Four-dimensional social media analysis (no, really)

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Quadrants. Marketers love ’em. Actually, I like them too. I like the way you can draw two axes and plot things on them, and get an instant idea of often quite complex issues.

I’ve been using this approach quite a lot recently to plot social media. There are many, many things you can measure once you start grabbing data. For example the Facebook insights dashboard is very rich, plus you can download the data and do your own analyses. The Twitter analytics are good too. However, if you really want to know what’s working you need to measure across channels, and across competitors. Measuring across channels means that you need to use metrics that work across all of them, to compare like for like. And measuring across competitors means you need metrics that are publicly, consistently, readily available.

So what to measure then?

Well, as I’ve already said, there’s plenty you can measure but that doesn’t fall into these categories. The most important measurements are obviously what you have decided your business needs to look at, which might be extremely specific such as reduced time to market, improved support outcomes and so on. But a good start is audience size and engagement.

Do this: identify a handful of competitors, and in a spreadsheet note down how many Facebook likes they have, and what their ‘Talking about this’ total is. Then go into Excel and plot them in a scatter chart. You can do this either way, with likes going across and ‘talking about this’ going up, or vice versa. What’s important is that you now see where you lie in relation to the competitors, just for Facebook. Your objective is to move across and up. In three months do the same exercise and you’ll see whether you’ve succeeded.

This is very basic, and I can just hear some of you out there wincing at the idea of reducing social media down to this. But sometimes you do need to distill to key metrics, not least for internal reports. Time-pressured CEOs might not want breakdowns of every possible metric. If they can just say a chart that shows you’re moving across and up, that might be enough.

Across channels, across competitors

So that’s just Facebook. Now think about plotting the other owned channels, and how audience size and engagement might be measured. For example, Twitter audience size is followers, and engagement is retweets or replies (hint: use Topsy to count these). YouTube audience size is subscribers, while engagement is channel comments. And so on. Note again that these all must be what works across all channels, and is readily, consistently, quickly available. I agree that view count might be attractive on YouTube, or loop count is impressive on Vine, but there’s no equivalent of these on, say, Facebook. You could go through individual comments for each video on YouTube, but that would take ages. And you could look at the number of views your blog gets, but you can’t for your competitors.

Three-dimensional analysis

Now you’re looking across your owned channels, and comparing them to competitors, and that’s a good start. But if you’re getting into pulling data via APIs and suchlike, you can also draw more insight and add more dimensions. For example, if you’re pulling in user data, you can identify the number of unique commentators. Change your scatter chart to a bubble chart, and now your audience size can be across, your engagement can be up, and the size of the bubble can be the number of unique commentators.

Or, if your data includes sentiment analysis, you can use that in some way. A nice way to show this could be to have engagement going across, sentiment going up, and the bubble size representing audience size. But be careful: automated sentiment can go wrong. That’s why I tend to ignore it, and just deal with the other three axes.

Can you beyond three dimensions?

Can we have four dimensions? Audience size, engagement, unique commentators and sentiment? Unfortunately not it would seem. It would be great to have a sliding scale of colour intensity for the bubbles but I don’t think Excel does this. If it does, please let me know! Also, it could just be a bit too complicated.

What about time? That’s another dimension, right? This can get quite interesting when you plot over time. You can do this in Excel using macros to go through the data but it can get very complicated and slow, plus your data has to be in exactly the right format for the macro to work. So I’ve been using a Windows macro recorder such as JitBit to update the date in a spreadsheet, grab the resulting chart, paste it into Photoshop in a new layer, and build it up that way. Then export as an animated GIF and you can start seeing the ebb and flow of how your owned channels are behaving. It’s a bit like watching one of those cool time-lapse videos of clouds scudding across the sky or flowers growing, blossoming, and dying within seconds.

This is what you can see at the top of this post. It’s from work I did quite a while ago and I think it’s old enough to share publicly now. You can see how the bubbles move around and I can tell you now that they do correspond to marketing activity. This actually goes beyond just charting using owned channels and in fact takes all mentions across all channels, so giving us an idea of where we lie in the marketplace of conversation.

In this instance I was able to show that the work I did had an impact, at least within just the social media-sphere. I’ve since used similar methods to prove similar effectiveness and actually secured more funding for social media initiatives. If nothing else, this shows that data analysis can lead to ROI. Now, let’s see if we can plot that…

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