Social media is upon us, and many of us in the communications field are grappling with the massive amount of insight – and noise – that can come from outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the cornucopia of new tools with bizarre names and clever innovations on how people will communicate in the coming years.  It is up to us to determine the smartest ways to use this treasure trove of social media data to help us do our jobs better.

Social Media Insights

Most approaches to deriving social media insights rely on a number of fundamental approaches:

  • Extracting trends in keywords, sometimes paired with semantic analysis to identify topics and tones of interest;
  • Creating keyword “clouds” in order to try to visualize hot topics (with varying degrees of usefulness I might add); and
  • Identifying key influencers based on followers, shares of postings, and frequency of topical postings.

But one area that is gaining favor is tying traditional media to social media to determine which stories and issues are resonating in the marketplace.  As a given article is shared more and more, it indicates that the issues discussed resonate within the social media ecosystem.  If it is a good story, that is great news.  But if the story is negative or problematic, social sharing can indicate a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

Electric Utilities: What engages audiences in social media?

Some issues and topics tend to engage the social media sphere more than others.  And as communicators, we can use that knowledge to our advantage – using the right channels to address issues, share messages, and further our cause.

For example, in a detailed Energy Industry benchmarking study conducted by our analytics team, we found that certain topics tended to get notably more Social Momentum (a proprietary index score that measures social media sharing activity).

In the graph below on the left, you can see the number of mentions of key initiatives in the Energy industry (note that these are not based on a simple count of keywords, rather human analytics based on the macro concepts listed).  During the period, Reliability was the most covered issue, while Customer Service was covered the least.

But in the graph to the right, you can see that when it comes to Social Momentum, Customer Service coverage was shared far more often in social media (about 35% more than other frequently covered topics).  Rates came in second, and Reliability came in a relatively distant third place.

In the Energy example above, the data tells us that we would likely have strong social media engagement when spreading messages about Customer Service, which may encourage increasing social media efforts there. Alternatively, for issues surrounding Community and Philanthropy, we might either focus less of our social media efforts there due to a lower ROI, or perhaps we might move to change the conversation online by investing more in social media on those topics (which are often positive) to raise their social media presence.

Knowledge is Power

So what does this mean to us in communications and marketing?  It means we need to respect the power of social media to share traditional and Web content.  It means we need to acknowledge and act on social media’s power to proliferate traditional and Web content.  And, more importantly, when we are focusing our efforts in social media, it means we should be focused on the areas where engagement is most powerful.

Social media is, in many ways, a gift to marketing and communications teams.  It gives us volumes of real-time data that can tell us a lot about the marketplace and how our companies are received.  But the true value comes when we can be creative and use real, accurate data to guide our strategy.  Social media intelligence tells us what matters most to our audiences – and we should use that knowledge to our advantage.

Eric Koefoot is a Managing Partner at PublicRelay. 

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