All this talk on the social web

I think we can all agree that social media has taken over how we communicate.

I think we can all agree that social media has taken over how we communicate. There are now more than 500 million tweets written every day by around 645 million Twitter users, and Facebook is now the third largest country on the planet with 1.3 billion active users.

Video-sharing platform YouTube is the second-largest search engine on the web with 100 hours of video uploaded every minute. Platforms like Tumblr are generating 80 million blog posts per day with users spending 18 minutes per visit scrolling through content, making Tumblr the most engaging platform after TV at 43 min per session.

So what does this all mean? Why should I care and what impact does this have on me or more importantly on my organization? No one would argue that social media is pervasive; however, it is no longer dominated by Millennials, that's to say broadly those under 30. It is now a real channel of communication used by professionals. Stories break more often on social platforms than in traditional publications and the conversations around those stories spread like wild fire. Even, the Securities and Exchange Commission has now approved the publication of regulatory announcements on social networks.

So, what differentiates social media from traditional media and news sources? In truth, very little. If journalists share their stories on a social network, they appear online in the same way as they would on the publication's website. But that's almost not the point. This massive social platform for information sharing produces a staggering volume of noise – spam, irrelevance, and non-influential content – that makes it difficult to get to what could impact your organization's reputation. If you can find a way to take out this noise, then what is left can be very useful in recognizing issues and opportunities that are developing before they do reputational damage. 

To date, organizations tend to spend significant amounts of time on big data statistics from their social media outreach and listening tools. The reason that statistical insight into social media has become so popular is obvious – it's (relatively) easy to produce. This is fine as a measurement of presence, but where you will find true value is in the granular detail that has real reputational impact, or even more importantly impact on the valuation of a business. To scrape the social web for relevant mentions and then tabulate them into a variety of statistics is a software challenge of which there are many competitors. But extracting meaning, rather than numbers, is a harder technological challenge. Technology can take you some of the way, but it's only through the application of experienced human involvement that you can accurately extract meaningful insight into what's being said about your organization on the social web.

None of this is to say that statistics are useless – indeed they can give a good indicative lead for someone looking to understand social presence. What is important to understand is that there's no replacement for having a real qualitative understanding of what's being said about your brand on the web, rather than the quantitative analysis that many automated dashboard systems and online tools will offer as the answer.

The leadership of any organization now needs to accept that the social web is in the driver's seat of reputation and the conversations taking place there are having a real impact on the growth and future value of the business and its products. These conversations are what keep us up at night. The unknown can be quite frightening and an organization that listens to what is being said about it and identifies what is important, regardless of the channel of communication, will be better empowered to make the right decisions.

Frank De Maria is CEO for the Americas at Social360.

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