The science of digital media proposes to translate abstract qualities into numerical values. Influence, sentiment and loyalty are all major factors in determining the impact of social media on your business, because hard numbers and ROI come later. Should we really rely on these algorithms, and will we ever be able to trust them completely?
Are they just a new way to automate the customer experience, like auto replies and automated phone menus? The consensus is that the human element will always dominate in the practice of interpreting human interactions, at least in terms of reliability. And you can manage to operate a social media presence for your business without putting all of your eggs into that basket.
Social Media Tools of the Trade
The other problem is that sentiment analysis is almost entirely useless. Even among massive companies with huge data sets, hard negative/strong positive sentiment is a very small percentage as compared to "neutral" interactions. So, if you have the "luxury" of being a small enough company, maybe try to measure these things manually. Combining Google Analytics with the built-in measurement tools of Twitter and Facebook can give you a very good idea where you stand at no cost at all, especially if you're tracking month-to-month growth and incorporating multivariate testing into your basic social strategy. You can use Klout to gauge influence, or just rely on that good old common sense you've got lying around somewhere.
If you're getting too big to leave things to chance, a few significant companies in the market of big data keep popping up. Radian 6 is an industry leader in social media data collection/analysis. Metrica does the same, with a slightly more human-centered approach. Hadoop is a recommended file management system to store and organize your data. You'll pay real money for these services, but you'll be doing it because you're at a point where you have no choice but to invest in that side of the business, and you don't want to throw money at a crap shoot.
Analyzing the Ever Changing Social Network
Scientifically speaking, you'll be analyzing an environment that is in constant flux, and the action of observing it has an effect on it. People are more likely to complain when you make it that easy. You'll have your chin out there taking blows and you'll need to react swiftly. It's important to have a solid advocate at the top of the company and a direct line (Bat-phone) that can allow you to solve any problems immediately. If your social media director is not completely empowered, then they must have close contact with the CEO or someone who is. Red tape destroys a company's ability to operate an effective social presence.
Also, don't spend countless hours or excessive dollars trying to determine the "why" of every negative interaction. There's a vast spread of strange stuff out there and we can't attach meaning to everything and everyone. When negative reactions start to add up, you can begin to understand a common theme within your data or from your observation that can result in a business action. Prior to that, the most you can do is treat people like people, not digital units. You might find them reacting in kind, and you'll start to see that intangible quality of loyalty creeping in.
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