To provide a little bit more context to attending the Wall Street Journal Tech Cafes, my aim is to write a blogpost one each of the talks I attend, covering a subject matter that particularly resonated with me. Having attended the insightful Salesforce talks this morning, from both Miguel Milano and Madlen Nicolaus, the theme for this blogpost came to me quicker than the first two blogposts. I had initially intended to frame each of my blogposts within the mobile industry, the industry I’m currently working in. However, having hands on experience working with social media monitoring tools, including Radian6, I felt it necessary to tell the story of my experiences working with social media monitoring tools.
I have written before on the advantages for a brand in shaping its personality in social media and I like to use the analogy of social media monitoring tools as holding a paper cup to a wall to listen into conversations. I had written that blogpost whilst I was the one holding the paper cup up to the wall monitoring brand conversations and I still stand by the points made. So rather than espouse the advantages of using a Radian6-like product (I had the opportunity to participate and contribute to a review and analysis culminating in releasing a Social Media Monitoring Tool Buyer’s Guide), here are my two main takeaways from that time in my career:
Refining data analysing skills and insightful analysis
Sifting through large datasets (over 10,000 mentions of a brand) exported to Excel from social media monitoring tools was my bread and butter. The most important skill I developed during this time of going over such datasets and working within such a team was the ability to glean insights, trends, and themes on a brand and relay these back to the client in a way that satiated the SMART criteria. What use does a report have to a client if the insights you provide aren’t actionable and refines their proposition to consumers in some way?
At times I did find the social media monitoring tools labour intensive. However, the intensive data analysing and burying my head in a client’s brand conversation gave me a deep understanding of that brand. This enabled me to infer insights, both philosophical and data-based, on why people have emotional connections with brands. I have no doubt that the skills I honed during this time using the social media monitoring tools have stood to me today in fueling my interest in consumer behaviour and my ability to provide insights into how people interact with brands.
Is social media monitoring an invasive practice?
One of the questions asked at Madlen Nicolaus’s talk on Radian6 was around data privacy issues. Madlen rightly pointed out that all social media monitoring tools only pull in data that is publicly available. So for example, there is no access to Facebook conversation with secure privacy settings. From my personal experience using such tools, I was initially taken aback at how openly frank people are in posting personal thoughts online. Sifting through reams of Twitter conversation felt like I was leering into someone’s front sitting room window with no blinds whilst they casually chatted amongst themselves. In my head I started rationalising what I was doing with monitoring Twitter (I’m just one of many drinking from the firehose – read an excellent article here on The Economist on this behaviour) whilst unable to locate my conscience over monitoring forums that were of a delicate subject matter at times. It just felt like I had turned up at someone’s public party, who I didn’t know, and sat in on their conversations.
With this all said though, I reminded myself that all this data I was analysing was publicly available and ‘fair game’ so to speak. I choose to work in this industry, warts and all, and find it thoroughly rewarding to work with brands and apply my interest in consumer behaviour. On whether the practice is invasive, ultimately people should be conscious about what they post online, contribute to what is now considered ‘social media’, and be aware of the privacy settings they have command over. The tools that monitor our conversations are only going to get more powerful and intelligent (e.g. more accurate sentiment analysis). And with this, further blurring the line between digital and real-life interactions we have with the brands we consume.