The tact of social media monitoring

In context of ongoing commentary about social media and branding, Adrian Chan observed on Twitter that “metrics analyze individ[ual] tweets for brand mentions and sentiment, losing context of talk and user’s relationships.” Follow-on conversation with Thomas Vander Wal and Chris Baum focused on opportunities for network conversation analysis to elicit valuable information about the social context of brand mentions.

The challenge for marketers lies in how to use this information in a way that preserves trust with customers. Trust is a leading indicator, and, as proposed by Chris Heuer, an important metric to assess a company’s relationship with its customers. Even though a company may have this information – and it is publicly available – doesn’t mean that using it well is easy.

Privacy is over, said Scott McNealy in a famous speech a number of years ago. The topic about the amount and richness of public information is often cast in terms of surveillance, privacy violation, individuals vulnerability, the need to protect against threats, and the futility of doing so. But for many sorts of information and in many contexts, privacy isn’t the salient concept.

There is another important concept from city and village living – the concept of tact. In coffee shops and restaurants every day, people converse about the matter of their lives – their kids schools, weekend plans, sports injuries. This doesn’t mean that it’s socially appropriate for the person at the next table to jump in and express an opinion about how to treat tendonitis. The participants aren’t trying to keep the information confidential – they know that what they’re saying can be overheard. But they take advantage of social norms of tact to assume that other people are choosing to politely ignore their conversation.

Similarly marketers may observe groups of people who discuss travel, or shopping, or gadgets, or heath. Some marketers search for broad keywords and auto-follow anyone who mentions the keyword. Additional social analysis would let them auto-follow others in the conversation, too. The marketer now has the power to jump in and start promoting themselves to everyone in the conversation. These crass activities violate the trust of the people in the conversation.

More sophisticated tactics entail longer-term listening, engaging in conversation when it’s sought and called for, using lower-touch gestures like retweets to engage recognition when appropriate. Employees participating as themselves act as community members and are community members. With an understanding of the culture, marketers can participate in and catalyze welcome public conversations. Within this context, it becomes valuable to know key conversational clusters to help spread information of shared interest, in a way that builds on shared interest instead of violating the sphere of ignoring. When participating with a business identity, tact is key to protect one’s reputation and customers’ trust.

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