Over the past 3 years, we have seen an explosion in the social "listening" space. The potential to tap into the world's largest focus group is just too large to ignore. And for social marketers, comms professionals, PR, metrics gurus, measurement dweebs, biz dev geniuses, business intel folks and even R&D, the authentic, real time feedback available in the conversation is a very bright and shiny object. And it may even have real business value!
But with about 100 firms offering varying levels of "listening" solutions, I thought we could all benefit from some perspective. Not all offerings are created equal, and the market leaders today could easily get lost in the middle of the pack 12 months down the road. So let's take a look at where we were, where we are and where I think we may be going.
Do you remember the first time you searched for your brand name on Technorati? Or the first time you setup an RSS feed of a search from a social engine for your name or brand? It was exciting! Suddenly there were dozens of posts and conversations about your brand at your fingertips! There was more data than we knew what to do with, but it was exciting, new and instantly valuable.
2. Counting and Trending
As the conversation grew, the market realized that there was some real business value in this conversation, but we needed perspective. Our RSS Readers flooded, and there was no way we could read and have valuable perspective on all of the content coming in. Counting and trending gave us our first taste of Share of Voice and basic social indeces. But we really didn't know what these numbers meant. And uptick in conversation was considered "performance" without understanding any real conversational impact.
Learning to Walk
It didn't take long for marketers to learn that not all conversation is good conversation. While early sentiment solutions focused on basic NLP or fully manual solutions, more robust, adaptable and far more accurate technologies and systems are continuing to emerge and evolve. For the first time in the history of marketing, brands are beginning to gather understand sizable degrees of conversation around the brand. With the rise of sentiment based scoring, we are also beginning to see some early attempts at social behavioral modeling. But gross sentiment is not the key social metric, nor is it highly actionable.
Just because people are happy when they discuss vacation travel, doesn't mean that they like your airline. Just because people love your new website or promotion, doesn't meant they like your customer service. And just because you launched a new website doesn't mean that it was responsible for the positive conversation shift.
As social listening begins to become a real business practice, this deeper, more granular/focused level of understanding becomes an absolute necessity. Granular scoring is beginning to lead to a multi-dimensional understanding of the content of a conversation. Single lines of data are becoming multiple lines, and charts are becoming spiders graphs. Really savvy listening vendors are doing a great job creating stunning visuals that make the technology capabilities pop. But with pretty visuals and massive reports, many brands continue to struggle to learn the all important "and now what?"
Learning to Talk
5. Scaled Response/Participation
Whereas early blogging, facebook and twitter efforts focused on one or two personalities, brand growth in social clearly demands touchpoints across multiple teams. Early response solutions have by large been add-ons to social intel platforms. More robust, scaled response and participation solutions are enabling deep, granular managed work-flow. This will at times require flexible APIs that can work in tandem with customer support and CRM databases and dashboards. This will require an organizational shift to bring multiple departments and responsibilities together under a unified voice. There is no call tree in social. There are few departmental lines. The customer buys a product, not a department.
However, the relative lack of understanding around and tracking of ROI and business impact and efficiency will continue to hold-up many big brands from making a serious commitment to scaled social business or business redesign.
6. Author ID - Age/Sex/Location +
Just because people are talking and Google is indexing, doesn't mean that this is really impacting our target customers. If we are a breakfast brand targeting moms, the conversation among college students around cereal probably shouldn't be a strong area of focus in an initial listening solution. But keyword based solutions treat all sources equally. For a US brand, a discussion about cookies in English in Paris should not be treated as equal to a discussion comparing cookie brands among moms in Kentucky. Additionally, a blogger on her blog and on twitter is still only one woman. These accounts and personalities need to be linked. A small group of ardent fans can easily skew a social research study. An understanding of conversation dispersion requires a solid Author ID solution.
Losing Egocentricity, Integrating with the Business
7. Content and Author Context
Keyword based solutions tend to focus on the post and maybe the author, but they don't have context beyond the post they are reading. What are this blogger's interests? What do they generally blog about? Who are they? What makes them tick? Who do they generally link to? Where else are they online? How does their Twitter account mirror or contrast their blog? What does their social graph look like and how does this differ by platform? This depth transforms numbers into people, and people (at scale) into communities.
8. Advanced Statistical Modeling
Predictive modeling is a holy grail, and we aren't even close. ROI is going to be part of these advanced metrics, but it's also going to be about understanding why, and being able to understand why using statistical modeling. This will require setting a sustainable model, a model than can be proven accurate when used more than once. This is less about discovery and more about systematic, scaled real business. This will impact nearly every aspect of the marketing journey, delivering information that maps to business needs and works in tandem with business as usual structure, roles and responsibilities. This evolutionary step will be as much about technology capabilities as it is about business readiness.
9. Becoming a Member of the Tribe/Welcome to Reality
One can participate by launching assets that people engage with, by commenting on user content, by providing a vehicle for user engagement, by running a promotion or providing customer service. There is a blog, a Facebook presence, a community, a twitter account, a promotion, a contest, a sponsored playlist on imeem... the list goes on. But few brands are linking their cross-platform messaging pillars to create a consistent brand story, and fewer are mapping this to the customer types, needs and conversations.
Becoming a member of the tribe is about having the tools to engage based on listening data, and most importantly, being able to map and track your engagements across multiple social environments. This is about cross platform management, understanding and marketing to users as individuals, at scale, across multiple environments. It's about understanding the people behind the clicks, and building relationships and affinities with them as people. This is beyond ad tracking or cookie-ing, it's about mapping all of your customer relationships to people. The end result is that the brand is not just a participant or a talking face, but a member of people's tribes, or their communities, of their circles of trust. The metrics and learnings behind this multi-dimensional data hold tremendous potential.
The Elusive Conclusion.
At the end of the day, there is no final point 10. I played with it, and I can't honestly say that there is a point of arrival beyond multi-dimensional touchpoints, management and metrics. When push comes to shove, this about shifting from monotone speeches to rich customer interactions. If television introduced site, sound and motion, social reminded us that we are all people after all. Imagine how different television would be if they could hear you shouting at the screen!