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Understanding the differences between social media monitoring and social intelligence

Just as there are different levels of listening to human conversations, “listening” to social media discussions has a wide array of levels that deliver dramatically different results. These different levels offer different levels of insight, challenges and value to the organization. The strategic value and timeliness of the intelligence, and more importantly, the actionability of it to set strategy, make decisions and drive innovation largely determine this value.

With the growing rush of commentary around the importance of social “listening,” the idea that there are vastly different approaches has become lost in much of the discussion. ‘Social monitoring’ and ‘social intelligence’ are often used interchangeably, but are dramatically different on a variety of levels. Here’s a review of each “listening” approach:

An overview of social media monitoring

Social media monitoring was the first-generation social “listening” solution. Monitoring solutions tend to provide social “buzz” to a brand. This is basically a high-level thumbs up / thumbs down gauge of a brand’s sentiment among consumers.

Approach: Most social media monitoring solutions are Boolean keyword-based tools, allowing the user to input a set number of terms to search against a sampling of social media conversations, often within the large social networks, like Twitter and Facebook.

Strengths: Basic social monitoring is an ideal solution for brands that have highly specific topics and discussions they are looking for around an easily defined set of keywords. Looking for specific examples of explicit brand, competitor or hashtag mentions can all be delivered with keyword-based social monitoring. This can often provide consistent identification of verbatim social mentions to the brand.

Challenges: The primary issue for companies using monitoring solutions is that the “buzz” it delivers is generally at a very high-level, vague and are not actionable. It will give a basic measure of whether consumers like a brand or not, but will not specify what drives this sentiment. Also, if a brand is looking to discover unknown trends or discussions, social monitoring cannot generally uncover these unless specifically told to do so with keywords. Aside from this, there is debate around the accuracy of “buzz.” Major companies like Coca-Cola have tested measuring social monitoring sentiment with humans and computers, explaining, “When we say it’s positive, about 21% of the time the machine says it’s negative. That can cause some problems in our understanding.”

Ideal Candidate: Social monitoring (often with simple keyword tools) is ideal for companies who are in search of a simple, overarching social barometer on their brand.

Listen Lowdown: This is much like hearing a conversation, but not necessarily understanding the important details of it.

Breaking down social intelligence

Overview: Social intelligence is the next-generation of social “listening” solutions. These intelligence solutions deliver multi-dimensional insight on a brand and its features, promotions, shoppers, consumers and influencers. This basically delivers deeper trend analysis, behavior tracking and overall understanding of audience analysis.

Approach: Achieving social intelligence requires streaming big data processing to filter and classify billions of daily social conversations across the expansive open social universe, which spans far beyond merely Facebook and Twitter. Advanced solutions also incorporate complex concept modeling in place of keyword lists to identify key discussion concepts across an infinite number of social expressions.

Strengths: Perhaps the strongest point of social intelligence is that it tends to provide highly specific insight that is very actionable to a brand. From this, strategic mapping of customer journeys, consumer personas, shopper demand moments and feature sentiment can be built and used to guide decision-making and set strategy by listening to millions of social discussions. These solutions can also detect risk and threats to the enterprise in social media threats to help protect both the enterprise and the various brands.

Challenges: The biggest challenge with social intelligence is finding a solution that has both the technological advancements and expertise to discover and deliver insights. To process the billions of daily social discussions across millions of sources requires sophisticated streaming big data processing to churn through the massive amount of content. In order to filter the spam and noise and classify the information and intelligence, in turn, requires concept modeling to find intelligence through the complexity of online social media analysis.

On top of this, analytical expertise adds a powerful dimension to interpret and analyze the intelligence to extract powerful, strategic insight. This is why many leading brands are investing in partner solutions to drive their social intelligence needs.

Ideal Candidate: Social intelligence is ideal for brands looking to deeply understand their markets, shoppers, consumers and competitors. On the other side, it’s also ideal for enterprises looking to detect and track emerging social threats like boycotts, protests, extortion, lawsuits and brand jacking.

Listen Lowdown: Social intelligence is much like listening to a conversation and understanding the specific details of it.

What's the bottom line?

Determining whether social monitoring or social intelligence is the right approach for a company largely depends on what the organization is looking to accomplished with their social “listening” endeavors.

Traditional social monitoring can serve as a snapshot barometer of social sentiment and provide cursory “buzz” on a brand, but beyond this is very limiting when it comes to actionable insights to guide decisions and strategy. This solution type can pick out explicit examples of exactly what the brand is in search of but will also tend to miss a lot of relevant intelligence and typically lacks the ability to discover valuable insights beyond the selected keywords to search.

Conversely, social intelligence can provide deeper advanced insights used to guide decisions, set strategy and detect threats to the business. However it can be a daunting undertaking for an organization to achieve without a strategic partner given the need for big data processing, concept modeling and general expertise.

As the need to “listen” to customers, prospects and influencers becomes increasingly vital to business strategy, companies will have to determine the level of insight and understanding they want for their organization.

This post was first written for Social Business News in 2014 so some of the information and vendors may not be around anymore.