulk of the configuration can be a DIY project.

Keywords and Topics – In part one of this series, we discussed the need to think through the keywords required to bring all relevant content into your platform.  The keywords might be company name, product/brand names, competitors, issues, segment names, executives and spokespersons and key messages.  During deployment you will need to build taxonomy around many of the keywords that represent concepts rather than singular ideas or names.  For example, if you have a message that centers on being an innovative company, you will have to decide what expressions in addition to the keyword ‘innovative’ may be classified as innovation -  leading-edge, technology leader, R&D leadership, breakthrough products, etc.  You will also have to decide words and terms to exclude from your analysis.  Both of these processes are iterative – make a change, check content relevancy, adjust, repeat.

Integration – There are a few different types of integration you may want to tackle during platform configuration and deployment.  Each of the possible forms of integration will take a little time to accomplish and may require some back and forth between you and the platform vendor and/or vendor to vendor.  I am a big fan of web analytics and social media integration.  With many listening platforms this is relatively straight forward to accomplish.  You may also want to integrate third-party data sources like Factiva, LexisNexis, VMS or Critical Mention.  Assuming the listening platform vendor you selected supports this type of integration, it also is relatively straight forward.  To address latency issues, make sure you specify load times for the content.

Reports and Workflow – Previously, we addressed many of the basic questions around reports and reporting.  In the deployment phase it’s time to make it real.  Design specific templates for each report you need.  Create a mock-up and share with your stakeholders to make sure everyone is on board with the look, feel and utility of the report.   You will want to test the various delivery mechanisms to be employed including all email clients and mobile platforms you believe may be used.  Generally speaking, assume a significant percentage of the audience may look at the report on a mobile device, making this an especially important dynamic to test.  Once you have the report format established, define your workflow process – who pulls data and when, who creates visuals and by when, who compiles and edits the report and by when, and who is responsible for distribution and against what schedule.

Training – The first decision to make with training is if you want to tackle it yourself or rely on the listening platform vendor to perform the training.  Some vendors have very strong training programs and others not so much.  Some vendors charge for training and some do the bulk of it for free.  You most likely will want to take a train-the-trainer hybrid approach to training – have a core one/two/three people trained by the platform vendor, and then charge this team with training within your company or organization.  With respect to training timing, make sure to begin training only after everyone has a log-in to the system so they can actually use the system during the training.  I usually refer to this as training with live ammo.  If you don’t do this you’ll find the half-life of training is pretty short – folks forget most of what they have learned very rapidly.  I also find a tell-show-do teaching methodology works very well (my friends at Radian6 approach training this way).  Show some slides that cover the basics, show a video or canned demo that brings it to life and then have everyone do some hands-on exercises using the platform.  Remember you will need to address initial training needs as well as ongoing needs as new users are brought on the platform.

Event-specific and Programmatic Planning – Related to keyword analysis and taxonomy build-out, it may be wise to create keyword groups for programs you know you will be asked to listen to and measure, and for any potential events, like a crisis, that you can anticipate or imagine.  With respect to programmatic listening and measurement, generally a combination of the right keywords and date-ranging will allow you to pull in program-specific content.  If programs are known at the time of configuration and deployment, get ahead of the curve and set-up the keyword groups or source filters you may need.

If a company, brand or organization has a social listening program, you are remiss if you don’t include specific keywords that may serve as an early-detection system for potential crisis.  For example, depending on the type of organization and industry, it may be advisable to set up a keyword search like this: Company Name AND fire OR explosion OR shooting OR recall OR kidnapping OR crash.

In today’s real-time world, in my opinion, it is no longer optional to have social media listening capabilities.  As a result of this three-part series on listening platforms, I hope you are better equipped to plan, select and deploy your platform effectively.

Thanks for reading.

Social Media Listening Platforms – Plan, Select, Deploy (Part One – Plan)

19 May

It is not difficult to find a social media listening platform/tool – there are over 100 to choose from.  What is difficult is to find the right tool.  It takes a keen understanding of your scope and requirements.  It takes an evaluation and selection process that will surface the best platform to fully meet your requirements.  And it takes a well thought-out process for deploying the platform across the organization in an effective and efficient manner.   There are many questions to be asked and answers to be given.  Asking the right questions at the right time is crucial.

It is helpful to think of the overall process in three phases:

Plan – Define requirements, stakeholders, scope

Select – Create a platform evaluation process tailored to your unique requirements

Deploy – The selected platform across the organization with training, workflow and other important issues addressed.

This three-part series will tackle each phase one at a time.  First up – Plan.

In many ways, the planning phase is the most important.  Overlook an important detail here and you may or may not be able to overcome it later.  Here are ten topic areas to discuss within your organization to make sure you are setting yourself up for success.

  1. Stakeholders – What are the primary stakeholder groups within my company or organization?  Possible stakeholder groups might include marketing, corporate communications and customer service/care at the macro level.  Depending on the size of your organization, various regions, divisions, groups or product lines may also be distinct stakeholder groups.  Once you have identified the primary stakeholders, set up time to meet with each group.  Understand how they currently use social listening tools and what, from their perspective, are ‘must have’ capabilities versus ‘nice to have’ capabilities in a social listening platform.  Ask each stakeholder group the applicable questions from the list below.
  2. Geographic Scope – What languages and countries are stakeholders interested in including in the platform?  Try to understand the relative priority of each country and language.  Also be sure to comprehend future requirements.  For example, if Chinese is not a priority today but will be within two years, you may want to only consider listening platforms that support two-byte languages.  Also probe to assess if social media content will need to be translated into other languages.  This may be primarily an internal workflow issue or outsourcing issue, but might also be a platform consideration.
  3. Value-added Services – It is very important to develop a point of view on how monitoring, analysis and reporting will be done within your organization.  Will each stakeholder group be responsible for doing this themselves or will a centralized analytics and insights group be responsible?  In addition to the self-serve approach, you could consider outsourcing this work to your social listening platform vendor or to one of your agencies – PR, digital or advertising.  In my experience, it is easy for a company or organization to underestimate both the skill and time commitment necessary to make the self-serve approach effective.
  4. Content/Data Types – Social media listening platform vendors generally include content from the primary social media properties -  Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Forums, YouTube and MySpace (being generous here).  Flickr is also included in many.  Currently on vendor roadmaps are properties like Linked-In and perhaps customer review sites.  Make sure the content types the platform supports meets your stakeholder requirements.  It is also very important to understand how the social content is being aggregated and how frequently (see Reporting for more on latency issues).  The fundamental ways in which content is aggregated in social listening platforms are crawling the web, RSS feeds and third-party content aggregators (e.g. Boardreader for Forums).  Many platform vendors employ a hybrid approach.
  5. Metrics and Analytics – Most social listening platforms either have a set group of analytics that deliver specific metrics or they offer configurable analytic ‘widgets’ that may be used to create metrics like share of conversation or volume and tone trend.  Some platforms offer a combination of these two approaches.  Based on your needs and measurement strategy/approach, define the analytics and metrics you would ideally like to see (e.g. volume, sentiment, messages, share-of-conversation, association with key topics).  In the vendor selection phase, this list will be useful to compare and contrast vendors.
  6. Keywords and Topics – During the planning phase, it is wise to develop a list of the major keywords and topics you believe will be necessary for the listening platform.  These keywords might include the company name, key competitors, industry issues, market segment names,  brand names, product names, key spokespersons, executives and competitor and industry spokespersons.  Social media listening platforms have varying degrees of sophistication with respect to their search capability.  Some have full Boolean logic, others offer very simple AND/OR logic.  The importance of this difference depends to some degree on you company/brand name as well as the sophistication of the people who will be configuring and maintaining your system.  If, for example, your company name is a common word (e.g. Apple, Visa), you will need stronger logic capabilities that include proximity search.
  7. Integration – Integration of varying data types – search, web, social, advertising, customer opinion and others – is the present and future of online measurement.  It is therefore important to understand what capabilities, if any, the social listening platform vendor has to integrate with other data types/streams.  Do they offer the ability to connect with web analytics packages via API for example?  The web/social integration is becoming increasingly common.  If you need to integrate traditional media with social, it might be a nice feature if the social listening platform allows third-party content aggregators like Factiva, Lexis Nexis, VMS or Critical Mention.
  8. Reporting – During the planning phase it is helpful to think through a series of questions about reports and reporting.  What type of reports are necessary?  Who will be responsible for their creation?  How often will reports be issued?  Does the system need the capability to automatically generate and deliver reports?  What about automated alerts?  There are quite a wide range of report capabilities represented by the various vendors in the listening space.  One potentially critical area to explore during the vendor evaluation phase is related to report frequency and perhaps to report type (think crisis).  That is how often new content is brought into the system.  Content latency issues may cause real problems during a fast-moving crisis.  Generally, the content latency differs by media type.  Best for Twitter and worst (perhaps) for forums, some of which restrict crawling to no more than once per day.  Within Twitter, the type of relationship the vendor has with Twitter should also be explored.  Not all Firehose arrangements are the same.  While most social media listening platforms claim to be ‘real time’, it is interesting to ask the vendors to define what they mean by ‘real time’.  The answers may surprise you.
  9. Access – Discuss who needs access to the listening platform and what they want to see and be able to do once they are in the system.  Do your different stakeholder groups (Divisions, product lines, brands, corporate, marketing, etc.) want or need a customized view of the data perhaps presented on a separate dashboard within the system?  It is also a good idea to have a perspective on who your power users will be versus the casual users.  This distinction applies not only to system access, but also in areas like training.
  10. Engagement – Some social media listening platforms support engagement with content owners directly from the platform, others do not.  Some engagement capabilities are elegant, others are rudimentary.  Make sure to explore the engagement needs of your stakeholders and understand how important this capability is to them in the short and long-term.  If engagement capabilities are important, you will also want to explore if the system allows users to tag content, assign content, manage assignments and track workflow.

In Part Two, we’ll examine a rigorous process for social media listening platform vendor evaluation and selection.

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