The Social Media Tortoise and the Hare – Part 2

by · June 20, 20132 comments

The concept of social listening is an integral component of being able to produce measurable ROI from your social media strategy. In Part 1 of this 3 part series, I discussed the value of balancing pushing content versus pulling data to garner insight.  I also introduced the concept of the 4 pillars of social listening: Features, Content, Accuracy and Infrastructure. Today we will further discuss the 4 pillars and how an understanding of them will help you make decisions for your program.

So how does this apply to the listening market’s development?

The graphic below is a representation of the cross section of the pillars described, the maturation of the market over time and where we are as of today. Each phase of the market as I described it is from the perspective of a madman selling the concept of listening to companies, agencies and consulting firms.  It is what I perceived to be important to those interested in buying and represents the cultural shift in the buying cycle of the customer.

The Features ERA: 2009-2011

The first era of social listening was the features era.  It was highlighted by the importance of “seeing”.  All that mattered for a very long time was the visual expression of data.  While people cared a bit about how much data a company gave them, the conversation of whether the data was accurate or not was invisible.  It was all about volume shifts and the numbers; not what was really behind them.  This era was highlighted by the trailblazing of the PR department (the true champions of social listening) who really owned it back then.  They wanted to measure and know how much reach and volume their company’s efforts generated.  It was really the Wild West back then.  Because the pace of PR is frenetic, they didn’t stop to smell the social media roses and often simply measured and moved.  As a scientist, I hated this era, because the blindness to asking the important questions about the data were nowhere to be found.  It was all about “can you express it?  I want to slice and dice, quality be damned!”

The Content ERA:  2012 – Creeping into 2013

If you care about measuring and expressing data, the next logical question is do you have all the data?  This was the hallmark of the content era of social listening.  Everything became about can you get me all the data.  How many languages do you have?  Do you have the twitter firehose?  Can you get it all, I need it all.  I need to be able to see every single frickin tweet.  Can you see them all?  If you can’t what can I do with this?  This conversation when I get into it always reminds me of Kramer talking to Jerry and George after he wins the coffee lawsuit when he was hopped up on caffeine.  Insert the dialogue using Kramer’s style and you are living in a content hell conversation.  Last year was all about this.  First, it was “can you see it?” and then it became “how much can you see?”  Again, I am not knocking the importance of content at all.  It is a critical part of being a good listening system (as there are new data channels that must be captured popping up all the time), but there is more than having all the data.  I mean, they have been polling forever using representative samples to make accurate predictions.  And I know you will say, I can’t miss any tweets when someone beats on my brand or when I need to find patient zero during a crisis, and you would be correct in this, but content isn’t everything.  It is a merely a key element.  During the content era.

The Accuracy ERA:  2013 and the foreseeable immediate future

Well, here we are…today.  The market is finally shifting towards accuracy.  “Can I see it?” and “how much can I see?” has finally been replaced by the sensibility of “is the data trustworthy or actionable?”  It is nice to have the ability to express social data.  It is great that you can see everything.  But if your data is crap, how can you make any decisions? This is why accuracy is becoming so important.  If you are in a social media crisis and you are able to track the rise or fall in all the volume around the subject that is giving you heartburn, but can’t really understand if the data making up those sets is filled with crap, then how can you even trust what you are seeing?  I will go one step further, if you can’t accurately understand what that data is telling you, how can you know if what you are PUSHING is making it better or worse?  Let’s take another use case I love, customer care.  Yes, you need every tweet to be able to catch and engage issues your consumers are having with you.  There are, however, two sides to this use case.  One side is being able to quickly know who is talking about what so you can engage more quickly.  If the front end of that process is a dataset littered with junk the chances of you missing something goes up.  And if the data is no good, let’s not discuss how much time you are wasting searching for that tweet you need to engage with.  Again, if you have all the data and it is the right data, then the features that allow you to see it are actionable and trustworthy.  We are here today and the rise of accuracy is enabling the design of a litany of use cases across a variety of verticals.  If you have the first three pillars you can do much with your program…but it is still not enough.

The Infrastructure ERA:  2014

At the end of the day, social listening is an effort to tame big data.  In order to tame big data you need an infrastructure capable of managing the continued immenseness of it all.  The other three pillars will continue to evolve for sure, but those who will be standing at the end have the infrastructure to continuously innovate.  If you have built the right backbone, you can easily roll with the market as it tries to punch you.  Enterprise social intelligence is a battle that is currently raging, but is only winnable by those who have the flexibility of infrastructure to handle it all.  The infrastructure era will bring integration into the fold as well as a company’s ability to continue to execute the other three pillars with excellence.  Social enterprise intelligence will be about actionable data that is a closed loop process that brings value to the business every single day.  We are certainly aren’t there yet, but that day is coming soon to a marketplace near you.

So how can this help you make decisions for your program?

No one likes the word change in a software market, but if you haven’t realized you have to be a change agent to successfully sell and implement a listening program, get off the can and flush.  Whether you are an agency selling to your customers, an internal champion standing up your program or a software vendor attacking both, you are in the business of change, so accept your fate.  And when it comes to selling change, I find having a model to process anything that comes at you is imperative.  This is why I built this model.  It helps ME evangelize effectively because I can use this language in conversation I enter into during my day.  Below is how to think about the 4 pillars model.

So how can I tell those who will be there the end?  I would say this; if you don’t have the ability to flex over time with the market’s customized needs, you will not be picking the right partner.  Infrastructure will rule in the end because it will enable full integration across the entire enterprise.  That being said, you will also need accuracy to make sure that all that content can expressed with features that show you what you need.  Essentially, I am saying look for partners who express a strong RIGHT TO LEFT mentality.  This would be strong in infrastructure, who owns their accuracy methods, with the ability to integrate all that content while being able to show you data in a way that makes sense. You are looking for RIGHT to LEFTERS not LEFT to RIGHTERS as illustrated below.

Don’t be fooled by pretty interfaces with tons of content that is inaccurate.  That is why the market shifts and matures.  A RIGHT TO LEFTER will be a company that you know is heading where the market is and shows the ability to innovate as needed over time.


This was the second post in a 3 part series intended to open up a dialogue and discussion regarding social listening. Join the conversation and share your experiences about how you use social listening to build your social media strategy.

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About Malcolm De Leo

Malcolm De Leo

Malcolm, Chief Evangelist at NetBase Solutions, Inc.,  is a subject matter expert in the area of applying social media in an effort to build the marketplace for this powerful new consumer data source. Previously, Malcolm was the Global Vice President of Innovation at Daymon Worldwide and prior to that Malcolm spent 10 years at the Clorox Company managing partnerships with technology companies, developing innovation processes and building new innovation infrastructure.

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