Social Media Remains Frustratingly 'Soft'


I was talking with an old friend and business associate the other day about a product he's developing to help companies track how their brands are faring on social networks.


As I've noted before, I don't really get the appeal of many social networks, most particularly Twitter, which, of course, companies who worry about their brands are very worried about right now. One report of a bad latte, and thousands of followers have another cause over which to vent their righteous indignation-at least for the 15 minutes or so it takes for something else to catch their fancy in the hyper-immediate world of Twitter.


At any rate, I imagine the one piece of useful input I gave my friend was that in addition to regular reports on how many "positive" or "negative" comments my brand was receiving, I'd also want, at a minimum, some form of benchmarking to see how my competitors, partners and peers are doing with their positive/negative ratings. (I'd also probably package more detailed analysis of comments on peers as an upsale to a service offering, but that's where the conversation gets boring and greedy.)


I'd not want this benchmarking so much as a source of real competitive analysis-although you have to think there's some virtue to it in that context. No, I'd want this benchmark simply because, in real terms, nobody knows what "positive" really means on a social network. Is having a 40 percent positive comment rate a good thing or a bad thing? After all, hitting .300 in baseball is great.


I guess it all boils down to whether a Tweeter or Facebook junkie (is there a noun for that now?) is more likely to post about a great experience with Sam's Dog Food or a bad experience with Sam's Dog Food. Being a glass-half-empty guy (actually, I'm more like a "Who the hell drank half the water?" kind of guy) and after working more than a decade in online media, I tend to think social media content tends toward the negative (or salacious).


I tend to think that, but I certainly don't know that. And that's the quandary with social media in general-it's next to impossible to quantify what's going on with social media, and business, being the boring and greedy entity that it is, loves quantity. If you can't put it in a spreadsheet, it may be real, but it is still not as real.


That's why I tend to think the Rotten Tomatoes movie review service is still the best Web site ever launched. It takes a universe of entirely subjective content-a lot of it from what could fairly be called social media, if frustrated movie fans' blogs still count in that category-boils it down to a yes/no vote, and aggregates to a ranking that actually is darn useful, and pretty much on target.


Ultimately, that seems to be the piece that's missing from social media, both externally and internally. We often write about the promise of collaborative platforms for sharing best practices and other institutional knowledge, but how does the system determine which best practices are best? You could trust simple user ratings, but again, the number-one way a Web user votes "no" on something is to simply ignore it. Quantify that.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 13, 2009 3:57 PM Matt West Matt West  says:

As a consultant, I see the value of providing an online experience. Social media is a great example of an interactive digital medium with real power, provided you know how to use it. For the average small business, effectively navigating social media is largely about understanding Generation Y. Please see my review of Millennials and social media.


See also the ways in which social media and sustainability are aligned.


May 13, 2009 4:13 PM Genevieve Genevieve  says:

From my years in business not directly correlating with marketing of any sort, I have learned that I would pay almost anything to be able to find out what my customers are actually saying about me to their peers, beyond what they said to my face. I don't believe that it would be predominately negative. If a consumer has a bad experience they are 10 times more likely to tell people about it, but if they have a good one, they are 5 times more likely to tell people about it. But the good feedback holds more weight in the consumer mind than the bad feedback, which can be influenced by a lot of factors. You might have to sift through some irrelevant comments, but you would eventually be able to pick up on trends and progressions and get a better sense of the public's overall view of your company or product. Isn't that invaluable in itself?

(Note to Self: Don't follow the guy who Twitters about dog food)


May 14, 2009 12:31 PM Melissa Melissa  says: in response to Matt West

Social Media isn't just about products and consumers, its about connecting with a greater world you would otherwise not have the opportunity to interact with.  Something you can't put a benchmark or $$ sign on.  Its priceless...   Viral-Social Media is a psychological/social wellbeing vehicle. The frenzy is there yes, where people realize how they can mass transit their brand, but this is also about individuals.  No one has mentioned in this current economy how the increase or decrease of long term reported depression stands (not the once a week blues or dips) the serious stuff.  As in all things you need to be selective in chosing who or what you are going to follow, maybe your just following the wrong crowds cause I see tons of really cool stuff going on and I report it for others to follow.  Follow me - http://twitter.com/MelissaNourigat , http://www.linkedin.com/in/melissadnourigat, http://crystalclearsolutions.com


If you are really interested in Social media experiments here is a killer of a trial app that I'm on the ground floor with - http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=92171703635&ref=mf


http://www.peacetogether.ideascale.com (wiki site)

May 14, 2009 6:01 PM Ken-Hardin Ken-Hardin  says: in response to Genevieve

Thanks for the comments, Genevieve (and Matt, of course):I think there certainly is value in what customers say about your product or company. But at this point I see it as being an intensely manual process to mine that value in an actionable way from social media. (Hence, my pal is probably onto something here.) And I still don't know what the skew is on that information, based on the way it's cultivated. When you do an in-person focus group (at least, when I was involved in a few), it's very clear that the room skews the results one way or the other, and marketers know how to normalize that, or at least make a credible swag at normalizing it. How do you normalize Twitter feedback, where users follow people and so (I imagine) are inclined to skew like crazy for that person? Such a young media. Thanks again

Jul 22, 2009 9:10 AM Walter Adamson Walter Adamson  says: in response to Ken-Hardin

Ken I understand where you are coming from but I think that you are perhaps not fully informed.  There is no doubt that it is a "young media" especially from a business perspective, and also that you need a well thought out process and approach for the initial evaluation. However there are well thought out processes, and there are too many tools to mention already with perhaps 10% of those doing an admirable job in a messy world - which seems to be your key point.

The tools will help you track down the right people, and the social media places and spaces which are important to you - you have to have some goals and good method. If you have only a few hits then you can analyze then in detail. If you have masses of advocates or haters then you don't need to analyze in such detail as either tells you something big is going on. In between you just have to do the work, and it takes some sweat.

Your suggestions about what might be needed in tools may or may not add value, and I am first to admit that most of the current tools are build by geeks for geeks and need improving. But the job can be done today with what we have today.

Any why is it worth it, exactly because of what Genevieve said. Companies have to seek new ways to regain influence, to regain connections with customers, in order to gain market share ahead of their competitors. Social media, in this respect, is not going to go away.

Walter Adamson @g2m

Social Media Academy, Australia


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