One of the mantras of social media is the need to listen. Listen to your customers, consumers, to conversations, etc. etc. etc. However, I am now starting to see organisations caught in a listening trap. These organisations have, sensibly enough, been monitoring social media for some time and have now reached the point where they are asking “where next with our monitoring?” They are looking to get ever more precise measures, crunch ever greater amounts of data, analyse the influence of the sources they identify in greater depth, develop better quantitative analysis. To them this seems both possible and necessary because the social media space is vast and growing, with so much data within it, so many opportunities for number crunching.
However, there is a problem. This is a road with no ending. The space will always expand at a rate greater than the ability to contain it within a monitoring and measurement framework. The relentless pursuit to identify influence based on the assumption that influence sits in a place, a person, a network will never reveal the information necessary to design and execute a successful social media programme.
Here’s why. Influence sits within digital spaces, not digital places, and the spaces any organisation needs to monitor are neither extensive not difficult to identify. They will also remain fixed no matter how rapidly the social media universe expands. You don’t need to identify every ‘influential’ tweeter or blogger, you just need to watch the spaces that are relevant to your business and identify (and respond to) any tweets or posts that appear no matter where they come from. A tweet in the right space from someone with 20 followers has the potential to be just as influential as a tweet from someone with 10,000 followers. It is the space they are in and what they have to say that determines influence, not who they are.
Second, there comes a point when an organisation has to stop spectating and start participating. You actually have to do something – and then measure / listen to the result. The information you will extract from monitoring the response to your own actions will be infinitely more valuable than the information you extract by trying to suck in the data from everywhere crunch it through models.
Social media monitoring is not difficult. The most important thing to realise (as with all things to do with social media) is that it is different. With traditional media we need to monitor everything – because there wasn’t a lot to measure. With social media we only need a representative sample. If you have a customer service issue – the first few tweets will tell you about it and also tell you how to respond. Smart companies will respond, step into the space, fix the issue and move on – while the others are still waiting for all the data, measuring sentiment, drawing pretty pictures and producing reports.