Media Companies’ Social Problem
Firms struggle to find most effective ways to track social media activity
By George Winslow -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/1/2010 12:00:00 AM
In May, Lithium Technologies acquired Scout Labs, which is now operating as Lithium Social Media Monitoring. And in July, Marketwire acquired Sysomos. Meanwhile, Crimson Hexagon completed a new round of funding in April, and in June, Nielsen and McKinsey & Co. launched a joint venture, NM Incite, to track social media.
“When you look at all the investments and consolidation that is going on, it really illustrates that social media is growing up,” notes Pete Blackshaw, executive VP of digital strategic services at NM Incite. “It is graduating beyond being the next coolest thing in marketing communications to something that is strategically essential for many companies.”
If almost everyone agrees on the importance of social media, there is still nothing even approaching a consensus on the best technology to track its usage.
Unlike TV ratings, which have been supplied by monopoly provider Nielsen and accepted by virtually everyone in the television industry as the currency of the realm for decades, there is no equivalent of Nielsen ratings in the social media world. Not only are there many companies offering services and software to track social media activity; the results of their analysis vary from one platform to the next.
“Media companies understand the importance of social media and they know they need to be doing more with it. But there are a lot of different approaches, and a lot of people are very confused about what they should be looking for in a solution,” says one of the providers of tracking info, Jennifer Zeszut, chief social strategist at Lithium Social Media Monitoring, which works with Turner, CBS, NBC and Disney, among other media and entertainment companies.
One key issue in assessing the technology for tracking social media is simply the size of the audience. Facebook alone has more than 500 million active users who share some 30 billion pieces of content each month.
Beyond the ever-growing volume of social media— most of the major providers track billions of pieces of content—a large amount of this material is either useless, or difficult to analyze.
Besides tracking what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter and all the other social media platforms, Sysomos also analyzes some 150 million blogs, where unfortunately “more than 65% of the information is spam,” says Nick Koudas, president and cofounder of Sysomos, a tracking service that works with a number of major broadcasters and brands around the world. “It is very important that your provider has a very good spam filter.”
What’s left isn’t easy to quantify or analyze, in part because slang, irony, sarcasm, abbreviations, dodgy grammar and poor spelling are rife. “How do you analyze a post that says, ‘My Nikes are the Tom Jones of shoes’?” says Zeszut. “A lot of people, let alone a computer, wouldn’t know what to make of that.”
Social media providers also offer a variety of different types of services and pricing models. A few companies are primarily in the business of providing software and tools to track social media; others also provide software but put more emphasis on their consulting services. Some will license their software to a whole company; others charge by volume of searches, number of users, the type of product and the amount of added consulting they supply.
Most importantly, companies need to begin the evaluation process with a clear understanding of what they hope to accomplish, because each of the approaches to tracking social media handle some problems better than others.
“You need to understand your strategic objectives— even if your goal is just to experiment with the technology,” says Scott Centurino, CEO of Crimson Hexagon, which works on social media initiatives with companies including CNN, Dow Jones and a number of major broadcasters and advertising agencies. “There is a lot of overlap and a lot of differences in the way the technologies work. They are all tuned a little differently.”
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