Social Media Overload--How to make sense of it all

Blogs and Linked In and Twitter, oh my! So much information, so little time… It’s all a bit overwhelming.

Imagine my relief when Peter Buechler, publisher of the Marketing Guy 2.0, told me that help was on the way. Full of hope and expectations I set off to attend this morning’s breakfast meeting: Social Media Overload—How to Make Sense of It All.

Kudos to the organizers

It was a fabulous morning with fantastic presentations packed with worthwhile information. That said I realized that I misinterpreted the title. Rather than addressing the problem of information overload, the conference offered ideas for reducing the time and effort it takes to process data. Thanks to Bob Collins and Diane Hession of Communispace for hosting a useful and informative event!

Start with aggregation

First up was Joe Cascio from People Browsr. When he asked, “How many social networks can you go to?” I knew I had met a kindred soul.

Joe then showed us a product he’s developed that will enable you to filter and view posts from multiple social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) on a single dashboard. His perspective: “You shouldn’t have to go to multiple sites every time you want to communicate. After all, I don’t have 50 telephones”.

The "overload" is real

Before the audience became too complacent, Michael Durwin of Gathr Me upset the applecart with his company’s pitch video. This video presented statistic after statistic showing how many people add content to the Internet every day. For example, “Did you know that 184 million people publish a blog?”.

Tuning out is not an option

Tongue in cheek, Marta Kagan offered another solution for managing information overload—just stop listening. I have to admit that I’ve executed on that strategy more than once—because I didn’t have time to process all the information I so diligently gather.

She then warned the audience that shutting down is not an option. Instead, companies need to be diligent about “listening” to what’s being said about them—and more important to who is pretending to be them and speaking for them--or they’d end up like Exxon

Know what matters and don't lose focus

Actually neither Michael nor Marta left the audience hanging. Michael advised defining clear objectives and Marta reminded the audience to concentrate their attention on the areas that mattered most to them.

To do so, they recommended basic tools such as RSS Feeds, Google and other readers, content aggregators, Google alerts and Twitter searches. One of Michael’s suggestions, that made me uncomfortable from a privacy perspective, was that we aggregate all our information using a single tool such as Gmail.

Extracting meaning is the holy grail

The last speaker, Michael Troiano sits on the board of Crimson Hexagon. Michael offered another great quote: “Data is abundant. Information is free. Meaning is what matters most.”

Crimson Hexagon has software that mathematically analyzes social conversations with the goal of extracting meaning. Michael told us about a recent project where the goal was to find out about how people feel about men’s grooming products.

The analysis showed that people care about effectiveness and price and that more people care about effectiveness than price—conclusions that the company’s marketers anticipated. The big surprise, however, was that men also want the product to feel good when they’re using it.

Michael then pointed out that this is just the beginning. When paired with a tools that tracks which content was produced by the most authoritative sources, marketers can also determine what or who drives interest in a particular product characteristic (such as effectiveness, price, or scent).

As someone who does a lot of marketing research, I was impressed with the potential power of this tool to help segment markets, develop buyer personas, and reduce research costs. As a marketing strategist, however, the real value will come from really pinpointing where companies should invest to wield the most influence over purchasers in each market segment they address.

Back to metrics

During the question and answer period, a number of people discussed metrics including Dell’s recent claim that Twitter had generated more than $3 million in revenue in 2008. The speakers were united in insisting that the only metric that matters is sales.

One distinguished between three activities: monitoring, engagement and activity. He said that social media can help with engagement but engagement does not translate directly to sales.

What engagement does do is build social equity. It brings people to the table and they may refer others to the table. But there are no sales until someone executes an activity. In the case of Dell, a message and an offer delivered via Twitter caused people to execute the activity of going to a landing page and making a purchase.

In short, the sales were produced by conventional direct marketing. Or, as one speaker noted, the strategies remain the same, social media only changes the tactics.

How do you manage the torrent of information?

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably a consumer of social information. Are you overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fascinating information out there? If so, what’s your strategy for staying on top of it—given there are still only 24 hours in a day?

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