In our last post ‘Social media planning: it’s time for some perspective’ we discussed the importance of data and research in social media planning. We cannot all be afforded with budget to go and gather research ourselves; we therefore have to rely on what’s already available and then work out ways in which to draw out relevant insights. This is an on-going challenge for digital communications professionals looking to run social media audits to help inform strategic thinking; locating trusted sources; merging different streams of information; then coming up with a means of analysis.
So where to start? There’s of course a tonne of information out there to sift through so below are a few suggestions on locating relevant data and then trying to make sense of it.
It’s probably worth saying at this stage that I’m no analyst or market researcher. I am however trying to make social media accountable like any other communications channel would be. In many cases this has meant coming up with bespoke analysis solutions.
Social media usage
Always start with your audience – rather than the platform. That’s the information that will be of value rather than the headline-grabbing stats the platforms will report on. Now, I’m aware that this won’t be accessible to everyone, but if you are working with a media or communications agency, check whether they have access to Comscore data. If they do, this is a great place to start in understanding which platforms have most traction with your target audience. You can also find some great insight from the likes of Ofcom – who produce regular reports into media consumption and attitudes, plus occasionally, market research companies will produce reports you can download for free (in return for a little information). For example, Mintel have just produced this report into Consumer Trends 2015 – a useful insight into how consumers are using digital channels. It is also worth thinking about other organisations that may have a vested interest in the social media habits of your target audience, for instance, particular private companies or charities. You never know, they may have already done some of the work for you.
If you do want to refer to or use someone else's data, always reference the source. Remember to always check the date when the research was compiled (you don't want anything older than 12 months), where it was compiled and the sample size (to ensure validity).
Owned social channels & creating benchmarks
I’ve decided to group the next two areas of social media planning, as you can’t really do one without the other. In both cases, there is no easy answer to pulling data. You need to come up with an analysis framework that works for you. Start by agreeing on what success looks like and who else is ‘doing’ social media well. This will help you firm up the metrics you want to measure and who you should be comparing to. A good example of benchmarking in the private sector is Social Brands 100 who have come up with their own algorithm to measure effective engagement on Facebook and Twitter. There’s no reason why you cannot come up with your own algorithms to measure how you perform against other organisations. It takes a bit of time (depending on how many organisations you choose and the time period you want to look at) but information such as community size, number of interactions, posts issued, even timeliness of response, is all publicly available to start analysing.
It’s also worth looking past the numbers when researching into other organisations. A lot can be learnt from community management style and process that can highlight interesting areas of opportunity or potential pitfalls to avoid.
Earned and organic social mentions
I’m aware of lots of conversations across government regarding online listening, and know that a number of tools such as RipJar and Brandwatch are already being tested/used. This is a great thing but only if there is an understanding of the role of these tools in social media planning (measurement and evaluation is a whole other topic area). What is the objective of your research? Is it to find out where conversations are happening around a specific topic area; the profile of users; influencers; or trends in conversations? The answer to these questions is usually “all of the above”. But remember to prioritise. What do you actually need? As although these tools are great at pulling in data quickly, nothing beats viewing each mention (or at the very least, a sample of mentions) to ensure accuracy. This can take some time.
There’s no right or wrong way to researching into social media usage – as already mentioned – there’s enough information out there. It does however take time and resource to understand the value of what's available. Just because activities, such as coming up with your own algorithms and analysis frameworks can be challenging, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. It’s an important part of building evidence to support all future social media decisions. It’s also worth adding, that building this level of rigor into initial planning will help wonders when you have to establish your measurement and evaluation approach later down the line.