Listening to Social Conversations

originally posted on Concept Hub

I recall long ago when we, social media evangelist, warned brands that consumers would be talking about them and that those conversations would be more influential than any marketing material. Now there are stats after stats showing that to be the case and many people have either outsourced brand monitoring or brought in tools such as Radian6 to monitor conversations around their brand.

But what if no one is talking about your brand or your competitors? Does that mean that there is no insight you can get from online conversations?

Not necessarily. I would suggest that although brand mentions may not be central to conversations, the services needed may still be part of the conversations.

Take health care as an example. Do a social media search for any medical facility and you will find very few review and conversations, yet search for symptoms and diagnosis and you will find communities of people talking about their experiences.

Although there are many ways to measure conversations, the challenge brand managers will face is which conversations to measure.

Again, using health care as another example. A common acronym used is ENT for ears, nose and throat. If one were to search for ENT alone they would find all kinds of results for Entertainment News Tonight. It is important to gather keywords together as a way to filter out the conversations that are irrelevant and even more important to know if the audience you are trying to tap into are even using the same acronym or words that you think they are using.

Beyond that, even if you are tapped into all the right word combinations and working with tools that tap into the influential conversations, are you sure that you are listening to real people with real motivations. Many sites that show up as user-generated content are either spam sites that are using all kinds of tricks to sell advertising or sites that are modeled after media sites where the content is more like a published article than a conversation.

To really get to know the people who you want to connect with, I believe the best thing to do is to “rub virtual elbows” with the most relevant people.

This means sorting through the conversations to identify who is talking about what is important for you to hear? What are they saying and to whom are they saying it to? Whereas monitoring tools can start pointing you in the right direction, it still takes human eyes and insights to gather the real meaning of what is being said and how it can influence your brand.

Recently Mashable posted an article that provided a glimpse into the future of brand monitoring and the semantic web.

… cluster analysis works on the basis of math, but it can’t differentiate apple (the fruit) from Apple (the company). Semantic technology, he says, can add additional insight because of its ability to identify entities and nuances in language.

But the semantic web has a long way to go and in the meantime, millions of conversations that can provide insights for you or your competitors are happening online every day. Until we can get our computers to think like humans the best brand monitoring you will have will be actual humans tapping into the conversations of other humans. It may sound like a lot of work, but so is throwing darts at a target with a blindfold on.