The definition of 'social media products', like much in the digital age, is a very much a moveable feast. Some sources regarding the social media sites themselves as the product, while others define 'social media products' as software packages, suites and websites that help to analyze social media interactions and traffic. Still others use the phrase to sell textbooks on the subject. Such books can make interesting reading and provide a useful overview for those new to the field, although it is important to bear in mind how quickly they can go out of date.
The social media landscape shifts rapidly – last year's hot topic can easily turn into this year's old news. Those who were using the internet in the 1980s will have cut their teeth on the Usenet newsgroups. These discussion groups were red-hot with technical information, file-sharing and lively discussion of anything and everything. The discussion group format is still very much alive, although this kind of communication is now much more tightly integrated into web pages. The dedicated newsreader software that was previously required to access discussions is long out of favor.
On a smaller timescale, websites come and go. MySpace and FriendsReunited are just two examples of social networks that have risen and fallen in the last few years. In the same way, the capabilities and requirements to analyze social media traffic also change rapidly. So if we define 'social media products' as the facilities that can be used to monitor conversations, postings and content, it is important to have an up-to-date understanding of the capabilities of such products -some examples follow.
What kind of traffic can be monitored?
The different social media tools that are available are designed to analyze some or all of the varied types of sites and their varying content. These can include blogs, photo content, video content, microblogs, networks and communities.The best social media products provide an integrated platform for analysis – but if a brand has more of a presence on one platform than others, then a more specialist tool may produce more meaningful results.
If a brand needs to monitor the blogosphere, a good place to start is the annual report produced by Technorati (the leading blog search engine) on the 'state of the blogosphere'. This very readable document surveys about 4000 bloggers and produces a detailed breakdown of what they are doing, why they are doing it, what they are blogging about and what platforms they use. Further social media products are available from Technorati, Google, Quantcast and others to acquire moment-by-moment metrics about the millions of blogs on the internet. These tools can also provide alerts, and help to filter out unused blogs and those with a very limited audience.
Monitoring Videos and Photos
The sheer volume of data on YouTube is bewildering, and analysis presents a challenge. Fortunately the site itself provides information to video owners at views, comments, subscribers and favorites. Further information also allows visibility of how viewers found videos and their demographics. With sufficient viewing data, it is also possible to find out one of the most crucial pieces of information – did they watch the video all the way through? Being able to hold customer interest is invaluable, and knowing which videos work and which simply produce 'switch-off' is extremely useful.
For photographic content, sites such as Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest can also provide logs of views and comments. There are also more specialized third-party tools available to extract more detailed data, such as forwarded photos, Facebook 'shares' and other mentions.
Monitoring the Social Web
Facebook makes it very easy to monitor 'likes' and comments on a page or group of pages – but the fact that a user has pressed 'like' does not mean that they will continue to interact with the page.More detailed metrics are available on the Insights page, available once a page has more than 30 'likes'.
Twitter has attracted many third-party analysis tools due to its open programming interface, and so it is possible to measure many more parameters. The 'TweetDeck' dashboard is now incorporated into the main site, while other tools such as bitly and Tweetburner use shortened website addresses that can be stuffed into tweets. These allow you to track how many tweets result in actual visits to your website.
What can be done with the results and reports?
Social media products can result in an overwhelming mass of information, and as yet there is no obvious standard for processing this data. One suggested overall metric is a 'social media score', which uses the basic question to customers: 'how likely are you to recommend this product to someone else?' The score compares the share of conversations that a brand has with that of its competitors, and then looks within those conversations to assess the positive, negative or non-opinions from customers.In this context, 'conversations' covers postings, comments, blogs, videos, photos and all other types of social content.
Such an overall 'how are we doing' metric can be very useful in alerting a brand to a social media crisis, rather than finding a problem via other channels. On a more positive note, a sudden improvement in the score will also alert that a recent addition is having a good effect on the brand.