Social media tribes – which hat were you wearing?

Villagepeople Still pondering my experiences at #measurementcamp earlier this week and have decided on a crude classification of social media activity which a client might wish to undertake.

At this stage I'm not going so far as sorting out different objectives but carving this rather slippery territory into a rather more familiar shape. And if we're going to classify then why not use a tried and tested segmentation system YMCA? Take it away boys..

Its listening

Easy this one – just find brand mentions or typical customer types and hang in there. This one has no measures because you're not trying to change anything. What you need to think about is how many conversations you are listening to. How many platforms are you going to listen on? And what is the relationship between the different platforms? Are you double counting the same people on different platforms?  Probably. Does this matter? Probably.

For those who worry about not being able to cover everything came the answer well you don't try to read every paper do you? Well no I don't but probably the company needs to. This plucking media platforms out of the air because that's who showed up sounds a bit like wandering into a newsagent and buying the Mirror beecause someone said they thought they had seen something about you. Listening may be a good starter but it would be unwise to stay here unless you want to be accused of dabbling. Which you basically are.

Its customer support

This frankly alarms me. The principle of writing a letter of complaint means I am annoyed enough make the effort to sound off and expect a reply. Having customer service representatives drifting through the ether looking for unhappy campers rather misses the point. Sometimes you moan about the trains to get it out of your system. It isn't a complaint. But it gets treated as one. I had an odd experience on peoplebrowser when I tweeted that it was a bit slow and got an immediate reply to explain myself. I felt as if I had upset the browser! I wasn't unhappy but the maitre d' bustled up and fussed. I hadn't complained. Turning every internet social media into a callcentre where you try to interupt every single negative sounds a bit Orwellian to me. And very expensive. And largely pointless. Because it doesn't make me positive – it reminds me that I am being monitored and that customer service people are now circling to neutralise me. This is NOT customer support. 

Its PR

Yes that's more like it and the first primary task of PR is to stop bad news. So pushing press releases artfully concealed in 140 lines or retweeting a positive comment – what an intelligent response hey everyone else take a look at this. Is a relatively complicated way of managing public opinion. PR people are usually conflicted about whether PR is done by trickledown – opinion leaders who they used to take out to lunch and now try to follow. Or if PR is picking up on trending topics in which case if you are on the cusp of the wave then you are fair game.  We get back to the earlier problem of double counting and who the people are on a given platform. Are we talking to the right people? Are we talking to enough of them? And even if you have a super aggregator and can listen and post to all of the platforms (which you can't) how representative are these people of what is going on. One of the paradoxes of social media is discovering that as people self disclose that they are all different. It was the pragmatism of marketing and polling that reduced human society to brain sized segments of anything from 5 to 25. People are a lot more different than that. This may come as a shock but there are huge tranches of human experience which can't be found online. They are almost unreachable because it costs too much to go and make friends and sit with them offline but online is not everybody. Its the ones who have a voice and hands to type, and an agenda, and time, and confidence. And who show up.  PR is about promoting relatively simple messages in a format which spreads them to everybody. Works great with journalists who trade in them. Works great with bloggers. Well that covered about 10% of the total population.

Its research

This is one of the toughest roles for social media. Because it has flake written all over it. We haven't yet found a way to directly sample social media to ensure that any group we listen to and talk to is representative. Without representativeness you might as well strike up conversation in the nearby pub and form your opinions from that. Which I'm sure a lot of journos do. But which clients are not willing to pay for as research. We have to solve the sampling problem. People have to be who they say they are and live where they say they live. We can redefine sampling. But we can't abandon it and still call it research. So at present if its research you want then you are going to have to validate your sample in other ways probably offline. 

Its direct response

This is more barefaced. My Dell's just given up the ghost? Fancy buying a new one then? Haven't Dell done well? Not complicated. You don't even have to talk to everybody. You just have to shift enough boxes. Talk to your customers at their point of need and they're probably more relieved than offended.  This isn't social discourse. Its selling. Dell don't want to talk. 

I break these out because if you are a client wanting to use social media you may want to do one of the above. But probably not all of them. If you do then I strongly recommend that you don't. Because each of these activities has a set of experiences and expectations attached to them. Which will protect the exchange. Stagger from one into the other and you will get into trouble very quickly.

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