July 05, 2012

Buying Guide to Social Listening Tools Each year I survey social listening tools seeking to find a better mousetrap. This year, with the able assistance of Rachel Hong, we’ve plunged into the world of machine learning, word proximity algorithms and blathering sales pitches to yield five observations. They are Black Boxes. Nobody will show you the math and nobody makes claims of accuracy or access to historical data that can be independently verified. While particularly frustrating to math guys, this posture obscures competitive differences rather than illuminates them. No vendor has a toolset even closely resembling the NSA or the accuracy and AI possessed by intelligence agency data mining tools. Most sales reps can’t answer the second question, “How does it work?” The Same with Different Monikers. Some call it “natural language processing” others prefer “machine learning” still others call it “textual analysis” or “semantic analysis” but in the end it’s all the same. Each vendor has a word proximity algorithm that assigns a positive, negative and neutral value to words. Some claim to have databases of idiomatic terms and others claim to enable brands to add their own idiomatic dictionary or industry jargon to the search parameters. Basically these tools score sentiment based on the words closest to the target keywords. A great example is “Brand X is the sh*t.” Within 5 words of the brand name a negative term appears. All the tools score this as negative sentiment. Yet anyone who lives in our culture knows that it is the highest possible praise from a significant youth demographic segment. The good news is that they all err the same way. The bad news is you don’t get a full, clear picture of what’s being said or meant. They Don’t Reveal Insight. Most tools return bell curve results. They show smallish numbers of positive sentiment and smallish numbers of negative sentiment but display a huge amount of neutral (non-score able) sentiment. This is the real limitation of these tools, they don’t really tell you what’s going on. They suggest a direction that becomes the starting point for live, human analysts digging into the posts, tweets, comments and chat items to find out what’s really being said about your brand, who’s talking and to apply a human filter to the words, attitudes or sentiment they discover. Influencers are a Chimera. Many tools pretend to reveal key influencers in the social arena. Most count the volume of posts or the number of friends or followers or both. On the basis of volume, they designate individuals as “influencers.” But we all know that volume and influence are two totally different concepts. The mouth reaching the most ears or blabbing more often may not be the most persuasive and visa versa. In many cases influencers are bloggers who have a volume of either followers or posts. But in most cases there is no real way to understand how influence is defined, counted, tracked or how it changes over time. The ability to identify genuine influencers is an illusion perpetrated by Klout, Kred and others. But it’s as phony as a three-dollar bill. Since none of these tools can legitimately track downstream activity nor can they penetrate some of the closed systems (e.g. Facebook) where influence is accumulated and wielded. And since no one will share their “secret” formula or have a credible third party verify their methodology, there is no reason to trust or believe them. But, as we used to say about the Nielsen Ratings, they are the only or best tools we have. So to make optimal use of these evolving social listening tools and to decide which works best for your brand set your buying priorities in terms of needs and usage. If the math and the mechanisms are roughly the same, determine which one works best on these 3 criteria. Staff Resources. Do you have analysts dedicated to this social listening and sentiment mining? If so, ease of use is a secondary consideration. A more complex filtering tool might work best. If not, and civilians will have to make use of the tool, ease of use is the primary consideration. Dashboard/Graphics. Many of these tools tout their graphics packages, which produce a wide array of colorful charts and graphs that can easily become a dashboard. If you have designers, artists or PowerPoint wizards on your team, this doesn’t matter. If you don’t this can save you time and give you a very professional look regardless of data quality. Price. If you have a serious investment...
Pinterest Pinning Strategies Revealed Everyone wants to be a Pinterest pioneer. The allure of 20+ million women madly pinning, re-pinning and endlessly gawking over all kinds of merchandise is irresistible for many marketers. In the wake of the land rush to set up branded pin boards and become first movers comes the first data on the dynamics of brand interactions on Pinterest, courtesy of Pinsights. Analysts at the Banner Peak Group tracked pinning and virility for 22 retail brands with an average of 30,000 followers who had been on the platform for at least 60 days and had a minimum of 100 pins. The goal was to establish performance benchmarks. You can get the data here. They found that brands are trying to understand how women use Pinterest and to find the right content and cadence to appropriately represent their brands and engage likely customers and prospects. For example, they identified three basic pinning strategies. Mavens pin images from sources other than their own websites. These are the guys who aren’t heavily regulated by their legal department. Connectors re-pin stuff that’s not their own. These marketers are insulating themselves from copyright or trademark liability by passing along stuff that others initially found. Showcasers stick to pinning content from their own websites. These brands, like several of my clients, are under strict orders not to create new legal liabilities. And guess what? Mavens get the most viral pass-along: 60 percent higher than the brands that only pin their own stuff and 30 percent higher than the perennial pass-along re-pinners. This suggests that Pinterest users are more attracted to how a brand connects with their interests and sensibilities rather than how a brand displays its wares. The user expectation seems to be that collectively we surface and celebrate images that resonate with our friends or reflect our tastes, aspirations, aesthetics, sensibilities and interests. Users voting with the “pin” button are indicating that brands are welcome but not the focal point. In terms of tactics, brands pinned to an average of 25 boards, pinning 60 images per week. Four out of five of those pins are original content, but 2/3rds are images from websites other than their own. The average title length is five words or less and the average pin description is 14 words or less. Brands stick to pinning in the official Pinterest categories. The most popular brand categories are women’s apparel, hair and beauty and DIY & crafts. Pinning strategies go from brand pins or re-pins concentrated in a single category to brands pinning across a wide spectrum of categories. Retail brands have imported Twitter directional/sorting conventions onto Pinterest. On average 28 percent have imported the hashtag (#) into pins but only six percent have used the @ symbol. In general, brands don’t automatically reciprocate when women follow them. The data illustrates the awkward struggle retail brands face in this new game. Brands are out there looking for appropriate boards to meet, greet and engage their peeps. They are sensitive to being to egocentric and too pushy. Using test-and-learn methodologies and borrowing the conventions from other social networks, brands are seeking out the right openings, the right tags and associations, the right one-to-one call outs and the right inflection points to enter the conversation. What’s not clear is what, beyond a presence, do brands want to achieve? And what role does Pinterest play in a broader social or integrated marketing plan? Many brands rushed to Pinterest because of the hype and because that’s where the customers are. Less clear is how Pinterest plays in-tandem with Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr and how a presence on Pinterest might create an experience that synchs up with, compliments or enhances brand assets like stores, websites, catalogs or advertising. If Facebook is about sharing and liking, is Pinterest a variation on that theme or something entirely different? Is Pinterest the vehicle to communicate a brand’s back story, expose its essence, voice and personality and articulate its design or visual perspective? Virility on Pinterest has its own patterns. Brands using pins from other sources enjoy 50% more virility than images from their own website. Re-pins are twice as viral as original brand content. But only 3% of pins get more than 10 re-pins per 1000 followers. And unlike other social media, the 80/20 rule doesn’t apply. On Pinterest the top 10 percent of pins generate less than 40 percent of re-pins. It’s about finding things that appeal to different women in different ways. Unlike hitting the “Like” button, which has...

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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