Social Media Reality Check

POLIS event: Social media reality checkI’m at the LSE at the first of Charlie Beckett‘s Social Media Reality Check events for 2011.  Tonight’s session involves a panel including Hibah Hussain, Christian Gladwell and Ellen Helsper.

18:34 Charlie Beckett opens the event saying this is more a discussion than a series of answers.  He notes that connecting to people with a purpose is the focus of marketing, and there needs to be ongoing conversations about how connections between people are adapting to the world of social media.

18:40 Hibeh Hussain begins with presentation on Authenticity, relevance and social media communities – lessons from the BBC iPlayer.

She notes that there is a lot of positivity about social media and organisations have actually been using the technology in (at least potentially) an insidious fashion rather than an inclusive fashion.  Hussain began working with Interaction London on the BBC iPlayer, and observed how users of different types would engage with the architecture as well as with influencers who were speaking about adoption of the technologies.  She used discourse analysis to observe what people were talking about and find out how people were connecting with one another to discuss the topic.  She mapped the conversations between people and distinguished between user types (casuals, enthusiasts, influencers).

She notes that in her research of conversations, negative feedback was used as a means of generating iPlayer user ideas and converting unhappy users.  A clear finding was that responses from the BBC encouraged more detailed interactions and responses from users.

She concludes that the trustworthiness of the brand is key to how people respond via twitter, but also that conversations and spaces are key to encouraging positive interaction.

18:48 A question from the floor focuses on conversion of negative comments into positive comments. The audience member asks if there is a point where you shouldn’t respond to negative commentary.

Hussain says that in the case of iPlayer, if you are engaing with influencers, it’s dangerous not to respond.

Beckett asks about the sustainability of interaction.

Hussain responds saying that it’s not sustainable on a long term basis, but this is the role of social media experts now.

Another question focuses on the value of the hashtag as a means of prioritising questions.  Will key influencers be more inclined to use hashtags.

Hussain says that companies tend to use hashtags as a means of tracking interactions, so this can influence behaviour.

Another questions asks if there was a trend for BBC to respond more to negative tweets than positive tweets.

Hussain says that she did find that all negative tweets were responded to but that this would not be typical of commercial firms.

18:53 Christian Gladwell takes the stage, talking about more effective communication using social media.  He begins by asking questions about why social media is important.  He gets a few answers saying that the technology is important.  But then he focuses on one answer saying that audiences are already discussing brands online and this is what matters.  It’s more about listening to customers than standing on a street corner and shouting.

Gladwell says that his company is a social media intelligence firm, focused on audiences and interactions, quantifying and qualifying those interactions in order to inform strategic direction of the firm.

Gladwell goes through the case study of iPlayer, and showed how content needed to reflect the interest of the likely conversations emerging from promotion of the product. He noted that when research is conducted in a more ad hoc and informal fashion rather than a formal market research manner, it can be possible to inform how to frame content in everything from experimental tech (eg: augmented reality) to more traditional engagements.

19:09 Question from Kathryn Corrick is on the Augmented Reality example given, and why Interaction London decided to advise to use AR.  Gladwell says that it’s about the brief they were given as well as responding to the interests of product influencers.  So in the case of iPlayer influencers, there was research which indicated that AR would be of interest to these influencers.

Another question from the floor is on how Interaction London identified influencers. Gladwell notes that they have used a proprietary technology and series of metrics they use to identify influencers, and it’s the basis of their business model.

Gladwell notes that the objective of the organisation is key to what is measured.  He acknowledges that the quantification of qualitative experiences is necessarily flawed statistics, but he notes that clients are still looking for this.  He notes it’s therefore important to augment what’s wanted with more sophisticated customer interactions research.

19:22 Ellen Helsper is now up, commenting on the content she has heard thus far.  She notes that her response is framed by a series of questions. She wonders whether it’s useful to focus on positive or negative commentary, and whether it’s useful to focus on what is necessarily novelty oriented.  She also questions whether privacy needs more attention.  She notes that conversations that happen on twitter are categorically not the sort of conversations that happen in the pub. Comments that are released online are much more specific, and deliberately discussed publicly.

[JJ’s comment: Note sure whether she’s asking whether companies should see these conversations as private or public responses]]

Helsper also asks whether companies should really be building communities, and whether people actually want to commune in the manner some brands are advocating.

Finally, Helsper asks when firms need to step back from monitoring and controlling conversations that evolve in communities that do build around a brand, a product or a firm.

The speakers note that communities may not necessarily be the right strategy for firms if it doesn’t address community needs.

Questions from the floor:

When you have a real event that happens, a real community evolves naturally.  This tends to be amplified on social media.  Another speaker notes that brands can act as a context for engagement.  Kathryn notes that this is really more about identity rather than community.

Helsper says that it can be possible to have communities but it is often discussed online which is unhelpful and which don’t address community needs.  She notes that people who have developed ‘natural’ communities don’t want those communities invaded by commercial presence beyond the focus of the group.

We conclude the session discussing how to encourage interactions based on identified concerns or questions rather than on firms trying to direct audiences to their crafted messages.

We’re now heading to the pub.  If you have any questions or comments (or want to clarify any of what I’ve recorded here) please feel free to do so in comments.  Thanks and goodnight!

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