The rise of the Internet has led to the creation of a large number of social media communities that allow users to share information with each other via platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the linked nature of the blogging ecosystem.
On the one hand, these various social media platforms are proving an ideal channel for blog owners to reach more users through various social media marketing strategies. On the other hand, blog owners are also starting to leverage these various platform for tracking the growth of their blog, the interests of their audience, and to improve the image, awareness, and brands promoted via their blogging platform.
“Analytics are important because clients and CMOs/CEOs want to see reports and ROI for the money they spend on social marketing,” said Giselle Bisson, social marketing strategist at Visibility Shift.
A blog will benefit from social media presence as well. In other words, posting on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn will build a link back to the blog, and over time that will build traffic. Bisson said a number of tools can help automate this process, and provide some social media analytics capabilities across these various platforms including Buffer, NetworkedBlogs, and Symphony Tools.
In addition, blogs built in WordPress can benefit from new syndication features that were baked in last year.
Bisson said a number of basic tools built into social media platforms can provide a good idea of how well these different channels are working.
“There are bigger analytics specific programs for generating insight, but for the average person or business, this is overkill. What you really want is to examine your traffic with the human eye to see what kind of post is generating more posts, shares, or sales.”
For example, one client of Bisson’s was producing a concert, and provided the back end data from the ticket engine.
By analyzing the data after each post, she was able to determine how sales correlated with different posts. Bisson explained,
“He wanted to see the direct return on investment for the posting, and that was valuable. In this case, what we found worked best was Facebook advertising, and that they were the most effective when we generated graphics using Canva to create text on a photo.”
Making sense of the fire hose
Bigger blogs and brands are looking to take things a step further by making sense of the fire hose of data across social media platforms.
While the basic social media analytics tools are baked in the main platforms, some blogs and brands might find these to have limited functionality and reach. Bisson said,
“Pinterest, WordPress and Facebook have excellent built-in analytics. Other social media sites less so. So there’s definitely a need for a tool that aggregates/analyzes all of your social channels and generates visual reports you can show your client or boss in a meeting.”
To help bridge this gap, a number of social media analytics tools have emerged with greater reach, precision, and utility across social media platforms including Sprout Social, Hootsuite, ViralHeat, and SimplyMeasured.
In addition, a number of other services have emerged to create curated feed of social data information that make it easier to develop applications that derive insights such as DataSift, AlchemyAPI, and GNIP, which was recently acquired by Twitter. Even large enterprise software vendors such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP are starting to add social media analytics capabilities to their various application suites in order to allow organizations to make better decisions.
Tim Barker, Chief Product Officer at DataSift said,
“In the last few years we have become aware of this fast growing dataset of conversations on social media. There is incredible value in this, but getting there does not come without challenges.”
Curated social media data streams, like that offered by DataSift, can help to extract value from the torrent of data flowing across social networks by removing noise, and address privacy concerns raised through the use of personally identifiable information.
Barker added that social media analytics started out as a defense mechanism for PR organizations to identify and control their brands through social channels. But as the field has matured, organizations are learning they can tap into a real time survey of consumer opinion in a more timely way than ever before.
Start with a clear goal
There are a wide variety of ways that social media analytics can provide value to a blog or the brand behind it. Starting out with a clear goal and proving benefits through a proof of concept is important to demonstrating the value of a social media analytics project, said Lynn Langit, big data and cloud architect at Lynn Langit Consulting.
Identify the amplifiers — using social media analytics tools to find the most influential individuals for spreading the word related to a blog or brand. Bisson said, Klout, Kred and BrandWatch (formerly PeerIndex) are all really good tools for this.
Locate the watering holes — While most people tend to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it is quite possible that many folks in the target audience congregate and share information relevant to a blog or brand on other sites. For example Langit noted that Tumblr has become one of the most popular sites for sharing about fan fiction.
Watch the spread — Get a better understanding of what particular campaigns, news, and stories relevant to a blog spread, and which don’t in order to learn from successes and failures.
Track Sentiment — Find out what readers or consumers of products covered by the blog really feel and get a better sense of what features and stories are the most important and interesting.
Open to innovation — Mine the fan base for insights, features, and storylines that could be of interest to the blog’s audience. Langit said that some TV shows are starting to monitor social media to drive content based on audience suggestions.
Gain a tactical advantage — Many organizations are finding they can gain an advantage in leveraging social media data to provide products that consumers want more quickly and precisely than competitors.
Thinking in taxonomies
One of the challenges of making sense of social media data is that it does not come in a simple form.
It can be challenging to come through tweets or other social feeds to derive meaning or some kind of benefit. A good starting point is thus to look at the different nature of this data and processing opportunities and methods of working with an expert on social media analytics.
Tracking for the popularity of key words using search terms can only get a social media analytics project so far, as there are a wide variety ways to talk about the same or similar things.
On the flip side, the same word can mean entirely different things depending on the context. Consequently, social media analytics techniques often rely on the use of rich taxonomies, which can make it easier to measure discussions about concepts and brands in a more consistent manner.
Watching for hashtags is relatively simple, but making the transition to getting more value from social media analytics comes down to a good taxonomy, said Langit.
“One of the things I am seeing success with is not only looking at your own mentions, but looking at identified competitors.” For example, she does a lot of work tracking the success of database technologies and has found that people interested in database performance are often talking about online analytical processing. “This can help pick up a conversation even if specific terms or the company is not being mentioned,” she said.
Barker noted that initially people just wanted to look at quantifying the use of keywords. But every tweet is a potential customer, and locked into that data is value that is not captured by just counting mentions.
For example, in the auto industry, brand promoters are wondering what features are being mentioned and the sentiment of consumers towards these. “We are now able to make at scale that perspective at a very economical level,” he said.
The ethics of social media analytics
It is possible that organizations could use information from social media channels to help better craft unique content for each viewer of the blog, or customer of the brand behind the blog. But some caution needs to be maintained in order to address legal and ethical considerations of working with the sorts of personally identifiable information found on social media networks. Barker said, “There is a responsibility to be mindful on how you can identify insights into trends.”
If the goal is to market to individuals, then an opt-in approach to leveraging social media data should be used to help ensure a reader’s or customer’s wishes. But many insights can be derived just by looking at highlights of social media data in aggregate, with less potential for raising privacy concerns.
Social media data aggregating services can help to address these concerns by taking responsibility for providing this data in an anonymous fashion. This can help to ensure that employees in a company don’t misuse data, and make it easier to comply with local privacy regulations as well.
Barker finds that this is especially important in places like Europe, where companies don’t want to deal with the headache of managing personally identifiable information. He believes that in the next one to two years, privacy features could become the killer app for social media analytics tools since they could help organizations to get more value from social media data without creating new problems.
Quantifying the value of sharing
Over time, Bisson expects these tools to only improve as marketing groups discover the powerful impact that social media can have on their brands.
She said, “As marketing departments build budgets for social media, you will see more money to spend on better analytics, and the tools will improve. We are in the beginning of social media. Now we are starting to see there is much more value to a Wall Street Journal mention if it is widely repeated, broadcast and re-tweeted (syndicated) on multiple social pages and channels.
“Companies are starting to get this is a powerful way to syndicate content and build more traffic. The best thing about the links you generate in social media, is that like a story in the Wall Street Journal, they last forever. With paid ads, the traffic disappears as soon as you stop paying.”
Getting value from social media data is challenging today because each platform comes with its own way of formatting data, feeds, and streams, and for describing links, likes, and shares.
At the end of the day, there is no silver bullet for every social media analytics application. Bisson said, “I use different social media analytics tools based on how I am trying to reach people.”
George Lawton has been infinitely fascinated yet scared about the rise of cybernetic consciousness, which he has been covering for the last twenty years for publications like IEEE Computer, Wired, and many others. He keeps wondering if there is a way all this crazy technology can bring us closer together rather than eat us. Before that, he herded cattle in Australia, sailed a Chinese junk to Antarctica, and helped build Biosphere II. You can follow him on the Web and on Twitter @glawton.