Social Media Monitoring – Disturbing Or Useful?

Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote a thought-provoking post today over at Read Write Web, looking at social media listening platforms like Radian6 and their role in companies’ online outreach.

I found Marshall’s take surprising. Talking about his experience with Comcast representative ComcastBill responding to one of his tweets, he says:

“An extensive machinery of tracking, delegation and analysis stood between Bill and my little Tweet. Maybe it has to be that way, maybe it’s a good thing – but there’s something deeply disturbing about it too.”

Marshall also uses several phrases throughout his post that raise the question of whether services like Radian6 are somewhat creepy:

  • “There’s something that feels condescending about these kinds of services. Why can’t the marketers using them learn how to use the web, like the rest of us have?”
  • “It looks like it’s just you and them, but behind them there’s a curtain covering a whole mess of cogs and pulleys, analyzing you in different ways.”
  • “It’s kind of a modern day horror story, isn’t it? Web 2.0’s potential benefit for humanity tragically sold short by social media because it fell under a fog of marketing software.”

While Marshall does acknowledge the other side of the argument, I got the distinct feeling that he isn’t comfortable with the idea of CRM features being used in a social media setting.

Here’s the other side from my perspective.

Many people want companies to use social media tools to connect

Research released yesterday shows that 40 per cent of social media users are using these tools to connect with companies. What’s more, a quarter of users feel better about organizations engaged in social media.

Simple search tools don’t scale

As Marshall points out:

“The fact is, subscribing to a search feed for relevant terms in various search engines just isn’t going to scale for larger businesses.”

As volume increases, so does the complexity of responding to people online.

  • It’s no longer just one person – it’s a team
  • Higher volume means people on that team aren’t going to remember everyone immediately
  • An excel spreadsheet to report online conversations just doesn’t cut it

With scale, comes coordination

Once you reach a scale that requires a team-based approach to online engagement, you need to make sure that:

  1. Things don’t fall through the cracks
  2. You don’t double-up on people

That means you need a workflow management system, whether it’s integrated with your search tool or not. Of course, from my perspective it’s much more efficient to combine the two. You need a tool that:

  • Lets you assign tasks to people
  • Record the approach you’ve taken to engaging with people
  • Lets you store, rather than lose, the institutional knowledge of past interactions

Efficient reporting matters

While many practitioners aren’t paying much attention to measurement, I think it’s critical. If social media is to avoid being the first part of budgets to be cut, we need to demonstrate results. That means reporting on that measurement. Once you scale up, you need to find an efficient way to report on what’s happening in order to demonstrate results.

That reporting needs to go beyond traffic numbers. If that’s all you measure, you’re missing out. Tools like Radian6 let you look at things like:

  • Sentiment breakdowns
  • The type of content being written about your company
  • Share of voice
  • Themes in topic content

Efficiency, not profiling

Is this profiling? Only in an aggregated sense. Yes, there are notes associated with online mentions, but not in a sinister way – in a way that makes it possible for companies to engage in the way that people increasingly want them to.

What do you think?

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  • Excellent points Dave.
    I think that an additional one is the opportunity to analyze the information in a larger sense. Customer service is just one use of social media monitoring tools.
    And it’s becoming apparent that brands that interact with their customers are finding success & a measurable return. The trick is for the brands to transition to becoming individuals that are interacting with the customers on a one to one basis. That’s how tools like Radian6 & our Techrigy SM2 can be helpful.

    Connie
    Community Strategist, Techrigy
    @cbensen http://sm2.techrigy.com

  • Maybe there are some who would argue that once you scale a social media channel beyond a one-to-one conversation it is no longer a social media channel, but merely an additional door to the same customer service line?

    I personally don’t have a conviction about this, one way or the other; but I can see how tools such as Radian6 might threaten some people’s sense of social media’s integrity, or something along these lines.

  • At the risk of being too blunt, I think it’s naive to be creeped out by someone responding to something you say in a public forum.

    Now, I guess the question is about the tools used to uncover your comment. I don’t think it really matters. What matters is how the response comes. As long as the company rep approaches you in a manner befitting the original media, I can’t see the problem. Example: if I tweet about frustrating customer service from, say, Rogers, I’d be pissed if a Rogers rep tweeted back with a form letter (form tweet?) pointing me to their website or giving me their 1-800 number.

    But, if the same theoretical Rogers rep tweeted back asking how he could help, or asking what my experience was, or anything like that (you know, something converational), I’d be okay with that.

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  • There’s a real issue here and I believe it’s linked to the current phase in social media marketing: Monitoring. When I think monitoring, I get this image in my mind of employees sitting outside the field watching us. It can feel creepy if you think about it. You know you’re being watched, you don’t know by who/when/how….It’s a bit like big brother. Or behavioral targeting in advertisement plus it just doesnt work well I think. It’s different if they jump in and participate both in a reactive (monitoring) manner and a proactive (influence) one. Then we know who they are, it’s ok that they watch us because we watch them (hopefully there’s a real dialogue too). Agree with your point about scale and efficiency. To summarize, being profiled by companies (after all they need to know where relevant people are and what they thing now that SM gives easy access to their market) should be a non issue if the intent into which the info is used is genuine and reciprocal. It comes back to culture and principles behing why a company engages in SM.

  • I think the ability to closely monitor is essential. Consumers now expect an answer if they post a note on Twitter or online about a company. If a company doesn’t respond they are figuratively pilloried. The only way for companies to find and respond to these comments is through comprehensive monitoring and effective integration with CRM. It’s just one more example of the continued shift to customer service as marketing.

  • I think Marshall is very far ahead of the curve. Many of the companies we’ve talked to at Scout Labs first need to address to existence of social media- they need to make it visible to the organization- before they can derive insight from it, or take action on it, such as respond in a way that would sensibly involve workflow. These company employees aren’t solo operators doing this for themselves, they are part of a team of people doing this together, and they need more help than free tools offer.

  • Nice article. Do you have a list of tools you would recommend??

  • Dave,
     
    This is an excellent post on what will become a more controversial topic. Marshall makes some very valid points. Does it mean that companies shouldn’t bother with monitoring? I don’t think so.
     
    According to many studies/research initiatives, consumers want companies to enagage with them. In fact, the Cone Social Media study in 2008 (that Marshall wrote a RWW post about) found that 93% of Americans online expect companies to have a social media presence. That helps, but leaves much left to be defined.
     
    Monitoring is a crucial step to learning more about how those brands should engage. The demand is there, but requires custom interaction for each individual (Marshall is right on that). So while there may be problems with the current techniques and implementations, directionally, it is correct.
     
    I think companies will continue to hone and tweak their approaches to make it as efficient and “correct” as possible, but should not deviate from their current course. Their customers have spoken. Now companies just need to figure out the best way to execute it. And they are learning through the successes and failures of monitoring and coordination every day. It will only get better, and that will only stand to benefit the consumer.
     
    A win-win scenario.

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  • As social media technologies are infused into daily business processes, these challenges are bound to come up. The ability to connect has implications in business in PR, marketing, customer service, product development, sales, etc. All of these areas can leverage monitoring – I’ve seen many clients struggle with how to adopt this type of monitoring (and the subsequent delegation of actions) into their normal processes. Just a couple weeks ago I met with a Fortune500 company to talk about monitoring, and found out that our meeting was the first time customer service, marketing, PR and consumer insight had actually met in the same room face to face. As these tools & processes evolve, the companies will too. Thanks for a very useful post Dave – it shows this is a broad (but not insurmountable) challenge for companies to take on.

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  • Hey there Dave,

    Looks like this would make a cool subject to continue the debate at the Social Media Summit in a couple weeks eh?

    Maybe we can do a Q&A and go through each on of the categories you touched on.

    It’s certainly always good news when any shift – like bringing analytics from the web and the social web closer together – can get more people talking about the need for listening and engaging.

    Whatcha think?

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