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?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.