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When Social Analytics Aren’t Enough: Part 1

By 17th June 2016 No Comments

One of the things I can dread the most about my work is the multi-agency meeting.  I usually sit in these meetings as an unbiased third party to ensure for consistent measurement across all campaign elements – you see, the campaign work is not mine, and I have no emotional connection to it.

I bet you’ve sat in on these meetings before.

They’re full of bluster and peacockery to make certain points are heard, and passive aggressiveness responses when defending individual approaches.  It’s uncomfortable sitting on the sidelines, and I sometimes wonder ‘what does the client think?’

I was recently in one such meeting with four agencies.  Everyone had brought their campaign evaluation for the purpose of developing a fully integrated campaign learning report.

We had all started with the same data to evaluate, and everyone analysed the full campaign, not just their elements.

Let me say that again, we all started with the same data.

The results…

Not so much.  Not one person had the same quantitative measure of engagement and don’t get me started on the lack of qualitative behavioural analysis.

But we all started with the same flipping data.

It was a wild ride.

We had to reach a unanimous agreement on what was to be included in this report, and this was not an easy thing to achieve.

The wide variances in engagement metrics for individual pieces of content was huge.  So, I tried to take charge and find out how everyone reached their final engagement figures.  I started by sharing my methodology and then moved onto finding out theirs….

…And I’m met with ‘that’s a big question, Jillian’.

Well, actually it’s not a big question, it’s quite a simple one.

Not everyone was happy to share.  The fear of telling the competition the secret sauce of engagement measures was too much (or maybe they just didn’t know the methodology).  I get it; I understand the reluctance to share but in this situation it wasn’t constructive and was more confusing and frustrating for the client.

So, what do you do when social analytics fail you?  What do you do when you have engagement anomalies that no social tool can explain?

Why We Need A Life Beyond Analytics

This story is one of many ‘I want to pull my hair out’ stories I’ve had over the years.  They’re not quite at the full-blown ‘I want to shoot myself in the face’ situations but are unnecessary challenges all the same.  All of these stories have two central themes, the reliance on numbers to explain success, and the broad range of methodologies employed to measure engagement.

The lack of a unified framework makes embarrassing situations like my multi-agency meeting happen all the time.  And, yes, the numbers give an indication into active and motivated responses on content and campaigns, but they don’t tell you why the behaviour happened.  It’s not great for the client, and it’s most definitely holding the industry back in the credibility stakes.

It’s not just these situations where analytics fail to give any insight into why some content is so much more engaging than others.

Let’s look at a couple of others…

#1 Associated Interests Driving Engagement

My favourite example of analytics failing is dog micro-chipping and housing associations.  Dog micro-chipping is a relatively innocuous subject, and possibly a topic that you wouldn’t think would increase engagement of one housing association by over 4500%, but it happened.

And where are the tools to tell you why or what to do next?  Analytics can give the nod that we’ve hit it out the park but when that content has no immediately direct relationship to your business you can be left scratching your head and very unsure of what to do.  Do you keep on engaging about dog micro-chipping?

Here’s the infamous post.

Dog Micro Chipping

Do you have any idea why this post caused so much engagement for a housing association?  Bear in mind this was over 4500% more engagement than they are used to.  Can you imagine the conversations in the office that day… It would be a buzz!

So, who’s the most important person in your house?  In my house, it’s the cat, SadieCat.  In this case, it was man’s best friend, dogs.  It’s estimated that 46% of UK households have at least one pet, with dogs making up around 24% of those pets (PFMA).  It is, therefore, feasible that a housing association sharing this content would be appealing to their audience.  It’s not only about their beloved pet but also solves an upcoming issue for them with the new micro-chipping legislation coming into force.

#2 Personal Emotion Outperforming Brand Messages

Have you ever had a look at the British Airways YouTube channel? (I know I’m displaying my geeky tendencies here).

The most watched video on there is a British Airways India, Go Further Get Closer video.  The video introduces an Indian married couple, the demands of the lives together and then the experience of a trip that British Airways provide them ‘time to connect’.  The video is about their relationship, and the brand is secondary.

Although there are images of British Airways branding in the video, the brand by name is not mentioned once.  It’s a similar situation with my favourite British Airways video – British Airways India, a Ticket to Visit Mum.

You’ll have probably heard the quote:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” (Maya Angelou)

How did you feel watching those videos?  The emotional journey of the people in the film and not the focus on the brand is what sets these video apart.  Essentially, you are consumed by the emotional narrative you can forget that it’s an advert, but you subconsciously process the brand relationship within the video imagery.

So, why is ‘time to connect’ and ‘travel for loved ones’ so moving and popular?   Let’s go back to consumer behaviour, why do we travel?  Yes, we have our holidays to relax but let’s face it, most holiday companies market on this.  British Airways have successfully used other drivers for travel, to connect alone and to visit family to show emotion and empathy focused on the individual.  We can relate to these deep emotions if it were all about the brand we’d probably turn off (Robert Heath, Seducing the Subconscious) which would reduce engagement because of low attention, not high attention processing.

Would social analytics identify the driver for engagement?  No, you need a person to turn the data into insight.

Towards An Understanding Customer Behaviour

We’ve got an issue here with the approach to standardised measurement; this is something that the IAB recently published with their Content and Native Measurement Green Paper.  Even if these standardisation issues are ironed out, the focus on numbers as success without understanding why success happened (or not) is a massive issue.  It’s situations like this where I become a bit unstuck in big meetings, where everyone is concentrating on the numbers to say what the most popular piece of content is but no one can answer why.

I was once privy to a social measurement report that had stunning images and snappy copy as reasons why specific posts received more engagement.  I have to say; I would not have paid for that report.

The automation of social media measurement can take away from what it is that we are trying to achieve with analysis – an understanding of our customer preferences.  Ok, it goes a bit deeper than that as we want to use these preferences to predict or improve customer buying behaviour but this is often lost in a sea of numbers or a rush to prove our content outperformed the competition.  The top performers will not just focus on the numbers, but why the numbers happened, it may also make the conversation about measurement methods a little easier in the multi-agency meeting.

Tell me, have social analytics ever failed you?