Social Listening | The Signal, The Noise

Being the largest interactive conference in the world with more than 25,000 attendees, South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas brought together a wide variety of industry professionals united in the spirit of education, debate and – as evidenced by social listening we did to pull SXSW data – a sincere appreciation for free beer and tacos.

Nate Silver, statistician and author of the blog, gave a keynote speech about his approach to Big Data.  His main point was that, as more and more information is available, business and society become polarized by a human tendency to cherry-pick the material we want to notice.  As Silver put it, “You have a gap between what we think we know and what we really know.

Social Listening in Social Marketing

This disconnection between what we think we know and what we actually know is one that marketers have been trying to resolve since the advent of advertising; it was raised obliquely in a few social media sessions throughout the 2013 SXSW conference phrased, typically, like this:

“How do I know who my influencers are?”

But the most common question asked in social marketing sessions was the age-old question of all marketers, particularly those not tied to a direct marketing discipline, and that is:

“How do I measure the effectiveness of my campaign?”

The answer to both of these questions lies in the data, but no one data point is going to give us a holistic answer.  Big Data requires big solutions, and cutting through the noise with a social listening solution that provides truly valuable insights requires sophisticated tools that synthesize information in such a way that we marketers can make heads and tails of it.  Nate Silver uses an algorithm; Meltwater employs social listening via the Meltwater Buzz social media online intelligence suite.

Any tool is only as good as its usage.  With Silver’s warning in mind, we come back to the common question of how to measure a social campaign.  The problem with this question is that it’s so often asked before a sound campaign strategy is crafted.  In focusing primarily on how to measure social media marketing results, we’re taking a backwards approach to the question of how to be effective in our marketing campaigns in the first place.

Social Listening for Dialogue Marketing

The number one way to succeed in any marketing campaign, social or otherwise, is to recognize that social media has transformed marketing from a monologue model to a dialogue model.

This means that we marketers need to do something that isn’t second nature, and it’s something that Nate Silver does quite well: be quiet for a moment, and listen.  Social media is not just a platform that allows us to deliver a pre-scheduled message from our phones via three different channels, but rather an opportunity to inform all of our marketing efforts by social listening: first and foremost, we must tune in to what our customers are saying.

In the new Meltwater e-book, The 4 C’s of Social Media Marketing, we explore social listening as the first step in applying traditional marketing principles to the new social dialogue marketing model.  (Spoiler alert: the 4 C’s are Conversations, Communities, Channels, and Campaigns.)  The 4 C’s will soon be examined in this blog with real-world examples, but in the meantime, anybody interested in how to craft a thoughtful, informed marketing strategy can download the e-book and get started.

Big Data is a big deal.  Our current and prospective customers are conducting billions of social conversations, and in those conversations lie the insights and information that we marketers need to create reasoned, targeted campaigns, regardless of medium.  Using Nate Silver as inspiration, we can all do well to take an attentive, data-driven approach to our own predictions with social listening.  The good news is that once we craft a campaign based on this sort of circumspect intelligence so that we know what we’re looking to accomplish, measuring effectiveness is the easy part.