Klick Health

Limits to listening

Senior Director, Social Media

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I love social listening, it is one of only a few ways to get insights into what patients and caregivers truly think. These are spontaneous conversations about topics that matter to these patients and which convey their real, unfettered feelings. Even so, there are limits to what social listening can tell us.

Social media listening has been around for nearly as long as the modern social channels. Since around 2008 or so marketers have been able to sift through the then-millions and now-billions of conversations for their topics of interest and pull out insights about what these users think. As social media has expanded to the vast majority of the population (74% of online Americans, according to PEW Internet) its skew towards the younger, more technically-savvy population has reduced and now it really does provide a fairly robust view into most patient populations.

Social Blind Spots

Not all social networking platforms are the same when it comes to listening, however. Some limit how much data is available and some don’t provide any data at all.

Channel Access through listening tools (Note: not all tools include all data feeds.)
Facebook Public pages only, not public posts from users unless left on those pages
Twitter Full “firehose” for partner companies
YouTube Text fields only such as video descriptions and titles
LinkedIn Company page posts
Instagram Text image descriptions when indexed with hashtags
Google+ Full access to public text
Blogs All blogs with RSS feeds (which is all of the serious ones)
Forums All forums that are publicly indexable, though niche forums sometimes need to be added to the tools
Websites Typically not indexed, that is what Google is for
Image sites When indexed, always by the text fields such as title, description, and comments (we’ve seen Flickr but not Pinterest indexed)
Video sites When indexed, always by the text fields such as title, description, and comments
eCommerce sites User generated content such as reviews
Tumblr Full “firehose” feed including all content
 Traditional news All online news stories and reader comments on them

So, we can see that not 100% of social data is able to be indexed by the listening tools.

Whence Facebook?

The most troubling data issue for social marketers is the restrictions on Facebook. As we’ve discussed previously, Facebook is 18 times larger in terms of total time spent than its next competitor:

Chart based on comScore data

Chart based on comScore data

Despite this, we’re seeing lots of material. In fact Sysomos, our preferred listening tool, indexes over 480 billion posts. However, we’re missing out on the world’s largest portion of the conversation. For now, this means that we need to perform manual searches on Facebook to get a sense of how much conversation is really happening.

It would be unethical to join protected condition groups on Facebook under false pretences, and even if a Klickster had a certain condition it would seem wrong, so we typically report only on the numbers of groups and their member sizes. This still gives an indication of the volume of conversation but nothing by way of topics and themes.

This is one of the most compelling reasons to build out a brand- or condition-focused page on Facebook: it provides the marketers with a place to gather insights from the channel.

Private Forums

Like most of Facebook, private forums are not indexed by social listening tools. In 2010 Nielsen got in trouble for using fake credentials to log in and “scrape” content off of forums.

Unlike Facebook there really is no great way to peek under the covers in private patient forums. Some of the commercial players, namely PatientsLikeMe, have programs such as Community Access but most do not. The best way for healthcare marketers to get insights into these platforms is to build out networks of patient influencers, many of whom will be involved in the forums. These patient influencers will have deep insights into what makes forum users tick and can help the marketers craft the right materials for these patients and caregivers.

Visual Services

So far none of the social listening platforms has decided to use OCR technologies to try and index the contents of visual posts. Until that happens a lot of the material in these channels will be under-reported in the tools. Visual channels such as Pinterest and Instagram as well as video channels such as YouTube, really need analysts to dive in manually to get a sense of the activity. This effort takes more time but is critical for a good social report to show what visual memes are being used by the social audiences.

What to Do

Social listening does have some blind spots, but each of them has workarounds. When looking at the social channels it is important to recognize how listening fits with other activities to create a 360-degree view of the activity happening here.

More About the Author

Brad Einarsen

Brad is Klick's Senior Director leading the social practice. His group ensures that clients get the best bang for their buck on the social platforms.

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