Social media has allowed us a new lens through which to view our customers.
Search and web data have long provided us online user behaviour information. What they do, where they go, what they want, etc.
Social media has slowly begun to fill in some of the blanks for us around what people are talking about and saying. We now know what people are saying, what they are hearing, whom they are saying it to, what they are interacting with and who's influencing those conversations.
The difference between a solid measurement strategy and a listening effort may vary, and in some cases may even overlap. However they are in fact quite distinct in approach, goals, tools and output.
Listening And Insights
Conversation Analysis: Once you get your listening tool set up with all of your keywords and competitor set one of the most interesting and insightful pieces of information to dive into is the conversation analysis. This helps showcase what people are talking about in relation to your brand, what types of conversations they are having (help & how-to, troubleshooting, consideration, recommendations, etc) and even you're placed in comparison to your competitive set.
Sentiment: This one's tricky. You need to fully understand how your tool is formulating the sentiment before you start paying attention to this. Many social listening tools do provide a sentiment analysis. Most that do are automated. Some offer manual sentiment analysis but it will either be incredibly expensive, outsourced to an office where labor is far less expensive but language may be a factor, or a hybrid of both manual and automated. The last is typically built on an algorithm that will "learn" based on user feedback.
Topical Trends: Highly related to conversational analysis, but this can identify and evaluate topics that arise organically in conversation rather than something you have pre-defined to listen for. If timely, this information can be an early-warning system for product issues, spot a potentially disastrous viral problem, or uncover opportunities to capitalize on organic conversations. The list is really endless.
There are lots of tools on the market for social listening. One of the more popular is Radian6. Sysomos is another major player. Tools like those tend to be somewhat cost prohibitive for SMB's. For resource constrained users I usually recommend tools that are either multi-purpose. Raven SEO tools is an excellent SEO tool provider and their social dashboard also has a manual sentiment tracker. Simply Measured covers many needs in both the Listening and Measurement camps giving it a great deal of bang for its buck.
Measurement And Analytics
Account Growth: A very common piece of data that tracks the growth of social accounts: Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, YouTube subscribers and so on. Reporting on this in context of a defined competitive set can help add more color. (Don't limit to actual business competitors on this one - get aspirational. Define a set of companies in social you admire and aspire to. Measure and track what they're doing to benchmark against. Your competition may not be the best bar to measure against.)
User Activity and CTR: The primary metric here is CTR (click-through rate) on a shared link. Quite often these are to your own site and can be captured in your web analytics tool suite. I recommend marketers also utilize tracking in shared links and not solely rely on capturing visits on your site. This allows you a greater understanding of the users behavior and what they respond to because you're also capturing behavior on links that don't go directly to your site.
Interactions: Interactions can take many forms. Many users and tools refer to them as elements of engagement. Comments, Likes, Retweets, Favorites, Shares, etc are all forms of interactions a user can have with a piece of social content. Growth or slow in interactions can be a sign of changing audience engagement and could ultimately signal a need for change.
Simply Measured is quickly becoming industry standard for measurement and analytics. Also consider something like Crowdbooster for something more lightweight.
The biggest difference between Listening and Monitoring is ultimately intent. Monitoring is done on a much more real-time basis with the intent of monitoring social conversations for engagement opportunities and actually working through them.
Tools like Cotweet (aka Social Engage), Hootsuite and even Buddy Media offer platforms for monitoring and engagement. Beyond the typical social networks like Twitter and Facebook look at tools that will crawl the entire web for mentions like Trackur. Linkstant alternately alerts you any time anyone links to you.
What you are trying to accomplish is central to which tool you ultimately end up using. Being crystal clear on what it is you're trying to accomplish - whether it is monitoring, engagement, measurement or insights gathering - will help you identify your approach with greater ease. When engaging vendors, tool providers or agencies this clarity will help them deliver on exactly what your business is thirsting for. Galvanizing your goals will help you, if you're diving into these efforts on behalf of your organization, wade through all of the available tools and offerings as well.
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Image credit: photo by John Snape