The Whole World May Be Listening But That’s No Longer Enough

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Eran Gilad, CEO of social media management system tracx. He argues that while social media monitoring and measurement is a booming business, merely listening to audiences is simply one-dimensional and ineffective.

Rather like the little Dutch boy who held his finger in a dike and stayed up all night to prevent the flooding of his country, companies and brands are trying to stem the flow of data that threatens to engulf them.

The ‘Hero of Haarlem’ was an invented character in a broader book called The Silver Skates, but there is nothing fictional about the efforts brands are making to not only control this data, but also how to manage it.
Big data and social media are entwined, but that data will not be brought alive until brands understand what is being said, what the sentiment is, what the response is, who is driving the conversation and what it really means for that company.

It’s all very well to notice and listen to what people are saying, but that gives no depth or perspective to the conversation. Once the context of the conversation is understood then deeper insights will be gained. Merely noting comments is not enough, the conversation has to be understood in its entirety.

Big data is effectively a number of datasets that are sprawling, diverse and unstructured. It is everywhere we go and it’s about individuals talking, expressing opinions, disagreeing, reacting and, in many cases, showing off. It is the very thing that makes us human.

Some would say that this humanity can be managed by automated social responses to conversations on Facebook and Twitter as some brands outsource their social engagement to machines. Such an approach may indeed be viewed with horror but, as the writer of this piece contends, the progression from bank tellers to ATMs, and telephone operator to automated IVR system was relatively seamless.

Some, however, throw themselves into the social media space mistakenly believing that their audiences love their products and confuse themselves when faced with a hostile audience. In this case the erring is completely human, whether the (divine) audience can eventually forgive is something that brands are depending on.
Others use single-dimensional approaches such as keyword search to define their audience engagement when they should be learning about their users’ opinions and intentions. Brands need to understand that it’s not about their social influence, it’s about the social influence of their customers.

Every brand out there wants to mine marketing and business intelligence to use big data capabilities to make truly data-driven decisions. But this isn’t going to be effective when treating brand interactions like human friendship. Brands are secondary to human emotions, but still important.

The problem is that data is not intuitive, it’s not even counter-intuitive, it is anti-intuitive if the incorrect tools are used. As social has accelerated the growth of data, brands seem to believe that we are still in the days of static data storage. But we’re not, we are in a world where data management tools are improving on a daily basis.

Fortunately, big data and unstructured data is gradually becoming a more manageable beast. Its tangibility and measurement are more easily understood because of these tools and brands just need to find the most relevant tool to the data they are creating.

Spectacle-driven events such as football’s EURO 2012 and the London Olympics are wonderful opportunities to analyse human behaviour and reactions to stimuli. In a previous age, sponsors of these spectacles merely allowed their brands to be associated with these events, now they are synonymous with data and correct management.

Presidential elections are also events where social media and the accompanying data are change the world. Four years ago the Barack Obama campaign set up its own social network that effectively won them the election because they understood the data the electorate was telling them.

This is a mistake the Republicans are not expected to emulate this time around and this year’s election may well be a data battleground that decides how we vote in the future.

For now, however, it’s time for brands to act, not just listen. Rather unlike the Hero of Haarlem who plugged the dike, it’s time for brands to pull their finger out and really engage their audience, not just stand around passively waiting for a disaster to happen.