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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

Facebook pays $52M to content mods with PTSD, proving major flaw in their business

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Facebook will pay out up to millions to former content moderators suffering PTSD to settle the 2018 class action lawsuit.

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Facebook’s traumatized former content moderators are finally receiving their settlement for the psychological damage caused by having to view extremely disturbing content to keep it off of Facebook.

The settlement is costing the company $52 million, distributed as a one time payment of $1,000 to each of the 10,000+ content moderators in four states. If any of these workers seek psychological help and are diagnosed with psychological conditions related to their jobs, Facebook also has to pay for that medical treatment. They pay up to $50,000 per moderator in additional damages (on a case-by-case basis).

Facebook also will offer psychological counseling going forward, and will attempt to create a type of screening for future candidates to determine a candidate’s emotional resiliency, and will make one-on-one mental health counseling available to content moderators going forward. They will also give moderators the ability to stop seeing specific types of reported content.

According to NPR, Steve Williams, a lawyer for the content moderators, said, “We are so pleased that Facebook worked with us to create an unprecedented program to help people performing work that was unimaginable even a few years ago. The harm that can be suffered from this work is real and severe.”

Honestly, this job is not for the faint of heart, to say the least. Like the hard-working, yet not unfazeable police officers on Law & Order SVU, seeing the worst of humanity takes a toll on one’s psyche. Facebook’s content moderators are only human, after all. These workers moderated every conceivable–and inconceivable–type of disturbing content people posted on the 2 billion-users-strong social media platform for a living. Some for $28,800 a year.

I wouldn’t last five minutes in this role. It is painful to even read about what these content moderators witnessed for eight hours a day, five days a week. While Facebook refuses to admit any wrongdoing, as part of the agreement, come on, man. Graphic and disturbing content that upset someone enough to report to Facebook is what these people viewed all day every day. It sounds almost like a blueprint for creating trauma.

This settlement surely sets the precedent for more class action lawsuits to come from traumatized content moderators on other social media platforms. The settlement also shows this business model for what it is: flawed. This isn’t sustainable. It’s disgusting to think there are people out there posting heinous acts, and I am grateful the platform removes them.

However, they have to come up with a better way. Facebook employs thousands upon thousands of really smart people who are brilliant at computer technology. Twitter and YouTube and similar platforms do, too. They need to come up with a better plan going forward, instead of traumatizing these unfortunate souls. I don’t know what that will look like. But with Facebook’s sky-high piles of money and access to so many brilliant minds, they can figure it out. Something’s got to give. Please figure it out.

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Social Media

Twitter will give users a warning before a harmful tweet is sent

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Twitter is rolling out a new warning giving users a chance to edit their tweet before they post “harmful” language, and we aren’t sure how to feel about it.

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Twitter is testing out a new warning system for potentially offensive tweets. If a tweet contains language Twitter deems “harmful,” Twitter will pop up with a warning and opportunity to revise the potentially offensive tweet before posting. The warning mentions that language in the tweet is similar to previously reported tweets.

If internal alarms are going off in your head, congratulations, you are wary of any censorship! However, if you read a tweet spewing with bile, racism, or threatening violence against a person or institution, do you report it? Do you want Twitter to take it down? If you said yes, then congratulations, you want to protect the vulnerable and fight hatred.

If you are wary of censorship, yet want to fight hatred and protect the vulnerable, welcome to the interwebs! It’s a crazy and precarious place where almost anything can happen. Despite decades of use, we’re still navigating our way through the gauntlet of tough decisions the proliferation of platforms and ease of use have given us.

First, how does Twitter gauge a potentially harmful tweet? According to Twitter, the app responds to language similar to prior tweets that people have reported. Twitter, like Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms, already has hateful conduct rules in place. In fact, Twitter has a host of rules and policies intended to protect users from fraud, graphic violence, or explicitly sexual images.

Their rationale is detailed, but explains, “Our role is to serve the public conversation, which requires representation of a diverse range of perspectives.” However, they “recognise that if people experience abuse on Twitter, it can jeopardize their ability to express themselves.”

We’ve heard stories of teenagers–or even younger children–killing themselves after relentless bullying online. The feeling of anonymity when insulting a living, breathing being from behind a computer screen often causes a nasty pile-on effect. We’ve seen people use social media to bully, sexually harass, and threaten others.

Twitter cites research showing women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and other vulnerable populations are more likely to stop expressing themselves freely when someone abuses them on social media. Even Kelly Marie Tran, who played Resistance fighter Rose Tico in Star Wars, took down her Instagram photos before taking a stand against haters. And she had Jedis in her corner. Imagine your average person’s response to such cruel tactics?

We’ve seen hate groups and terrorist organizations use social media to recruit supporters and plan evil acts. We see false information springing up like weeds. Sometimes this information can be dangerous, especially when Joe Blow is out there sharing unresearched and inaccurate medical advice. Go to sleep, Blow, you’re drunk.

As an English major, and an open-minded person, I have a problem with censorship. Banned books are some of my favorites of all time. However, Twitter is a privately owned platform. Twitter has no obligation to amplify messages of hate. They feel, and I personally agree, that they have some responsibility to keep hateful words inciting violence off of their platform. This is a warning, not a ban, and one they’re only rolling out to iOS users for now.

I mean, in the history of angry rants, when was the last time a “Hey, calm down, you shouldn’t say that” ever made the person less angry or less ranty? Almost never. In which case, the person will make their post anyway, leaving it up to masses to report it. At that time, Twitter can make the decision to suspend the account and tell the user to delete it, add a warning, or otherwise take action.

Every once in a while, though, someone may appreciate the note. If you’ve ever had a colleague read an email for “tone” in a thorny work situation, you know heeding a yellow flag is often the wisest decision. This warning notice gives users a chance to edit themselves. As a writer, I always appreciate a chance to edit myself. If they flag every damn curse word, though, that will get real annoying real fast. You’re not my mom, Twitter. You’re not the boss of me.

This isn’t your great granddaddies’ book burning. This is 2020. The internet giveth; the internet taketh away. It’s a crying shame that evil creeps in when we’re not looking. Speech has consequences. Users can’t edit tweets, so once it’s out there, it’s out there. Even if they delete a tweet within moments of posting, anyone can screenshot that baby and share it with the world. Part of me says, “Good, let the haters out themselves.”

Twitter has shown itself to be open to differences in opinion, encouraging freedom of expression, and has opened up a whole new line of communication for traditionally underrepresented populations. They are a private company, and their rules and policies are posted. What, you didn’t read the terms of use? Gasp!

It’s Twitter’s rodeo, after all. This warning gives users a quick, added heads up to posting something that will likely be reported/removed anyway. For better or worse, Twitter’s still leaving it up to users to post what they want and deal with the potential fallout. Hey, I have a great idea! How about we all be respectful of each other on the internet, and Twitter won’t have to come up with this kind of thing.

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Social Media

Yelp adds virtual services classification to help during COVID

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Yelp constantly adds new classifications for how to find a business to meet your needs, now because of COVID they have added virtual services.

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Yelp virtual services

Yelp is making efforts to accommodate businesses whose operations are adapting in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Several new features will help businesses display updated services.

The company has added an information category titled virtual service offerings. Business can display service option such as classes, virtual consultations, performances, and tours. Yelpers can search for businesses based upon those offerings.

Yelp has already noticed trends where users are incorporating virtual services into their business profiles. In an report by TechCrunch, Yelp’s head of consumer product Akhil Kuduvalli said “With these new product updates, businesses of all types that are adapting and changing the way they operate will be able to better connect with their customers and potentially find new ones.”

Virtual services in categories like fitness, gyms, home services, real estate, and health are already increasing in popularity. Yelp intends to showcase businesses that are providing those services by creating new Collections.

Once business owners update their virtual service offerings on their Yelp for Business profiles, we will surface those updates to consumers through new call-to-action buttons, by updating the home screen and search results with links to groups of businesses offering these new virtual services, as well as surfacing them in other formats like Collections,” said Kudvalli.

Also in the works is a curbside pickup category for restaurants. Additionally, Yelp introduced a free customized banner for businesses to post updates on their profiles. About 224,000 businesses have used the banner so far.

Yelp hasn’t stopped there. It’s made its Connect feature (which allows businesses to share important updates to all Yelpers on their profile and their email subscribers) free to eligible local businesses as part of the Yelp’s commitment to waive $25 million in fees to support businesses in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

During COVID-19 businesses and consumers need all the help they can get, and thankfully Yelp is there to – help.

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