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Social Media Research: Keeping it Real

 

Social media listeningSocial media research is still behind social media marketing in terms of getting past the hype.  Clearly there’s some overselling going on and more education is needed about how and when to effectively use social media data.  Some sales folks even go as far as suggesting social media listening can replace market research as a way to save money – without having the background or unbiased perspective needed to make such a suggestion. 

It’s time for researchers to have an open dialogue about social media data – warts and all.  What biases exist?  What steps are necessary to put the data in a truly usable form?  What are the best applications for social media analysis?  How can we best integrate it with other data sources?  I’m not going to try and tackle all these questions in this blog, but hopefully I can help stimulate discussion over time.

To put things in perspective, one must consider that typically only a fraction of social media chatter is worthwhile and relevant to your specific objectives. Keep in mind that the topic of interest for your social media analysis has a huge impact on how many “sound bites” you have to work with.  As you are pulling data, it can be a challenge to “disambiguate” (i.e., remove irrelevant chatter) and, in some instances, almost impossible.  Another challenge is that social media data is largely unstructured. Automatic coding isn’t optimal – especially if you plan to integrate the results with other data sources. 

Despite these challenges, there is no denying that it’s a valuable data source.  Having the ability to learn from chatter that is occurring naturally online and applying state-of-the-art technology to aggregating and analyzing this data is powerful stuff.   Social media analytic tools and text analytics are always evolving.   But even with the best social media listening tools and analysts available, social media listening cannot and should not be applied across all situations.  NO analytic tool or technique is a one-size-fits-all solution.   

Let’s put social media analysis in perspective across all of the tools, techniques, and data sources we have to work with.   Exciting things are on the horizon, but for now, let’s not expect (or promise) more than social media data can deliver.

Cathy is CMB’s social media research maven dedicated to an “eyes wide open” approach to social media research and its practical application and integration with other data sources. Follow her on Twitter at @VirtualMR

social media webinar

 

Check out our webinar Understanding B2B Social Media: An AMD Case Study and learn more about how Social Media Research is making a difference for our clients. Click here.

Comments

We have to remember that in the grand scheme of things, the data that vendors provide is all the same, and the tools are there to help us sift through the conversation to get to the relevant content. Taking relevant content, finding what is meaningful, and then identifying patterns that lead to insights requires human time and talent. I think social media research companies need to emphasize their people more and focus less on the technology, because even the most sophisticated platform cannot on its own spit out insights or tell a meaningful story. Even though strong analysts are critical in delivering impactful social media research, they are rarely the focus of the pitch.  
 
On best uses of social media research - I believe it is most effective for discovery, not measurement. Discovery leads to innovation and human understanding. One reason measurement is tricky is because in order to disambiguate topics, the volume is naturally skewed and no longer apples to apples to other topics that are being analyzed.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 11, 2012 12:02 PM by Jenny Vandehey
I totally agree Jenny - thank you for your thoughtful comments. The skill of the analyst is the key ingredient and yet social media research positions tend to be very junior. Inexperienced analysts simply do not have the knowledge of connecting data outcomes with useful research output/findings. I appreciate CMB's willingness to invest in having a senior researcher in this role. And even with experience, social media research is a challenge!  
 
I also agree that discovery has been the most useful application thus far but we are also exploring predictive techniques. I'm fortunate to have senior colleagues with deep expertise in qual, quant, and advanced analytics who are dedicated to helping CMB optimize our social media efforts. And having the opportunity to dialogue with experts such as yourself is also very helpful! Thanks again... 
 
Posted @ Thursday, January 12, 2012 12:43 PM by Cathy Harrison
I agree that social media is excellent as a platform for discovery and a social exchange dialogue of ideas; however some measuring is important. Entrepreneurs often become so passionate about their projects and ideas that often forget to take the time to measure the results of projects launched. I do agree that many platforms out there seem to be extremely focused on technology often forgetting the real reason for social media which is to communicate with relevance while engaging in a meaningful conversation. It is important for entrepreneurs of all kinds to meet with IT and technology driven individuals at meetups or special business events so both parties can give each other feedback. This is a win/win dialogue and social media at its best.
Posted @ Friday, January 13, 2012 10:13 AM by Theresa Nielsen
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