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Social Junk or Social Treasure: What Social Media Data Should You Care About?

As a social media Data Strategy Manager let me start by confirming something you’ve undoubtedly suspected—yes, there is a nearly infinite amount of content out there on the Internet and every minute, every second there is more being added.  Not a very shocking piece of news in this day and age, but when it comes to social media monitoring, the sheer volume of content out there can be overwhelming and derail even the best-laid intentions for a company’s social media program.

Even the simple task of identifying everything that makes up the “social media” slice of the online content pie has become difficult as the lines between mainstream and social media continue to blur.  Think back a few years when newspapers were strictly offline print publications. At that time, everyday readers of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times would never have dreamed of making instant, direct and public comments on articles – and now social feedback and commentary is a staple of online mainstream news media.

So what is a socially-minded company to do?  Where should they look?  Which data is the most important?  Most companies that I’ve had the pleasure of working with start out with the pat answer of “well everything of course, I need it all!”  And for basic Social Intelligence reporting of online mentions this answer makes some sense.  Companies want to see how many times their product or brand is mentioned every day, every week to track and trend momentum and reaction to what’s happening in the industry with messaging.

But let’s look deeper.  Is every one of those mentions truly meaningful and impactful on the social health of their brand?  Do the numbers tell the real story?  I’ll use a terribly spam and SEO-abused product category to make my point—the erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra and Cialis.  There are a lot of great message boards, medical and relationship forums, personal blogs, Facebook pages and other online social communities that discuss and share genuine stories, issues, experiences and reviews of these products.

The Viagra and Cialis mentions on these sites are extremely valuable to these brands and can help provide critical insights into product innovation, barriers to sale that can help shape the product and future market messaging.   But anyone who’s ever done much online searching knows just how much spammers, SEO manipulators, fake or paid content bloggers, and other ill-intentioned folks take advantage of brand names to misdirect Web users to their sites.  These brands might say “But I don’t care about those sites, they don’t count.”

It’s all a matter of perspective—one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  This is the point I want to drive home.  Online content, particularly social media content, has varying degrees of usefulness and purpose depending on who you are and what you want to do with it.  The most important place to start is with your social media initiatives.  Begin by defining what information is useful, setting goals for what you want to learn and how much time and resources you can allocate.  Most importantly, for those companies who aspire to move past the listening stage. . . identify what content is actionable.

If your intention is to engage and interact then focusing on everything doesn’t matter as much.  Your efforts are better spent focusing on those rich communities and forums where your efforts can be appreciated and rewarded, places where you can have a positive impact.  For example, Twitter may or may not be the right format depending on if you can help and solve problems in a reply of 140 characters or less.

There are plenty of excellent consultants, agencies and experienced social monitoring companies who can help you navigate your own path, guide you with the successes and mishaps of others’ attempts, but to get started do an internal inventory first by outlining what types of data would be the most meaningful and actionable and ask:

  • What would help you change your product, your business, and your customers for the better?
  • What would that look like?
  • What social media data is most important to you?

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on what social data “really” matters by commenting below.

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