“How much of the online conversation about my brand is about products? How much is about the stores? Which products and which stores? Are people motivated more by price or convenience? How else do they make decisions? What impact does news have on the conversation? Which is most interesting to consumers? Lawsuits? Politics? Product recalls?“
And so on.
These are the questions marketers often want social media analysis to answer. The value of social media monitoring is often compared to focus group research. Only instead of prepackaged questions, you get unbound responses in which people will spill what they really think.
Marketers often want the answers in percentages. X% of the conversation is about products. X% is about stores. X% is news. If you add up all the categories it will total 100%. …right?
Gosh, I wish it was that easy.
You can certainly use social media to gain insights into these types of questions, but the fact that social media conversation isn’t prepackaged to provide specific answers to specific questions is a double-edged sword. On one hand, yes, you get unbounded conversation. People are free to talk about whatever they want to talk about and you can benefit from that by listening and learning and engaging with that conversation. On the other hand, people are free to talk about whatever they want to talk about, and often what they want to talk about doesn’t align directly with your marketing goals or questions.
People might not mention your products at all. Or your stores, or define which products or which stores if they do. Often, a post will touch on several topics at once, so that adding all comments together is never going to equal 100%. Much of the time, the people talking aren’t your customers. And so on.
If you are a retail marketer, you might be used to dealing with analytics that derive from hard numbers. Number of products sold, amount of inventory available, price of product at time of sale, comparative numbers from last year, etc. Your margins are probably well-understood. They are likely razor thin.
Social media is different. We aren’t looking at numbers that are recorded and segmented for each and every transaction. We are looking at conversation. And conversation is a moving target. People talk about things differently. Sometimes they talk around things. The vernacular changes. And so does the manner of collection and ways in which you can segment the conversation. Conversation is ever-growing and evolving and shape-shifting.
Is the information usable? Absolutely. But it’s different than other kinds of market research.
You can learn amazing things. You might learn that people are using your products for something other than their intended use. You might discover a demographic or community that is surprisingly enthusiastic about your brand. You might identify a pain point or controversy that your marketing department had no idea existed…or didn’t realize was as vocal a conversation as it appears in online discussion.
However, you are unlikely to be able to put all of the conversation collected into neat little boxes. Ever. And there is probably a great deal of content that isn’t going to fit into any box at all…at least not a traditional box.
My suggestion? Don’t focus on the totals. Too many people worry too much about “getting it all”. Getting all of the conversation, or segmenting all of the conversation, is not as important as getting enough conversation. Yes, you will get numbers. But like with other kinds of market research, you don’t need a survey from the entire populace, or an interview with every customer, to identify an insight. What you need is “enough” information to draw a conclusion. Maybe you only saw a handful of people talking about your product having a defect. But if that handful is the only conversation you are coming across…other than news…it might be significant.
I usually advise companies who know little about the social media conversation for their brand to do a landscape assessment. Invest in some general research. Rather than a small report that shows a piece of the puzzle, do a larger report that attempt to show the whole thing…shallowly, perhaps, but gives you an idea of the scope. Don’t worry about detailed answers to your specific questions. Just try to get a handle on what is there. Once you have a map, keep listening. Over time, you will be able to identify what is a trend versus what isn’t. Be prepared to learn some things you didn’t expect and do some deep dive reporting to understand it better.
As you get more familiar with your data, a greater picture will emerge. And then you will be ready to have some fun.