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Social media is a research tool, not a crystal ball

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A flawed social media trend

As social media monitoring tools like Radian6 and Crimson Hexagon have become more popular with companies and agencies alike, it seems everyone has started to assume they can use social media to predict the future be it the future of box office sales or
political races.

While in some cases there may in fact be a connection or correlation between social media conversations and offline results, we all have to be careful not to assume such a connection always exists and is always reliable.

“To date, I have never seen a repeatable correlation between social media mentions/ sentiment and the actual vote,” wrote Tom Webster at BrandSavant.com with his column’s overall point being that what people say on social media and what they actually do offline is often very different.

I can tweet all day long about loving Apple or wanting to purchase a new iPad, but if I never follow through and make that purchase, then what did my social media behavior predict? In the end, nothing of great value to the company.

HP spends a great deal of time and resources monitoring social media, and I like their approach to the results. To them, social media is another means through which they can understand their consumers and learn a bit more about what makes them tick. Social media is simply another form of market research and intelligence, but it’s no more magical than customer surveys and other factors.

Legitimate insight available

Even though social media cannot always predict what will happen offline, there are still a great deal of insights you can find simply by listening to how consumers talk about you online:

  • Untapped market segments. Two years ago when I was helping to build a social media monitoring process for a CPG client, we made a few discoveries that no one really expected. While discussing results of a brand audit, I casually mentioned that college-aged students seemed to be the most vocal consumers talking about the brand on Twitter. This brand was never really marketed to that demographic and had not considered that they may be a target. Alternative and unknown product uses. While working with a food company, it was discovered that even though their product was not marketed or intended as a breakfast food, it was being consumed much of the time for breakfast or with other breakfast foods. The brand had not known about this use and wondered if they should start marketing their product as a breakfast food as well.
  • Marketing and advertisement crowdsourcing. One common use for social media across industries is crowdsourcing. Listening to consumers talk about the brand in everyday contexts and conversations often sparks brand managers to think about their own brand in a different way and can help breathe new life into tired marketing campaigns. You may discover new ways or phrases used to talk about your brand if you listen for a little
    while.
  • Rough feedback and reviews. Similarly, social media can often be used as a means to get feedback or reviews on new products, offerings or even marketing concepts. This type of feedback will not necessarily be representative of all of your consumers, but it’s a quick and easy way to get a reading on how consumers are reacting in a natural environment. Many brands have used the Facebook polls functionality to ask questions
    about potential marketing slogans or new product attributes (such as flavors or colors).
  • Hidden opportunities and threats. Social media conversations can show brands and marketers organic feelings and opinions from their consumers. And while many times this leads to new opportunities (such as new product uses or target markets), sometimes it can lead to threats you never suspected. You may not realize that a brand recall or issue from years ago is still widely discussed in social media. Or may be there is a growing trend that will negatively impact your brand’s image. Digging into social media can reveal this information and help you plan to use it to your advantage.

How else do you use social media to do research or discover new trends? In what ways have you found social media doesn’t always equate to reality?

Rebecca is a passionate UNC graduate, and a biochemist-turned-communications professional, she spends her days as a senior social media analyst at Digitas in Chicago, specialized social media monitoring and measurement best practices. She is continually excited to explore additional facets of digital measurement like traditional Web analytics, search metrics and integrated data models.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. 40deuce

    January 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Very well put, Rebecca. There's a huge difference between making predictions and doing actual research. I tweet all the time about how =badly I want an iPad, but I'm not gonna go fork over $1000 for it (for now anyways). You can get a good sense of the anticipation for iPads though by watching the tweets about it.
    There is also so much that can be learned about your customers and your product through listening to what they're saying too. We had a client, a well known spagetti sauce maker, that just through some very simple monitoring found out that people also use their sauce for burn relief and not just making pasta. This was something they had no idea about before. While this case didn't start a marketing campaign about using the sauce as a remedy, the company did gain some valuable insight about how people are using their product.
    I feel like I say it too much and it's becoming cliche, but there's so much you can learn just through listening.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Rebecca Denison

      January 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm

      I don't mind if it sounds cliche! It is absolutely true, and I think I'll say it one more time for good measure: there is so much you can learn just through listening.

      That's a great example you shared, and it's just one example of the insight you can find by listening for a little bit. It's amazing what people will share on social media that they would likely not say in a focus group or on a survey. It just feels more real and organic!

  2. Trish | @Dayngr

    January 10, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Great points, Rebecca! It's important to focus on the information that matters for your goals and strategies. You've given your readers here 4 great areas to explore.

    Thanks for the mention.

    All the best,
    Trish | Community Manager
    Radian6

    • Rebecca Denison

      January 10, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks, Trish! I'm sure you have a great deal to share about how to use Radian6 to find nuggets of information! What's your best example of a completely unexpected discovery? Have you found other common uses for social listening tools?

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Social Media

New Pinterest code of conduct pushes for mindful posting

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Social media sites have struggled with harmful content, but Pinterest is using their new code of conduct to encourage better, not just reprimands.

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Pinterest icon on phone with 2 notifications, indicating new code of conduct.

It appears that at least one social media site has made a decision on how to move forward with the basis of their platform. Pinterest has created a brand-new code of conduct for their users. Giving them a set of rules to follow which to some may be a little restricting, but I’m not mad about it. In a public statement, they told the world their message:

“We’re on a journey to build a globally inclusive platform where Pinners around the world can discover ideas that feel personalized, relevant, and reflective of who they are.”

The revamp of their system includes 3 separate changes revolving around the rules of the platform. All of them are complete with examples and full sets of rules. The list is summed up as:

  • Pinterest Creator Code
  • Pinterest Comment Moderation Tools
  • Pinterest Creator Fund

For the Creator Code, Pinterest had this to say: “The Creator Code is a mandatory set of guidelines that lives within our product intended to educate and build community around making inclusive and compassionate content”. The rules are as follows:

  • Be Kind
  • Check my Facts
  • Be aware of triggers
  • Practice Inclusion
  • Do no harm

The list of rules provides some details on the pop-up as well, with notes like “make sure content doesn’t insult,” “make sure information is accurate,” etc. The main goal of this ‘agreement’, according to Pinterest, is not to reprimand offending people but to practice a proactive and empowering social environment. Other social websites have been shoe-horned into reprimanding instead of being proactive against abuse, and it has been met with mixed results. Facebook itself is getting a great deal of flack about their new algorithm that picks out individual words and bans people for progressively longer periods without any form of context.

Comment Moderation is a new set of tools that Pinterest is hoping will encourage a more positive experience between users and content creators. It’s just like putting the carrot before the donkey to get him to move the cart.

  • Positivity Reminders
  • Moderation Tools
  • Featured Comments
  • New Spam Prevention Signals

Sticking to the positivity considerations here seems to be the goal. They seem to be focusing on reminding people to be good and encouraging them to stay that way. Again, proactive, not reactive.

The social platform’s last change is to create a Pinterest Creator Fund. Their aim is to provide training, create strategy consulting, and financial support. Pinterest has also stated that they are going to be aiming these funds specifically at underrepresented communities. They even claim to be committing themselves to a quota of 50% of their Creators. While I find this commendable, it also comes off a little heavy handed. I would personally wait to see how they go about this. If they are ignoring good and decent Creators based purely on them being in a represented group, then I would find this a bad use of their time. However, if they are actively going out and looking for underrepresented Creators while still bringing in good Creators that are in represented groups, then I’m all for this.

Being the change you want to see in the world is something I personally feel we should all strive towards. Whether or not you produced positive change depends on your own goals… so on and so forth. In my own opinion, Pinterest and their new code of conduct is creating a better positive experience here and striving to remind people to be better than they were with each post. It’s a bold move and ultimately could be a spectacular outcome. Only time will tell how their creators and users will respond. Best of luck to them.

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Social Media

Facebook releases Hotline as yet another Clubhouse competitor

(SOCIAL MEDIA) As yet another app emerges to try and take some of Clubhouse’s success, Facebook Hotline adds a slightly more formal video chat component to the game.

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Woman forming hands into heart shape at laptop hosting live video chat, similar to Facebook's new app Hotline

Facebook is at it again and launching its own version of another app. This time, the company has launched Hotline, which looks like a cross between Instagram Live and Clubhouse.

Facebook’s Hotline is the company’s attempt at competing with Clubhouse, the audio-based social media app, which was released on iOS in March 2020. Earlier this year, The New York Times reported Facebook had already begun working on building its own version of the app. Erik Hazzard, who joined Facebook in 2017 after the company acquired his tbh app, is leading the project.

The app was created by the New Product Experimentation (NPE) Team, Facebook’s experimental development division, and it’s already in beta testing online. To access it, you can use the web-based application through the platform’s website to join the waitlist and “Host a Show”. However, you will need to sign in using your Twitter account to do so.

Unlike Clubhouse, Hotline lets users also chat through video and not just audio alone. The product is more like a formal Q&A and recording platform. Its features allow people to live stream and hold Q&A sessions with their audiences similar to Instagram Live. And, audience members can ask questions by using text or audio.

Also, what makes Hotline a little more formal than Clubhouse is that it automatically records conversations. According to TechCrunch, hosts receive both a video and audio recording of the event. With a guaranteed recording feature, the Q&A sessions will stray away from the casual vibes of Clubhouse.

The first person to host a Q&A live stream on Hotline is real-estate investor Nick Huber, who is the type of “expert” Facebook is hoping to attract to its platform.

“With Hotline, we’re hoping to understand how interactive, live multimedia Q&As can help people learn from experts in areas like professional skills, just as it helps those experts build their businesses,” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. “New Product Experimentation has been testing multimedia products like CatchUp, Venue, Collab, and BARS, and we’re encouraged to see the formats continue to help people connect and build community,” the spokesperson added.

According to a Reuters article, the app doesn’t have any audience size limits, hosts can remove questions they don’t want to answer, and Facebook is moderating inappropriate content during its early days.

An app for mobile devices isn’t available yet, but if you want to check it out, you can visit Hotline’s website.

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Social Media

Brace yourselves: Facebook has re-opened political advertising space

(SOCIAL MEDIA) After a break due to misinformation in the past election, Facebook is once again allowing political advertising slots on their platform – with some caveats.

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Facebook open on phone in a wallet case, open for political advertising again.

After a months-long ban on political ads due to misinformation and other inappropriate behavior following the election in November, Facebook is planning to resume providing space for political advertising.

Starting on Thursday, March 4th, advertisers were able to buy spots for ads that comprise politics, what Facebook categorizes as “social issues”, and other potentially charged topics previously prohibited by the social media platform.

The history of the ban is complicated, and its existence was predicated on a profound distrust between political parties and mainstream news. In the wake of the 2016 election and illicit advertising activity that muddied the proverbial waters, Facebook had what some would view as a clear moral obligation to prevent similar sediment from clouding future elections.

Facebook delivered on that obligation by removing political advertising from their platform prior to Election Day, a decision that would stand fast in the tumultuous months to follow. And, while Facebook did temporarily suspend the ban in Georgia during the senate proceedings, political advertisements nevertheless remained absent from the platform in large until last week.

The removal of the ban does have some accompanying caveats—namely the identification process. Unlike before, advertisers will have to go to great lengths to confirm their identities prior to launching ads. Those ads will most likely also need to come from domestic agencies given Facebook’s diligent removal of foreign and malicious campaigns in the prior years.

The moral debate regarding social media advertising—particularly on Facebook—is a deeply nuanced and divided one. Some argue that, by removing political advertising across the board, Facebook has simply limited access for “good actors” and cleared the way for illegitimate claims.

Facebook’s response to this is simply that they didn’t understand fully the role ads would play in the electoral process, and that allowing those ads back will allow them to learn more going forward.

Either way, political advertising spots are now open on Facebook, and the overall public perception seems controversial enough to warrant keeping an eye on the progression of this decision. It wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for Facebook to revoke access to these advertisements again—or limit further their range and scope—in the coming months and years.

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