Fishing the Social Stream for Meaning… and Media Planning Ideas

Jim1Years ago, when Twitter first became a popular social media activity, a friend and colleague of mine used to call it “shi**er. His point was that people were Tweeting every thought, every passing fancy, every fart in the wind, including those actions being taken in the restroom.

I certainly found myself doing that a lot in the early days of the vehicle, musing about my cat, or expressing my sympathy for the Mucus creatures in the Mucinex ads who are just trying to enjoy themselves at the Coughacabana. The same is true for all social media. Facebook, Instagram, Vine and SnapChat, Tumblr, etc. In particular, as social media vehicles have all gone largely mobile, the level of friction for expressing the most thoughtless whimsy is as low as it can be without resorting to a publishing tool connected directly to our brains.

There are of course other things that we’ve seen these tools put to use that are more edifying. Sharing emotional moments with friends and family, sharing grief, showing support. Transmitting important data of events on the grounds of locations otherwise inaccessible to the outside world. But all of these expressions, while fleeting, are permanent. It might sometimes be a fart in the wind, but it’s been captured in a bottle and rendered into a machine-readable form.

The social stream is replete with such vast quantities of mass behavioral and sentiment data, that a kind of minable vein of psychohistory is available for review that might be usable to understand trends in not just mass action, but simpler, more mundane things. Like brand preferences and cross media use.

For many years, a lot of media planning relied on taking metered and survey data, normalizing it as best we could, and make some predictions about what kinds of people consume what kinds of media at what times of day in which types of places. We did this because we were trying to exercise a certain degree of waste management: reach as many of the people identified, through a series of proxies, as the best prospects for our clients’ products or services. And by and large, it worked. It still does. But with digital, we’ve evolved to a place where we let machines do largely the same thing. There are now a lot of questions being raised about viewablity, but the system does work to an extent. If you are using Doubleclick Campaign Manager, the reporting now yields a viewable impressions metric. Let’s just say it is not encouraging when you see what the viewable yield is on a programmatic platform.

Either way, both traditional media – largely broadcast – and digital continue to soak up a lot of advertising dollars, and advertisers still want to know that they’re money is being well spent. While some of the ROI/KPI delivery made possible by programmatic for both broadcast and digital can post-facto prove the value of the channel and vehicle, we still often asked to place big bets ahead of the curve.

And the social stream offers some of the best ways to make those bets with better than educated guesses. One offering I’ve used, Shareablee, can produce reports that siphon the social stream for cross-brand product usage, cross-media usage, and how the advertisers’ audiences feel about them.

FEEL. That’s been a missing variable in our media strategizing and planning equation that the social stream can articulate and solve for. If I could have millions… millions… of human beings that have expressed certain feelings about the media they are consuming, down to the vehicle (site, program, etc.) and the content, wouldn’t I want that to inform my decision about where I place my media bets? It’s one thing to push the buttons and hope that the machines solve for clicks and sales. But when my objective is branding, creating a long-term relationship with a particular audience, how those people feel about that they are doing when it comes to consuming their media can play a significant, if hard to quantify, role. Branding after all is not a rational exercise. And more and more, the modern human is not going to tolerate the simple interruptive experience of traditional advertising. Marketing is going to need to occupy more of a flow experience space in peoples’ lives. Optics on sentiment as expressed in the social stream can provide that.

Because while much of the social stream is filled with self-conscious aggrandizing or first-world whining, it also has a great deal of real, unfiltered expression. It’s the closest we can come right now at catching ourselves looking in the mirror without knowing it. And that’s the best kind of input to have when choosing which mirrors to spend money on. Because what is the media we consume but an expression of ourselves?

Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.