It’s fine to plot the interest graph, but what happens next? (Social Media Week panel)

In a panel discussion today on social listening at the swanky new SF PeopleBrowsr office, the interest graph formed the basis of a lot of the discussion. I guess I’m out of touch with social media monitoring as this concept was new to me. First we had the social graph, of which I’m aware: a mapping of all your connections (say friends and family) to whom you are connected across social networks. Now with some degree of overlap, you can also plot an interest graph: this time mapping connections based on a shared interest. Susan Etlinger of Altimeter used the example of a fashion site where people build connections based on couture. You may not share these interests with your grandma, but only a small subset of your friends, and the extended network of aesthetes you meet on the fashion site.

Jodee Rich from PeopleBrowsr suggests these interest networks are of more value to businesses as it gives a truer value of an individual’s importance to them. Businesses will get more value by targeting their communications around those people who have authority in that interest area (interest graph). Context is everything. You only have authority in relation to an interest (or theme). Having 500K followers on Twitter means nothing unless those followers share the common interest which is of value to the business tracking you.

This got me thinking where my own social presence and my social and interest graphs lie. By day I work in the technology sector and I generally share with people with this interest (from within my company or external folk) on Twitter. This is where I geek-out. Now I do have the other side to my online communication: where I share pictures of my newborn, other interests like music and art and bizarre oddities I find on the web. This extra-curricula activity all happens on Facebook. And rarely do the twain meet. I know not everyone divides up their online existence to this extreme, but many will have some degree of division and in these cases businesses need to ensure that they have tools that can map across the different networks in use.

When it came to what businesses should do with all this listening intelligence they build, I felt that there were more questions than answers. Tim O’Reilly proffered that sophisticated companies will go beyond business intelligence and use social listening to shape business processes. Effectively molding products and services around what the audience says it wants. However, he also suggested that this ‘autonomic’ model of business should have some human component if I understand rightly what he later said about ‘humans going the last mile’. Computers can only go so far before some level of human intervention is required to make sense of the data and take appropriate action. I’m uncertain as to at what point human intervention really makes sense and I know this is a hot topic of debate in decision management science.

O’Reilly also states that ‘great companies have everybody listening’. Listening isn’t just the domain of marketing or comms departments, but everyone can get involved and use this input from the market to drive the company forward.

I can see a flaw in this plan: the tooling.

I have problems enabling anyone to listen who doesn’t have social media responsibilities written into some part of their function. Even if I can get them access to a social media monitoring dashboard, they’ll be looking at the predefined generic terms determined by the marketing/comms team that setup the tool. This won’t include the terms that a local office would need to monitor the conversation relevant to them. So I inevitably end up pointing them to personal social media tools like Tweetdeck, which lacking any kind of workflow, offers no scope for coordinating conversations.

Brian Solis deserves a shout-out for doing a wonderful job of guiding the conversation and even working in a ‘sexy’ Marvin Gaye reference.

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