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2015: The year social media listening grows up

Happy New Year, everyone. This is the time of year where everyone makes predictions to show off how smart they are. At least they seem smart until you read the predictions later. I am too smart to make predictions, so instead I will tell you what I am already seeing that sounds like a prediction only if you also don’t know it. I am working with more and more clients who are taking an approach to social media that few were doing even a year ago. It has to do with Boolean searches.

Now, if you don’t know what a Boolean search is, we’ll catch you up. Boolean searches use connector operators, such as AND, OR, and NOT, to filter the data you want from the data you don’t want. The reason that’s important in social media listening is that you don’t get much value from analyzing the wrong social listening data. So, Boolean searches are the way that most technology vendors help you find the right social conversations.

And when it works, it’s great. I mean, suppose you are the marketing manager for the Volkswagen Touareg. If you search for “Volkswagen Touareg” or even “Touareg” across all of social media, you better believe that you are grabbing all the right conversations. It’s a certainty that when you find those words, you have the right conversations.

But what happens when you change jobs, and now you are the marketing manager for the Volkswagen Golf. Now, you can still search for conversations that say “Volkswagen Golf” or even “VW Golf,” but what if someone says, “I love my new Golf?” Wouldn’t you want to search for conversations with just the word “Golf,” too?

Well, that doesn’t work that well, does it? You’ll get every conversation about the sport of golf, when you don’t want any of them. That’s where the power of Boolean search comes in. You can just change your search to say, “golf AND NOT club” or “golf AND NOT club AND NOT course” and well, the list could go on quite a while. But when you do that, you lose tweets such as, “I love my Golf so much that I am going to start a fan club” or “My Golf is getting old so I am looking for a new Golf, of course!”

Although Boolean searches can be somewhat helpful in eliminating the wrong conversation, they unfortunately throw out the baby with the bathwater at times. As the Golf marketing manager, you will likely find that it is so complicated to come up with a good Boolean search, because there are so many words you need to negate that go with the word “golf” (ball, pro, mini, bag, cart, and many more) that you eventually just give up and search for “Volkswagen AND Golf” and just miss out on all the conversations that mention Golf by itself.

The reason I think that social listening is growing up is that there is a better way. You can use relevance feedback techniques to easily isolate the right conversation, usually in a matter of minutes. [Full disclosure: I serve as a senior strategist at Revealed Context, which offers this exact technology.] By simply choosing which conversations are relevant and not relevant, you can train the machine learning system to pick the patterns that allow it to distinguish between the car conversations and the sports ones.

I am starting to see clients using social media listening in brand new ways–ways that require that the filtered conversations be accurate–as a substitute for traditional market research. It’s just as important to filter the right conversations for market research in social media as it is to sample the right respondents in a survey.

Let’s hear from you. What trends do you see emerging in 2015?

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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