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Social Media Bells & Whistles: A Word of Caution

Social media and the Social Intelligence industry is advancing by leaps and bounds every day in technological capabilities like automated sentiment scoring, geo-location identification, advanced topic discovery and alerting to name a few.  Having worked in the social media monitoring and analytics space since 2007 with many of the top Global 2000 companies, I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with clients – understanding their concerns, defining goals, digging into their data and helping them find insights and key metrics for better business decision making.

One of the challenges these new social analytics capabilities create is that they often distract companies from uncovering some of the deeper issues, concerns and successes consumers are experiencing with their products and services.  Please don’t get me wrong here—I’m not saying that features like sentiment scores and geo-location are flashy bells and whistles to a listening platform, they are fantastic and powerful tools.  Instead I’d like to caution you about the common pitfalls I’ve seen clients fall into when they focus too closely on these areas at the expense of the bigger picture.

When it comes to social media content, as I discussed in my previous post, it’s all a matter of perspective—one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.  The point I wanted to drive home was that 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.  Along these lines, let’s take a look at two highly sought after features— demographic and geographic location identification.

One of the cornerstones of marketing involves identifying and targeting the right audience for your product or service, crafting specific messaging that resonates with that audience and distributing that message out in the right channels and markets.  Targeting media buys based on demographics and even psychographics to push your messaging out is extremely effective.  However, comfort with highly targeted demographics propagates a common misconception that comes to light when you turn the message flow around and begin to listen to consumers talking about you.

“We only care what women aged 25-44 in the UK are saying about our product.  That’s our target.”  I can’t count how many times clients have told me something to this effect.  The problem is that the online world is still mostly anonymous and stitching social profiles to real world individuals and customer records in a CRM system is still in its infancy with a hefty legal threat of privacy issues looming overhead.

In a perfect world we would be able to identify each and every single blog author, Twitter user, forum contributor and social video poster with their real-world name, age, address and other goodies that would make the lives of marketers so much easier.  The reality is that less than 5% of online posters in social media identify any, let alone complete, demographic information or their real name.  Even for the huge masses of tweets that are posted each day, only 0.23% are geo-tagged.  Let’s say your brand gets tweeted 3,000 times each day.  Only 7 of those will have any form of geo-tag associated with it.

From a reporting standpoint, using the geographic map or demographic summary of social data can be very helpful to understand better who is talking and where they are talking.  It can be the starting point to help you begin your research by focusing on content identified from the specific target demographic you are most interested in.  But here is my caution:  don’t limit your field of vision to only the narrow world defined by the bells and whistles.  Don’t discount what the anonymous consumers are saying.  Look for any trends or themes in those countries or age segments, take into consideration the number of consumers that opinion is based on, then read more to see what the rest of the people are saying.  Remember, just because the consumers in the U.S. market are talking about the seats in your car being uncomfortable and the ones in the U.K. are obsessed with fuel efficiency, doesn’t mean they don’t find them uncomfortable too.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on how you use social media bells and whistles with your company or clients by commenting below.

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