Article first written for, and published as No Center of Excellence in Social – Interview with Marshall Sponder, Author of Social Media Analytics on Technorati.
This month’s Social Media Analytics Summit in San Francisco was all about measurement—perhaps the most elusive and sought after subject for businesses seeking the best ways to use the latest media. Organized by Useful Social Media and Text Analytics News, the conference featured a discussion by Marshall Sponder, author of the book, Social Media Analytics.
I had the pleasure to speak with Marshall and get more perspective on his thoughts about the state of social media.
“What we think we’re going to get out of social media is sometimes different,” Marshall explained.The real challenge with figuring out how to optimize social media, is the nature of social media itself. Marshall identified five key challenges to social media practice for business.
1. No process
“Nobody seems to know how to do this right,” Marshall says. “If they are doing it well, aren’t talking about it all that much.” What this means it there’s no standardization of it all. No only are standards lacking, but sharing is missing, as well. So largely, businesses are out discovering social media on their own, and not sharing a whole lot with others.
2. Success unidentified
As Marshall explains it, “A lot of people don’t exactly know how to do it, and what’s being put together and works well once, but can’t always be repeated.” That’s causing a lot of confusion, duplication of effort, and uncertainty. It’s all evidenced by widely attended conferences such as this one, where companies are all seated, eager to learn more about best practices and social media ROI.
3. 90% unstructured
The type of data we as marketers and strategists normally deal with is structured, meaning we can assemble it, categorize it, and organize it. In customer relationship management systems (CRMs), for example, data is structured. We have specific pieces of information based on columns and rows in a field, such as names, roles, and addresses. Even in search data, we know when and where ads are being rendered. But with social, that structure is lacking, and that makes it difficult to manage and locate.
4. Time consuming
Because this data is so difficult to manage and locate, it’s time consuming to assemble into actionable strategy. Getting it all into one place, and making it something a business can actually do something with isn’t something a lot of businesses are prepared to do.
5. Hard to do / scale
The volume of unstructured data, and the time consuming nature of it can’t be resolved with mere resources, either. “You can’t just throw more people at soial. If you do, you often slow it down more,” Marshall explains. And at the same time, businesses can’t have too few resources to do nothing at all.
So what does all this mean? What do we do? Marshall gives his advice on where to start. First, as a business, scale what you’re listening for, and don’t try to do it all at once. “A lot of us are trying to listen to too much,” Marshall believes. ” We get to the point where we can’t act on anything.” He explains that the best way for business to approach social is to define and pick their area of interest. Define what you want to listen to, because much of what’s out there isn’t relevant to you. “A lot of it [social] doesn’t have meaning,” Marshall says.”A lot of it is echoed, as well.”
Get the right tools, and don’t expect them to do everything you need, because mostly, they won’t. But program them carefully to extract a finite amount of data from the social sphere. While he makes no recommendations on which social media monitoring tools for businesses to use, he does say, they each do things uniquely well.
What’s also important, and somewhat tricky, is, as he describes, to “Watch what people are doing, not just what they’re saying.” Take a step back and make sure you’re not missing social media data just because you don’t want to hear it. Keep your filters active based on what you see your customers doing outside of social media, because remember, there’s a whole other real world out there that requires monitoring, too.