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Social Media Monitoring 101

Gathering information from open source data

What is Social Media Monitoring?

Social media monitoring is the practice of gathering and overseeing public activity on social media. Monitoring tools are designed to aggregate publicly available data from multiple networks and display it in a format that is digestible by the end-user.

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Social media monitoring tools pull information from a range of social networks as well as some traditional media outlets. These tools do not have access to private data.

Managing, monitoring, and listening—what's the difference?

Social media managing tends to refer to the upkeep of your own social media accounts through outreach and response to various events. Social media monitoring refers to the process of finding and aggregating individual mentions on social media, whereas listening is collecting broader data and analyzing it to interpret trends and extract insights to drive decisions.

Many platforms monitor, listen to and manage social media at varying degrees of efficacy.

Companies use social media monitoring to respond to questions and comments from their audience and community. If you’ve ever complained to a company in a Tweet and received a response, it is likely they used a monitoring tool to find it. Some smaller organizations still use the native platforms to do this, but most companies have multiple social accounts which makes managing each channel individually a tedious task. This is where a social dashboard is helpful. What’s more, different social platforms detect different types of content; some have the capability to unravel shortened URLs and detect content that Twitter or other native platforms do not.

Social listening expands from specific interactions and takes a broader look at the behavior of users on social media to track conversations, better understand trends, regional preferences, and consumer patterns. Listening tools compile data from a range of networks to form a birds-eye view of events, regions, demographics, or other criteria. While very different, social monitoring and listening are both integral parts of a complete social media data gathering process.

What kind of technology do these tools use?

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Some social media monitoring and listening tools are owned or partially owned by the social media providers themselves, which is how they are able to access, aggregate, and display the data. Other tools have agreements with the social networks in order to access the data through a public API.

Who’s using social media monitoring? How are they using it?

Medium to large companies, retailers, international brands, corporate security companies, journalists, news outlets, hotel chains, and financial analysts – you name it. Understanding the chatter from social media is a core part of understanding the business landscape.

Brands

Today’s brands use social media monitoring in a number of ways. From finding and leveraging user-generated content, discovering hyperlocal trends and influencers, and primarily for managing brand reputation online. Companies like Hootsuite and Sprout Social make tools that are especially helpful for brands seeking insights on marketing performance, like reach and engagement metrics. 

Security

Social media monitoring tools are critical for security teams and public safety. From handling event security, executive protection, asset management, and retail loss prevention. Even to help manage corporate travel risks. When organizations are operating globally, they can use social media to provide an instant window onto what is happening in a particular place, and whether or not their people or their organization will be impacted. 

Journalism

Social media is the fastest way to find out what’s actually happening surrounding an event and who is involved. News leaders depend on the public sharing it to determine the scope and severity of breaking news events to build their story. Social media monitoring tools can deliver alerts, much like Google Alerts, that help journalists stay on top of a given story.

Finance

From financial analysts to insurance companies, social media analysis is essential for staying on top of market-altering events, understanding current market trends, and monitoring investments and assets.

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Insights

Data is everywhere. Every time we fill a form online, ask for directions on Google Maps, rate a hotel, or let our phones count our steps for us, we contribute to the enormous libraries of data floating around the world. All of this data provides companies with the information points needed to sell us more, feed us more, and nudge us into making certain decisions. It also informs companies on who was Tweeting from their store that day, how safe a city is, how big the damage was from that fire, and other pieces of critical information. Imagine how much data is out there now that everything from shopping to booking a ride to the airport is done online. It’s a lot.

As data has multiplied, the ability to analyze this data and turn it into actionable insights has become increasingly valuable. Billions of data points, even when broken down into an analytics dashboard is not an ideal format for digesting information. Heads of companies, security teams, financial analysts, and journalists need information they can interpret and act on quickly.

One of the ways companies are leveraging data to drive their business decisions is with social media monitoring platforms. Social media provides a tremendous wealth of information as people using these platforms publicly share their opinions, photos, and videos.

With machine learning, we have created systems and algorithms to derive some degree of insight from the data found in social media. Many monitoring platforms can decipher things like sentiment, demographics, and regional behaviors, although these features should be taken with a grain of salt. Sentiment analysis, for example, has become widely accepted in its current state when many companies have actually deemed it too flawed to implement. Many data analysis features have become industry standard because although they’re often flawed, they help construct a general picture of a situation.

Getting reliable insights from social mentions is a task that hasn’t yet been mastered by automated tools and machine learning. Partly because algorithms lack human understanding and can’t detect subtleties like sarcasm (which social media is chock full of), but also because what may be a valuable insight for a sports team, will likely be useless to a financial institution. Each set of insights needs to be catered very specifically to each use case. For true insight to be delivered, there has to be a human element.

There are limits to what social media monitoring tools can do. The people using these tools still need to add their own human interpretation to truly understand a situation. It is the job of social media monitoring platforms to help them find what they’re looking for faster, to make this job as easy as possible.

Websites

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While there are plenty of insights to be gleaned from popular social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, most organizations need to look in lesser known spaces to truly understand the social landscape. Here are a few of the most popular types of social media networks today:

Blogging and Microblogging Sites

People who use microblogging sites want to be heard. They use these networks to share opinions and promote their work. Examples include Twitter, Tumblr, and Medium.

Discussion Forums

Forum-style discussion sites are increasingly gaining popularity. These sites are geared towards connecting like-minded individuals based on topics of interest. Examples include Reddit & Raddle.

Imageboards

Imageboards (also known as chan sites) at their core, are places for people to exchange thoughts and ideas, and connect with like-minded communities. Because these sites are less moderated than other social sites, they have become synonymous with illegal activity and hateful content. 

Photo and Video Sharing

Photo and video sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo contain content ranging from very high-end productions—to cooking shows—to corporate videos—and real-time user-generated content related to breaking events.

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Privacy

Privacy is a hot topic on the internet these days. Everybody’s concerned with who’s got access to their personal data and what that data will be used for, and for good reason. Not all organizations respect the privacy of their users, and even organizations that do may have different definitions of ‘respect’. Is it fair to sell your customers’ data to third parties? What if selling data to third parties is your business plan, and they sign a EULA that lets you resell data? Can you use customer usage patterns to improve your software workflow? To build custom packages or deals to retain your customers? To influence targeted ads? The world of privacy has plenty of questions but few answers.

Privacy legislation is how governments provide some structure and rules to the ecosystem, and one law, in particular, is attracting lots of attention. The EU GDPR, or European Union General Data Protection Regulation, is coming into effect on May 25th, 2018, and it’s the most influential piece of privacy legislation we’ve ever seen. While it’s only enforced by the EU, the rest of the world is focused on it because anyone doing business with the EU, or touching data belonging to EU citizens, is potentially under the scope of the GDPR.

The core concept of the GDPR is that you, the person, owns personal data about you. You don’t give your personal data to a company, you give that company access to your data, and that’s a loan, not a sale. You are the one in control of how your data can be used, and you can ‘pull the plug’ and remove your data from a company’s system at any time. It’s a remarkable concept, because it brings a bunch of concepts together, such as the right to be forgotten. Once you send in a request, a company holding your personal data has 30 days to update your data, delete it, or even package it up so you can upload it to their competitor if you so choose!

These requirements also mean that companies must be transparent about what personal data they’re collecting. No longer can companies hide behind a cryptic licensing agreement while their users blindly sign away all their rights; companies must be up-front and discuss in plain, concise language what data they’re collecting, and you can request a copy of all personal data the company has collected about you whenever you’d like, along with a list of everyone who has access to your data.

One other big change is around consent. Previous legislation had the concept that companies needed to get consent to use your personal data, and that’s all well and good. The GDPR goes one step further when it comes to consent. Now, you can provide consent for specific types of processing. You can give your phone number to a company so they can call you about a package delivery, and that means they can only use your phone number to call you about that package. They can’t use your phone number to solicit other business with them, and they can’t sell your phone number to another company that’s doing anything other than helping to deliver the original package unless you give consent to that purpose too. Consent with a purpose is a big deal for personal data protection, and it’s a good example of taking the way we think the world should work and writing that into law. This, plus the requirement that consent must be provided in clear, concise language, means you’ll have much more control over how your data is used.

Businesses across the globe are working hard to meet the requirements of the GDPR. They don’t really have a choice, as the maximum penalties for breaching the GDPR scale with a company’s income, so big organizations can’t buy their way out of serious infractions. Next time you’re browsing a company’s website, take a look at their privacy policy, or look around for other discussions of their GDPR compliance, because odds are you’ll find something worth reading!

Industries

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Hospitality

The Hospitality industry is all about creating a tailored experience for each guest. Personalization has always been important for restaurants and hotels, and the rise of social media has made it even more interesting. With social monitoring and listening tools, hotels and restaurants can respond quickly to guests in an effort to provide better experiences more likely to be shared across the internet. In recent years It has become all the more commonplace for hotels to include personal touches like champagne or chocolates for their guests, based on their tastes.

Public Relations

The fastest-moving PR pitfalls happen on social media. As well as the Twitter-borne PR disasters, social networks are often where we learn about the latest brand fails. Social media users can spin a minor spelling error into a viral disaster in seconds. Many companies leverage social monitoring platforms to find these mistakes early in order to stay on top of their reputation.

Retail

Social monitoring & listening are essential for the retail industry. Using geofencing to understand what is being posted from within the retail properties themselves adds another layer of value to the more common practice of listening for brand mentions. Customers may be complaining about bad service without actually mentioning the store name or associated hashtags, or posting about shoplifting from your store. With location-first social listening platforms, retail and other brick and mortars can filter social posts by geographic area, as well as by words in the posts. Retailers are also able to use these tools to deliver hyper-local advertising to the right audience. Geofencing specific areas, ie. cities or neighborhoods, and targeting their ads to the active Twitter users in that area is a strategy that is quickly growing in popularity. This ability is especially valuable to businesses that are opening shops in new locations, to understand the trends in the area and get the desired message out to a local market that they may not be familiar with.

Media and Journalism

When news breaks, location-based social media tools are indispensable. Media outlets rely heavily on social media to assess the impact, scope, and people involved in situations as they happen. Seeing situations through multiple perspectives, as is possible through pulling together hundreds of social posts surrounding an event, helps journalists piece together a complete story. Understanding the story through social media also helps emergency services teams activate quickly and implement the needed response. Geofencing physical locations is like having thousands of extra eyes on the ground. If the news is breaking in an area, the people on the ground will often post a photo before they flee the scene.

Financial Services

Social media, like the financial market, never sleeps. Twitter and Reddit are often the first places people go to discover market changes and get real-time information about what’s happening in the market. Financial analysts and insurance providers use social listening to understand and assess risk situations, such as natural disasters or political unrest in order to make better decisions affecting stakeholders and policyholders.

Social monitoring and listening tools give businesses the ability to engage with their customers wherever they are in the world. Technology has made it so that nearly every industry can use social media to make their messages more relevant, more meaningful, and more precise than ever. Thanks to our culture of sharing, companies across all industries can make better decisions.

Security

The applications for social monitoring and listening in the security industry are countless. Open-source intelligence (OSINT) is an integral component of security and investigations. Event security, risk management, facilities, and Executive Protection teams are all leveraging geofencing technology and OSINT to ensure they are as informed as possible.

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Location Data

Social media, when combined with location, connects people to places, marketers to audiences, and financiers to funds. Technology that maps social media opens up a world of possibilities.

In a Smart City, loaded with social data, sensors, and the Internet of Things, the goal is connectivity. Being digitally well connected improves our efficiency and experiences. It’s rare that we go to a new city and do not have free, high-speed wifi in the downtown core. It’s rare to go to a new restaurant, that we’ve checked out on Yelp, and not experience great food and service.

For retail, it is not “Location, Location, Location” anymore. Instead, it is more like:

  • Where am I relative to that location?
  • Who am I relative to that location?
  • Can that Uber get me to that 5-star, in 15 minutes, so I can make my meeting at 12:25 in the afternoon?

In exchange for experience, speed, preferential treatment, and better free services, there is a trade-off. This trade-off, which is being questioned by users more and more often, usually comes in the form of giving up some of your personal information. This has led to many of us use fake accounts or names. This must be frustrating for people like the new world marketers out there. They have not realized that:

  1. Your location is your identity, not your app that says you were born in 1903.
  2. Location is the defining feature of your persona in a Smart World.

Information like location history is fundamental in shaping the way we see the world, it is the baseline that defines change and sets our future expectations for experiences. Journalists inherently seem to understand this the most. Human experiences turn into stories that are most often shaped in the environment of time. Places craft personas.

So, if we are going to improve the relationship between humans and their space, we must view location as a key differentiator and build technologies with location at their center before we can jump off in the evolution of retail, marketing, journalism, or finance platforms.

Echosec Systems helps organizations around the world gain situational awareness through open-source data, so they can better protect their people, brand, and assets.

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