What do social media monitoring and the English Channel have in common?
Answer: if you understand how you sail a ship up a busy sea-lane, like the English Channel, you will understand how to do social media monitoring.
As I have previously posted, there are basically two approaches / camps within social media monitoring. First is the data capture approach that uses proprietary paid-for tools to crunch all the data and churn out charts and graphs and measure sentiment etc. Second is the real-time approach based on constructing a monitoring panel that monitors activity in the relevant conversation spaces as it happens. I sit very firmly in the latter camp, not because the analysis tools don’t work – they have their uses – but because they are nowhere nearly as important or useful a tool to an organisation that wishes to design and manage a social media campaign.
Here is where the shipping analogy comes in. Take the world’s busiest shipping lane – the English Channel. There exists a great deal of data about this shipping lane as a place – analysing patterns of shipping movement, charting the shipping lanes, warning of areas of potential danger etc. All very useful stuff if you want a generic understanding of the English Channel. However, imagine you are now at the bridge of a container ship about to sail up the English Channel. All this data is of marginal interest compared to the data you will need from having a pair of binoculars, ship-board radar and a radio combined with the necessary expertise to interpret what you see. A report on what happened in the English Channel yesterday or a prediction about what might happen tomorrow will be of little use. You don’t want to know where it is likely you may encounter a cross channel ferry, or how many ferries there are – you need to know exactly where all those ferries are right now. You need to understand the English Channel as a space, not a place.
Knowing where you might encounter fleets of sailing vessels pales into insignificance beside being able to spot the good ship “Tweet” half-a-mile off your port bow and being able to work out where it is going and being able to raise it on the radio if there is a problem.
The issue is that there are too many organisations trying to navigate the waters of social media (to extent the analogy) by crunching only the retrospective data. This is because there are lots of organisations selling the data analysis tools and because retrospective, generic analysis was what we did when we executed traditional, placed-based, one-to many, mass communication campaigns – thus it plays to a well established industry and skills set. The real-time approach requires only freely available search tools and the specific expertise of individuals – i.e. not a product you can put in a black box and sell but a navigation service.
An unexpected collision with reality is therefore going to sink many social media campaigns.