5 common lies I’ve heard told by agencies doing social media listening

I work at an agency where I am very proud of our social media listening and insight function – in fact I consider it a real strength of the agency.  But over the years I’ve had the opportunity when working in broader roles for clients to sit in presentations by other digital agencies about their listening reports.  I’ve been less than impressed by some.  What has really bugged me is the misdirection and fudging answers to client questions I’ve heard.  Here are just some of the statements I have heard made, which hardly ever lived up to full scrutiny.

1. “We have a global footprint!”

Often actually meaning they have a number of other English language offices (eg. NY, Sydney).  This isn’t much use when global brands usually require on-the-ground social media monitoring in countries where the language isn’t English; and not just a few countries, but many.

So dear client ask them:

“Who exactly do you have in what countries that will be doing the local social media monitoring for us? Can we see the types of insights they have generated in any other listening reports in that language?  Are they part of your firm or a local agency you choose to work with?”

2. “We have a big team of X people who only do social media listening for our clients”

The truth being they have a couple of specialists in social media monitoring, using tools like Sysomos and Radian 6 and can derive valuable insights from interpreting data from them.  What they have a lot  of is other very inexperienced people who grasp the basics of working some of the more mundane features of the tool.

So dear client ask them:

“Can I meet your whole team and have them talk me through the tool and their work using it?  Do you (mr presenter) ever use the tool yourself?”

3. “Our people are unique because…”

I’ve heard this so many times.  Usually our people are unique because “they live and breathe social media in and out of work”.  Well I’d bloody well hope so if they work in a social media agency.

So dear client ask them:  

“Forget the staff at your agency, what do you think qualifies YOU to present about social media listening and insight?” 

4. “We have to automate that process because….”

Usually in regard to listening for sentiment around a topic the bullshit spews forth.  I hear that listening tools are over 80% accurate for measuring sentiment and we have to rely on that automated indicator.  Firstly, leading listening tool providers have privately told me that true sentiment guaging accuracy is almost always below 50%.  But this can be improved upon if the sweat and hours are put in agency-side to go inside the system and make tweeks to improve its ongoing sentiment accuracy for a given brand.  Or  by using staff to manually go through any articles marked as neutral and assign them as either positive or negative

So dear client ask them:  

 “How much elbow grease in the sentiment analysis will we get for our money, or in your opinion will the automated analysis suffice even though not 100% accurate” 

 5. “We have come up with some fascinating insights…”

a)      An observation is not an insight.  And an observation as bland as “lots of people talk about this topic online” is about as valuable as telling me that my back is hairier than I’d expect it to be.

b)      Insights should warrant their title by having the possibility of leading to something…strategic change, product R&D, a new tactic

c)       Listening reports ROI lies in the insights NOT the observations, it doesn’t matter what was seen through the listening report, it matters what we can deduce from what was seen

So dear client ask them:  

“You call that an insight? Please introduce me to the big brains responsible for pulling actual insight out of the data” 

 The truth is that not all listening reports will produce earth shattering insights, lead to a new product being developed or divert a crisis before it has occurred.  But the clearer the objectives for the listening reporting from the client then the more likely you are to get something useful out of it, and when you get something useful it can be worth its weight in gold.


One thought on “5 common lies I’ve heard told by agencies doing social media listening

  1. Nice post Jono – I like the insight and observation comment.

    I think listening reports can be extremelly useful when examining a new market or looking for key trends but you need a decent sample size to get anything of any real quality. I also think what people say they are going to do and what they actually do has to be taken into consideration.

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