Listening is good. This is something we can all agree on, I think. Marketing and communications professionals learn the importance of listening to their audiences early on. Financial analysts and investors try to cut through the noise to find lucrative signals. Executives of all kinds want, more than anything, to hear what’s going on – within their target markets, in their industries, and among their competitors. In these sectors, and in many others, professionals are trying to derive intelligence from various sources – including social media.
While social listening is crucial in some situations, it’s just be wasteful in others. Many decision makers rush into spending money on the latest social-monitoring tools because, in an increasingly digital world, they’re afraid of being left behind. It reminds me of the ongoing big data craze. Everybody’s amassing information; most aren’t sure why. Of course, in some fields, monitoring social media makes perfect sense. But even in marketing and public relations, there is such a thing as going overboard. Is that muddle of charts and graphs produced by 15 different platforms really helping you understand the masses?
Given the hype surrounding social media monitoring, you’d think social networks were the only places information is being published. Too often, the insights found in other types of online content (including so-called traditional media) are overlooked. We believe these insights can be just as valuable – and, in many cases, more valuable – than those published on social media channels. Here’s why.
Traditional Media: Still More Credible and Influential
When it comes to monitoring strategy, one of the of the biggest mistakes many organizations make is relying too heavily on common narratives about the media. Case and point: those who all but ignore online newspapers and magazines because “journalism is dying”. Why bother with a dwindling medium when everyone’s on social media?
It’s true that fewer people are reading print media these days. But that doesn’t mean traditional journalism has lost its influence. Jonathan Barnard, head of forecasting at ZenithOptimedia, notes that, due to the popularity of tablets and other devices, “publishers have never been read by more people”. It would seem that there’s still a demand for well-researched, long-form content.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that facebook has 1, 415 million active users. Twitter has 288 million. These numbers are seductive; analyzing them can become an all-consuming passion for those who work in fields reliant on market research. But consider this. Only a tiny number of the hordes of social media users can rightly be classified as “influencers” (thinkers who have the power to not only reach a large audience, but impact the behaviour of that audience).
In contrast, most, if not all journalists are influencers in that they are implicitly trusted by readers. As a general rule, we see a piece of writing as credible because it’s written by a journalist. Even when we vehemently disagree with what they have to say, we tend to think of journalists as professionals who have earned the right to deliver our news (or, at the very least, as people who are unlikely to spread direct misinformation for fear of facing serious consequences).
In an age where we’re constantly bombarded by unsolicited comments and messages, we tend to scan the messages in our social media feeds quickly. It’s ironic, but the more voices that appear on social media, the less likely we are to hear any of them clearly. We’re beginning to turn back towards writing that bears the hallmarks of authenticity. Companies know this. It’s why content marketers are creating what’s known as branded content (marketing materials that mimic the journalistic style).
In addition to looking the part, a lot of traditional journalism is, in fact, completely credible. This is good news for those seeking direct business intelligence from traditional media sources. When Edward Snowden decided to leak information about the NSA surveillance program, he did so through a reputable news outlet. His story was vetted and streamlined by credible journalists. As a result, the world received concise and accurate context, without the irrelevant details.
This is a major benefit of news stories. Sometimes, we’re looking for basic (trustworthy) information that may spur further investigation (or not). This is especially true of those looking for certain kinds of leads (namely, corporations or entire markets, as opposed to specific individuals). Here’s an example. If you’re involved in the site-selection process for foreign direct investment (FDI), a news story pointing to political instability could lead you to remove the regions affected by it from your list of potential locations. Social media may be useful later on. But to get those initial leads, the information from traditional media may be far more helpful.
How Information Spreads
I’ve mentioned the perceived lack of credibility enjoyed by most social media users. But some voices are seen as more credible than others. Notably, journalists, subject-matter experts, and those who run or contribute to well-regarded blogs are among the most trusted in these spaces. For the most part, these individuals post their long-form content first – often in online newspapers and magazines – then use social media to promote it. The larger conversations that happen on twitter are very often based on information from journalistic content that spreads this way. Those hoping to learn more about a particular audience or market will benefit from monitoring not only the public conversations it’s having, but the media around which those conversation are based.
What about stories that break on twitter? Though this happens from time to time, the spread of misinformation through these channels is far more common (for example, during the ebola outbreak, sensational information was passed around on social networks). At this point, most people are somewhat wary unless a piece of information comes directly from the account of a credible publication or journalist.
Another thing to consider is how easy it is to send a tweet a or status update. Many users click to retweet without a second thought. The same messages rattle around the twittersphere – accumulating more generic comments, adding to the feed-cluttering noise. While it’s important to build relationships by sharing good user content, the pool can run dry pretty quickly. If you’re looking to share good advice on digital marketing, you’ll probably be fine. But in many niches, finding fresh content can be a real problem. Finding an article on credible blog post on an under-reported story (or a new take on a heavily-reported story) can help in this regard.
With regards to competitive intelligence – often, it’s the seemingly small details (details that don’t mean much to those on the outside) that companies want most. Crucial details can slip into news stories and online announcements without ever appearing on social media, where glossy photos and one-liners reign supreme.
While social media can provide crucial insights in some industries and situations, it should not be viewed as a replacement for traditional media monitoring – nor should it dominate an organization’s attempts to understand its environment.
If the ultimate goal is to create a favorable public impression, understanding public opinion – and the various ways in which it’s shaped – is crucial. Social media conversations can not be understood without their context. In other fields (such as in finance and trade) public perception can play a role in high-level decision making. But social insights don’t always add much value to these decision. Sometimes, a big-picture view – formed through the range of research-backed opinions opinions articulated by journalists – is more helpful, providing the intelligence needed to take action quickly. In such cases, traditional media can be seen as a microcosm of public opinion.
Ultimately, a more sophisticated approach to staying informed involves a shift in perspective. Organizations should think first and foremost about their web-intelligence strategies, of which both traditional and social media can play a part. In many cases, the two areas will complement one another, but understanding them will generally require different strategies, and two different sets of measurement tools. Don’t make the mistake of complicating the monitoring process by cross-pollinating your analytics. Keep things simple.
Feature Image Courtesy: Got Credit