How Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr are Blasting Social Media Monitoring

Posted October 19, 2012

Social Media Monitoring methodology seemed to be a proven process within organizations at a global level. Mostly because big players like Salesforce / Radian6 succeeded in imposing a vision, but also because new professionals started to deeply reengineer the whole value chain of their companies or clients, based on Social Business ideas.

We thought that “Listening”, the core activity of Social Media, could be handled, and that everything was already forecast for this practice. A lot of Conversations Analysis tools still ask users to set up queries, based on key-words. Once this work is done, you can then pick up categories, fine-tune your analysis, generate widgets to better understand your landscape etc.

This is a methodology which cannot work alone anymore. There’s a fantastic bias which now needs to be solved: it supposes that people express themselves through words, sentences and syntax.

This is absolutely wrong, at least in terms of semiotics.

Most of the “real” conversations are now happening on Tumblr, Pinterest or Instagram. It’s a blast in terms of methodology, as key-words are not always added to snapshots or videos by users. Because users fundamentally don’t care to add specific tags: the relevant context is for instance where they are at the moment, and maybe who are with them.

Digital analysts must now do a hell of a job to really identify emerging trends, genesis of ideas or influencers. They must get data from geolocation services as Foursquare; they must work with strong strategic planners to better understand what are the new digital journeys; they must understand from which device a photo has been taken; they also need some design knowledge.

At the moment, no one really gets a rational overview of what’s going on in these networks, in terms of meanings.

First for management reasons:

PR agencies are not all connected to strong networks of planners, whereas they try to identify the best influencers for their clients
Strategic planners are not all digital-savy, so as most of the semiotics work cannot be pre-tested with digital realities
Digital analysts, focusing on Social Media, sometimes lack a global understanding of brand management
Data analysts sometimes focus too much on digital usages without connecting it to a PR approach
brands have so many things to deal with that they still delegate a lot of their reputation to third-part providers which don’t mutualize a global strategy
Second because of our own digital culture:

Most of the Tumblr users want to remain anonymous, and that’s the essence of this network
As digital experience is reaching a new fringe with our real lives, the social design of applications helps us shape new walls. Think about your home: visible from the outside, complicated to get into if you’re not introduced
And that’s a missed opportunity for brands. So what’s next for Social Media monitoring? Few hypothesis:

A growing number of platforms directly ask users to subsribe to diverse polls or contests, like Fan machine. You can then, on a regular basis, pre-test some insights, to a relevant community, thanks to an upload of photos or contributions. If the passive listening is not perfect, maybe a more active one could be. Media do it pretty well, as they’re used to work with their readers: it’s a direct way to get useful information
Some start-ups are now analyzing photos on, trying to better understand emotions, and how it relates to brands. It’s stilll very new, but brands could find a great interest in getting this kind of insights (when does one publish a Diet Coke picture in France?)
The revenge of plaftorms: as Twitter is closing its doors, other platforms could also try to sell themselves some analytics features, based on meanings, directly to brands. It could be a great source of revenue, out of classic advertising.
The come-back of intuitive analysts. Yes, it’s something we’ve been denying a lot, because of a clear aggressivity towards madmen: good advertisers are first people who have a good industry knowledge + a good intuition. We use to talk about a “brand culture”: maybe we should hire specialised Social Media Analysts, as we used to hire advertizers specialized in a specific area

Social semiotics

Social semiotics is a branch of the field of semiotics which investigates human signifying practices in specific social and cultural circumstances, and which tries to explain meaning-making as a social practice. Semiotics, as originally defined by Ferdinand de Saussure, is “the science of the life of signs in society”. Social semiotics expands on Saussure’s founding insights by exploring the implications of the fact that the “codes” of language and communication are formed by social processes. The crucial implication here is that meanings and semiotic systems are shaped by relations of power, and that as power shifts in society, our languages and other systems of socially accepted meanings can and do change.

Social semiotics is thus the study of the social dimensions of meaning, and of the power of human processes of signification and interpretation (known as semiosis) in shaping individuals and societies. Social semiotics focuses on social meaning-making practices of all types, whether visual, verbal or aural in nature (Thibault, 1991). These different systems for meaning-making, or possible “channels” (e.g. speech, writing, images) are known as semiotic modes. Semiotic modes can include visual, verbal, written, gestural and musical resources for communication. They also include various “multimodal” ensembles of any of these modes (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001).

Social semiotics can include the study of how people design and interpret meanings, the study of texts, and the study of how semiotic systems are shaped by social interests and ideologies, and how they are adapted as society changes (Hodge and Kress, 1988). Structuralist semiotics in the tradition of Ferdinand de Saussure focused primarily on theorising unchanging semiotic systems or structures (termed langueby de Saussure). In contrast, social semiotics tries to account for the variability of semiotic practices termed parole. This altered focus shows how individual creativity, changing historical circumstances, and new social identities and projects can all change patterns of usage and design (Hodge and Kress, 1988). From a social semiotic perspective, rather than being fixed into unchanging “codes”, signs are considered to be resources which people use and adapt (or “design”) to make meaning. In these respects, social semiotics was influenced by, and shares many of the preoccupations of pragmatics andsociolinguistics and has much in common with cultural studies and critical discourse analysis.

The main task of social semiotics is to develop analytical and theoretical frameworks which can explain meaning-making in a social context (Thibault, 1991).


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