Guru-Turned-Researcher Offers Right and Wrong Uses of Social Data, Tips for Winning in Social, What Apps to Watch, and More!
More than a decade since Facebook and Twitter became available to users worldwide and sparked the social media marketing revolution in earnest, social media data continues to perplex and tantalize market researchers.
I personally get asked by clients about social media listening data all the time, and I’m still stunned by how many misconceptions and how much confusion abounds out there!
So who better to kick off our first NGMR interview on the newly relaunched blog than a social media master strategist who has actually joined the ranks of consumer insights?
Jason Falls is one of the most highly sought speakers in digital marketing today, a consultant to Fortune 500s, the driving force behind Social Media Explorer—one of the most widely read social media marketing blogs in the world—and co-author of “No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing” and “The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing.”
In 2016, Falls became a bona fide consumer insights professional as founder and partner at Conversation Research Institute (CRI), which specializes in mining online conversations for consumer insights.
In this interview, Jason and I covered a range of topics including right and wrong uses of social media listening data, tips for winning in social, what apps to watch, and more.
I hope you get as much from the conversation as I did!
Q&A with Jason Falls
TA: Jason, you’re a social-media-guru-turned-market-researcher. Why did you decide to branch out into primary research using social data?
JF: The story I tell is that I’m just a dumb hillbilly from Kentucky. I can make strategy recommendations all day but if I don’t have data to back up my assertions, I am marketing by assumptions. And you know what happens when we assume. That’s a fun way of saying I truly think the best creative strategies and ideas I’ve developed over the years come from understanding the audience better. Research insights fuel better thinking, more effective marketing and growth. Without them, you’re a guesswork marketer. In my experience, guesswork marketers don’t last very long.
TA: You have quite an arsenal of tools you rely on, including several mainstream social media monitoring tools. Does one need more than one social media monitoring tool, and if so why?
JF: Depending upon the complexity of your brand and what you’re trying to track and understand in conversations, you may or may not need more than one tool. Most businesses, quite honestly, don’t need more than one. But it’s really based on what you’re trying to accomplish. There are tools better for real-time engagement and customer service-like routing and documentation. There are listening tools that are built with your brand name and products in mind. There are research-oriented tools that are more focused on helping you understand audiences, topics and find relevant conversations around broad topics, not specific brand names. I can make a use case for all of those things for any brand, but I can’t recommend one tool that does all those things better than others.
Analytics software like OdinText is an important gap-filler in offering what I believe is a stronger text analytics engine and practice than automated tools can produce. Social listening platforms present pretty charts and graphs but they’re all about counting keywords. If one is present more than another, make it bigger, a different color, etc. They’re not as good at coding and categorizing the conversations in a meaningful hierarchy that makes sense to someone trying to understand all the context. OdinText is less worried about counting and more worried about contextualizing. That’s a big difference.
TA: I’m familiar with a few of your case studies and you’ve made some available on your site. What are the best kids of problems to solve using social media data, and as importantly, what kind of questions should you not expect it to answer for you?
JF: Social conversations open doors to understand who your customers are, how they interact with your brand or products and how they interact with competitors and other forces at play in the market. What that means is that you can use social media conversations to understand use cases, product features and likes and dislikes of specific things like accessories or flavors or color schemes (to use some examples). These conversations can help you understand more about your customer experience and what’s good, bad, right or wrong about them. Plus think about this: You have audience demographics. You can also access psychographics in some cases. And with social media, you can see what I call socialgraphics (what people like, what content they read and interact with, who they’re friends with, who they follow, etc.)
But with conversation research, now you can also see what they say, to whom, when and where. The Conversation Data can fuel better targeting, more relevant opportunities for touch points with your brand, audience segmentation and more.
Yet, conversation research has its limitations. With it, you don’t direct the conversation. You eavesdrop. People say what they naturally say. You have to hope they are talking about the topic you’re looking to understand. While CRI does have a research-based approach to instigating conversations when they aren’t there, the truth is that very specific brand curiosities may turn around no results.
Conversation research is also limited by the connection to user demographic data. While most listening tools are able to identify a user as male or female the truth is that core demographic data like gender, ethnicity and location are typically scraped from social media bios. No only do some people not provide that information, but it isn’t necessarily accurate. None of the tools that I know of connect social activity to household income, either. That limits how effective conversation research can be with luxury products or services focused on people of a certain socioeconomic status.
TA: What do you see people doing wrong with regard to social media analysis?
JF: They’re relying on the tools alone. The last three research projects I’ve conducted included very specific and lengthy Boolean parameters of what we were looking for. A sophisticated tool should return a high degree of relevant results. But three different platforms turned around no greater than 9% relevant conversations. So out of 1,000 posts, I’m hoping I can use 90 of them to develop insights? That’s terrible. And to think … some people pay upwards of $3,000 per month for a tool that craps out 9% relevance?!
In order for our data to be optimally effective, you have to add human analysis to it. That’s why we started CRI in the first place. There’s a gap in the mid-market brands and agencies who don’t have analysts and don’t know how to use the analytics tools properly. We think we solve that problem.
TA: What three tips you would give to a brand wishing to increase its digital power?
JF: To me, it’s always been all about content. The best digital marketing case studies are always centered around great creative content. Sexy social media, email and website content is today’s 30-second spot. If you can create something that gets shared online, you’ve won half the battle. Invest in creative content.
Next, I would remember that even though you are your own publisher these days, people aren’t necessarily coming to you for your content. Build in a paid budget to strategically target your content at the customers or audience members who are most likely to want what it is you’re selling. The Internet is not a place where if you build it they will come. It’s a place where if you build it, then promote the crap out of it, they might come.
Finally, just be there for your customers. Respond. Engage. Like and comment on their stuff, too. The more friend-like you can be to them, the more friend-like they’ll be to you and the more top of mind you’ll be when they’re ready to buy something you sell.
TA: Any, what not to do’s?
JF: Don’t lie. Don’t hide. And whatever you do, don’t mess with Wendy’s. Heh.
TA: Can you name any cool new social media apps that are worth considering, or overlooked, especially for those who may not have a Fortune 500 budget?
JF: There are dozens, aren’t there? I’ve recently checked out Mentionlytics, a social listening platform out of Greece that runs $29 per month. I also like Zoomph, but it’s a little more expensive. And then there’s niche stuff like LinkInProfile.com which is a solution for people who want to add links to their posts on Instagram. Instead of changing out your profile link with every post or product picture, you can keep the link in your profile the same and send them to a landing page where your latest posts are categorized with the images and links you wanted to post in Instagram but couldn’t. So there’s always something new out there to play with.
TA: Finally, where do you get your inspiration? What individuals or sources do you look to?
JF: Straight heroin. Kidding. I read a lot of industry blogs and publications to stay up to speed on what’s trending and what-not. Christopher Penn always educates me. I read Jay Baer and Mark Schaefer. Valeria Maltoni makes me smarter. But I really get most of my inspiration from my kids. Grant (11) and Katie (8) make me want to work hard and be a better man every day. My only real goal in life is not to fail them.
Thanks for reading. What do YOU think?
PS. Who would you like hear from next? Send me your suggestions for NGMR interviews!
About Tom H. C. Anderson
Tom H. C. Anderson is the founder and managing partner of OdinText, a venture-backed firm based in Stamford, CT whose patented SAS platform is used by Fortune 500 companies like Disney, Coca-Cola and Shell Oil to mine insights from complex, unstructured and mixed data. A recognized authority and pioneer in the field of text analytics with more than two decades of experience in market research, Anderson is the recipient of numerous awards for innovation from industry associations such as CASRO, ESOMAR and the ARF. He was named one of the “Four under 40” market research leaders by the American Marketing Association in 2010. He is also founder and moderator of Next Gen Market Research (NGMR), a professional networking group for consumer insights practitioners, as well as the editor of the NGMR blog. He tweets under the handle @tomhcanderson.