Our industry is always on the lookout for insights. We need our communications activities to resonate with our target audiences, and this is so important to us that we have built our ‘Insights, Inspiration, Impact’ model around this. However, gathering meaningful insights isn’t always easy! Market research can be expensive and take time to conduct, but what if there were millions of experiences, opinions, and perspectives from your audience that could be mined for nuggets of insight gold?
Recently, there has been a huge amount of interest in social listening. Social listening refers to analyzing the content and metadata of social media posts in order to investigate what people in the real world are thinking, feeling, and doing. We have been conducting social listening in various forms for many years, and seeing as this has become a hot topic, we thought we would share our thoughts and reflections on what social listening can do and what it can’t.
Firstly, we always remind ourselves that the results of any social listening are subject to selection bias. We are only able to see information from people who a) use social media platforms and b) share their experiences and thoughts on the subject in question. This means that we are only ever seeing the tip of the iceberg. Whether this is a big problem will depend on the research in question, but if you are interested in the opinions of a small group who tend to keep their cards close to their chests, social listening might not be able to tell you very much that you didn’t already know.
Secondly, social media is by its very nature a public platform, and what people say and do in public isn’t always the same as in private. We tend to be mindful that extreme views and enthusiasm need to be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s also easy for data to be skewed by relative outliers in terms of views and experiences, as these individuals may post more words more often than others.
So what can social listening do? The key to getting maximum insights from social listening is to keep focused on what it is you are looking at. It provides insights into how different people use social media, what they say, what sort of language they use, what their key topics of interest are, and where there are gaps in terms of services and support. These can be incredibly important insights when developing communications activities to ensure content is relevant, timely, and accessible to the audience. Rather than an alternative to traditional market research, think of it as an additional layer of insights to bring to the planning and execution stages of your program.