“Finding information is what I do, everything has some sort of importance in context,” says Margaret Alldredge. As a social media professional who “listens” for clients, Alldredge searches for and finds data, analyzes it, and then shares meaningful (and actionable) insights.
Alldredge is the digital analyst at ignite: action. Her career began in the field of archaeology - the study and interpretation of the past - but soon shifted to the modern digital world. Prior to working with ignite: action, she worked as a user experience researcher with a focus on working with information architecture at SPARK Experience. There, she worked on projects with AAA, CPG, the FCC, Nielsen, and numerous nonprofit groups.
Social media listening requires tools, and there are a quite few options out there, but more importantly it requires analysis by a person who can find meaningful insights within the data.
I asked Alldredge about the importance of the human touch. She said that one of the things that people do much better than computers is that they understand context.
“Machines and programs can do what we tell them to do based on logic, but the way people speak and interact is not always logical. People use sarcasm, euphemisms, illogical phrasing, and jokes. I’ve yet to see a computer understand or compose a joke more complex than a dad joke. Some social media worth listening to involves back and forth conversation and it currently takes a human to read all the information to summarize the content.”
As well, a tool is not able to navigate a social network like a human does:
“Often Twitter posts will include a link to a more in-depth article on a subject matter. A tool won’t go in and read the article to see if it has additional important information that might impact your company’s interests.”
A human analyst can also make value judgments that machine powered systems would miss.
“There are algorithms created to give an assessment of whether a comment is positive, negative, or neutral. Programs don’t always get this right. For example, someone could be speaking poorly of another company when praising yours and the program will interpret the post as a negative response.”
And at the same time, not all data is created equal. A human analyst can make judgments about significance.
“Not all information collected by a program is important or worthy of being passed along to clients. You are filtering through the posts to help the client see the important information that actually impacts them."
But that said, tools do make effective analysis much, much easier.
“Tools take overwhelming tasks and reduce them to something manageable. I've always found when I'm doing work, if I have the thought of ‘I wish this could be easier’ there is usually a way a tool can help.”
Learning to use the tools well is a process within itself, and Alldredge recommends reading up about Boolean logic (like OR and NOT) to get a better understanding of common search process.
If you're looking to up your social listening process, the tools that Alldredge uses most often and recommends are:
- Gathers data from social media platforms, blogs, forums, news, the web
- Allows for working with teams of people to monitor and address information
- Mobile app so you don’t have to be at your desk in front of the computer all the time
- Integrates with social media accounts
- Provides influencer identification so you can figure out who you might need to keep an eye on
- Report production exists for sharing information from analyzed statistics to raw data
- Manageable for smaller scale listening
- Great for live-stream events
- Doesn’t allow for exports of data, so long term analysis is not as reasonable of a task using this tool
- “Whenever I can,” says Alldredge, “I export or collect data in Excel so I can analyze and automate the reporting process. My time is best spent analyzing data, not formatting it.”
An effective social listening strategy should include first identifying your goals.
What do you want to achieve? Do you want to respond to people who are talking about your organization online? Do you want to borrow your competitor’s best ideas? Do you want to find powerful people online to act as influencers for your organization?
Set your goal and build out your strategy with that in mind.
From there, you need to find the right tool/s for what you, specifically, need. It should gather data from every social media platform that matters to you, and have robust analytics features to help you assess that data. Two other big pluses are having an intuitive interface and the ability to respond to messages from within the tool.
What do you want to listen for? Choose what keywords you want to track.
As advised by Patrick Whatman in an article on the Mention blog:
“Do you want to track your brand name, your products, or your competitors? This can also be tricky for companies with ordinary brand names - ‘Apple,’ for instance, is a pretty tough one to track. You don’t know whether people are talking about the brand, the fruit, or the daughter of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow.”
You can combine your organization’s name with other keywords to narrow down your search. You might also find that tracking the name of single program name or key phrase is helpful.
Whatman suggests that the smartest approach is to cast a narrow net, cutting out the noise.
“Only collect the mentions that really interest you. Boolean alerts are perfect for this, as you can pinpoint phrases and put limits on your keywords, so that only the most relevant return.”
You’ll want to make sure you evaluate your organization's social media efforts while you're listening. Some key metrics that you’ll want to gather are sentiment around your mentions, share of voice, and reach. And then you’ll need to be able to adjust your tactics in response to what you learn.
A version of this post was first published on the Ignite Action blog.