|This idea that social media tangibles need to be teased out using formulas familiar to business is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction that does us all a disservice. We need to accept the fact that determining influence in social media cannot|
be justifiably accurate in a one-size-fits all way. I'm going to draw on a few examples to highlight these notions.
On Mice and Measurement
Olivier Blanchard's recent post teased out some important themes and named names - you can read it and all 300+ comments here. The controversial aspects of the post stem from Olivier's view on ISMA and their approach to marketing their training. It ended-up stirring controversy in a number of categories which included a debate on certification. The interesting part is that the comments (all 300+) included agreement, detraction (namely with the approach and tone Olivier used in both his post and interaction with detractors) and a wide range of more eclectic voices who felt strongly that there were moral, ethical and academic implications that needed to be drawn into the debate.
This was the part that was most interesting to me because if the original intent of the post was its public service element, it seemed to lose its essence during Olivier's handling of the debates more feverish moments. More importantly, I'm not certain that we could draw out any conclusions that people who have relied on ISMA's training in the past or those considering it would place a lot of value, if any, on this discussion merely because it is so difficult to keep track of the multiple layers, themes, topics, repetitiveness and pausing of the more cogent thoughts of the conversation.
It is in cases like this where a focus on measurement can become a futile exercise of the blind leading the blind, and where measurement is nowhere near important as actually studying the external perception of this debate. This means aggregating every blogroll instance, tweet and mention to form an opinion on which bits resonated most with online audiences. More importantly, that if we use this incident to gauge audience perception toward ISMA, statistics will be nothing more than a footnote, and the focus becomes discerning whether the mentions are carrying the posts original intent, or whether its overshadowed by a mirroring of the same muddled and complicated tug-of-war match.
Purposing Social Media in Buckets
What would make the most sense in situations such as this is to compile all the mentions related to Olivier's post and come-up with a total count. Let us call this the bucket. The main purpose here is to determine how much of the noise can be directly related to ISMA, and how to separate it from discussion that is focused more on Olivier's handling or approach.
After we've turned down the noise, it would make sense to draw-up some questions that need answering. If I needed to impart my own opinion on this particular matter, it would come down to the comments and handling all the time. Comments aren't only a proxy for engagement, they are a window into revealing the impact and the way the influence of a conversation sets the tone for way the message gets repackaged in online environments. ISMA seemed to get the "comments are a proxy for engagement" bit as both people who were named chimed-in and made their opinions known.
Their comments were timely, one was more graceful than the other, and the takeaway for me was the Olivier did more harm to his advocacy efforts by taking every opportunity to belittle them. With all due respect to the people participating in that conversation, public service is never about the person, chest thumping, or the need to wave the "I'm Right" sign, and always about the awareness element.
Put the Rulers Away and Ask Questions
The "purpose" bucket prepares us most with the question answering. It also gives us some depth of understanding into what's at the heart of the matter. No Alexa, Technorati or Google rank will provide that insight for you any better than the written words used by folks engaged in the conversation. Next we start by asking some very basic questions. Are these companies being characterized in a manner that is ground-breaking? Is this a new development, or is it something that the companies tried to sweep under the rug? Has the information shocked even those who thought they knew their companies inside-out? Is this a product/service or employee issue?
What kind of questions to ask depends on each clients unique case. This said, we could simply ask what the client hopes to gain from social media involvement and interaction. If it's dollars, then this is where responsibility sets in, and the need to explain there is no handout. Social media will not bail you out of the mess you're already in, whether that be on a financial or reputational scale. The folks who are making money in social media are doing so in an exploratory manner, and the ones succeeding in establishing a positive online reputation and presence are doing so through hard work and a real commitment to engaging and building relationships. These are intangibles where a positive outcome may be identified, but it cannot always be measured or quantified.
Social Influence - Are We There Yet?
What these two starting points (buckets and question asking) accomplish is the kind of understanding that allows us to move to the "now what" stage. This might provide the insights required for devising measurable outcomes, but most importantly, it should begin to answer questions. It isn't always about science or about incidents that can be checked off on a survey or questionnaire.
We also need take a hard look at the standards being espoused and advanced in the current social media monitoring space. Measurement is not about being the thousandth customer using the leading tools or instruments, or about the tendency to follow the products or tools endorsed by most experts. Sometimes it means being the first person to think independent of popular opinion, and through the noise and clutter of espoused "best practices" with clarity and deliver on the promises you make to your client.
The most important point to tie-in here is that our understanding of influence, and our ways of determining the influence of people and incidents where brands are being mentioned is still in a raw form. A lot about the way we place emphasis on the words people use or the image they personify is often absent of the variables we use to determine authenticity in the physical world. More importantly is how kinship in social media continues to sustain outdated social modalities, and along with it is the creeping in of hierarchical, elitist, sexist, racist, ageist thought and opinion which confines and forces us to behave or transform ourselves to fit in. No example proves this better than James Chartrand revealing that he is a she, and the sad commentary that continues to unfold with regard to a bloggers need to mask her identity to overcome the hurdles presented by gender bias in a male dominated world.
It is stories like James C's that frames our understanding of social influence in a way that is reminiscent of the long car drive with an inquisitive toddler and their penchant for asking "are we there yet?" The answer is an obvious and resounding "not yet", and we do have some way to go still, especially with regard for the need to eject the rules and obstacles that can come in the way of establishing our online identities without prejudice. This has obvious connections to our approaches towards establishing the standards by which we measure social media and its application in the business world, and this will always be contingent on widespread acceptance from the crowds rather than commodified and false universality. Until we shake this perception that social media is the "be all" and "end all" to patch-up or mend business woes, we continue to draw in the element we are all trying so hard to shake out.
What say you? As always, your thoughts are most welcome.
If you're looking for "Easy Street", then you came to the right place.
We're asking you to STOP your search because there is none.
The reality is that in order to do social media monitoring right,
it takes hard work and commitment. From the mechanical processes of discovering content, purposing it for your requirements, and moving to the "now what" stage, there are many moving parts and manually intensive practices which cannot be fast-tracked or skipped.
At the human intervention stages, things don't get any easier. Even when things are humming along nicely, managing audience interests and inquiries can be taxing on resources. When things go wrong online, we've seen months and sometimes years pass before things clear up to manageable levels - this even for companies and brands with stellar models of outreach and community engagement.
This all said, instruments and tools can greatly improve your ability to keep things at manageable levels by affording the time to impart the expertise and undivided attention your projects deserve. Winning over audiences requires more of "you" and less of the tools used, and having the mechanical portion handled competently and with timeliness improves your chances of keeping a positive flow in the attention economy and resolving contentious issues amicably whenever they arise.
As well intentioned as it might be to keep your budgets on course, using the right instruments and tools for the job is important. Don't get caught up with the "free" banner being waved online when it comes to managing your social media monitoring and listening requirements. There is a significant cost to human resources and to the outcome of your projects when things either get missed, or time and attention gets divided by "free" tools that limit your output to a half-baked idea.
Knowing what we do about the availability of tools and the way monitoring and listening ought to be done (we suggest checking an excellent list of vendors on Twitter compiled by @gilliat), make sure your bosses and managers are made aware of the available options. Selling them on "free" is not fiscally responsible, and when stared in the face with the fact that the average cost of paid tools will run you approximately half the cost of a junior researcher or paid intern, it's a stern advisory which can help you avoid the hot waters of corporate governance.
RepuTrack™ monitors online media from Web sites, blogs, message boards, forums, chatrooms, microblogs, social networking sites, video and images worldwide.
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