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.
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. 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 behaviour of users on social media to 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?
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.
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.
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.
Social media is the fastest way to find out what’s actually happening surrounding an event and who is involved. News leaders depend on public sharing it to determine the scope and severity of breaking news events to build their story.
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.
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 behaviours, 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 high quality insights from data analysis 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.
While there are insights to be gained by monitoring popular social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, today’s security teams need to go omnichannel. Here are just a few of many to consider for potential threat detection and why they might be chosen by corrupt operatives.
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Twitter users want to be heard, which means most of the content posted is public. This makes Twitter a very good source of open data, and a very important network for most companies to pay attention to.
Mastodon is a Twitter-like platform where users post "toots" but comes with some key differences. It is a decentralized, federated network - meaning that instead of operating as one website and storing data in one place, it distributes data across thousands of websites and servers around the world. Each "instance" hosts distinct content types and communities.
Discord: The voiceover IP program Discord was originally designed for the Twitch gaming community to communicate and has versatile chat, video and voice capabilities (think a cross between Skype and Slack). It’s free and open for people to create their own “servers” and host either private, password protected, or public channels. With over 200 million users, Discord is conducive to illicit conversations and arrangement-making.
VKontakte: With over 500 million accounts, the social networking site VKontakte (VK) is one of the most popular social networks in the world. It has a Facebook-style interface, Foursquare-like check-ins, and a Pirate-Bay type of file-sharing service. Users can add friends, gain followers, create groups and share files freely. However, unlike Facebook, VKontakte falls under Russian operating laws, meaning a lack of IP restrictions and fertile ground for all kinds of activity.
Reddit: The 7th most visited website in the US (and 22th in the world), Reddit is an online forum and news aggregator. The content on Reddit is text-heavy and user-generated and there is A LOT of it. With over a million subreddits, basically anything you can think of, a Redditor has talked about it.
Raddle: Made by users who revolted from Reddit over bans on certain subreddits, Raddle functions very much the same way, but with less restrictions. Read: What is Raddle.me and Why Should Retailers Care?
Gab has a Twitter-like interface where users upvote posts to increase visibility. It has a decentralized design and lacks overarching moderation which makes it a popular place for controversial, extreme or hateful dialogues. Read: What Makes Gab a Critical Source for Threat Intelligence?
Telegram is an instant messaging, voice, and video messaging service, but with the extra features of auto-delete and added encryption (think a cross between WhatsApp and Snapchat). Telegram allows private or public group channels where users can post in a way that their identities aren’t shown, only the name and avatar of the group is revealed. With over 200 million active users, it’s no surprise that Telegram is an attractive app for unlawful activity.
Tumblr exists where social media and blogging overlap. Users can share links, photos, videos, and music. As of 2018, Tumblr was home to 168 billion unique posts. Tumblr is public by default, making it a very rich source of open source data.
OK.ru is a social network designed to help current and former classmates stay in touch. OK.ru allows users to set up a profile, connect with other users, engage in private chats and discussion boards, and share updates and images. OK.ru is very popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Flickr is a photo-sharing platform that encourages connecting with friends and other community members with tagging and commenting capabilities. Read: What is Flickr and Why Should You Care?
Youtube: The most popular video sharing network, YouTube allows users to upload, view, follow, and comment. There is a very diverse range of content and YouTube provides a deep source of data.
Vimeo: Artists and creators share, comment, and engage with others by following or viewing videos in curated channels within the Vimeo platform.
Snapchat: A mobile messaging app, Snapchat allows users to share pictures and videos (including live videos) that disappear after a short period of time. Snapmaps are a valuable resource for discovering breaking events all over the world.
4chan is an image-based bulletin board where anyone can anonymously post comments and share images. This candid platform is unique in that all threads expire after a relatively short amount of time. This creates an environment conducive to open expression.
Medium is an online publishing platform for amateur and professional writers. Users share content such as blogs, articles, and stories. Medium encourages long-form authentic content, which makes it a popular outlet for authors and journalists.
News: Bringing traditional news sources to a social media monitoring platform adds context to breaking news events and popular topics worldwide. Echosec aggregates news content from blogs, forums, news articles, and radio stations.
Pinterest is a visual search engine that allows users to create online bulletin boards. Users search specific topics or browse an endless feed of relevant posts based on their interests. Searching a topic on Pinterest may provide insight into how a brand or product is being perceived, and whether or not it is increasing in popularity.
Why not Facebook & Instragram? In 2016, Facebook tightened their security settings and no longer allows broad monitoring of their networks. That means data aggregation platforms can no longer access posts from these providers; however, some platforms (Echosec included) return Instagram and Facebook posts that are cross-published via Twitter. That said, although public Instagram and Facebook data provides immense value for marketing purposes, they are less desirable from a security perspective as most threats are more difficult to detect and tend to be hidden on the more obscure and less regulated platforms.
Speed of information has pushed cutthroat levels of competition in journalism institutions for years. Learning about a potential incident just minutes before others allows you to react first and get ahead. Tools that allow analysts, investors, and key players to be the first to know about money making opportunities are quickly creating a new space in the market deep insight into situations as they’re happening. Download the case study on Echosec for journalism. See how the citizen journalist website Bellingcat has adopted Echosec as their primary tool in the work of its contributors.
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 an 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.
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 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.
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.
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 neighbourhoods, 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 news is breaking in an area, the people on the ground will often post a photo before they flee the scene.
Social media, like the financial market, never sleeps. Twitter and Reddit are often the first place 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.
The applications for social monitoring and listening in the security industry are countless. Open source intelligence (OSINT) is an integral component to security and investigations. Event security, risk management, facilities and Executive Protection teams are all leveraging geofencing technology to ensure they are as informed as possible.
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 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 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:
Your location is your identity, not your app that says you were born in 1903.
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 centre before we can jump off in the evolution of retail, marketing, journalism or finance platforms.
Echosec is a data aggregation platform. We help companies around the world gain situational awareness through open source data, so they can better protect their people, brand, and assets.