Chris Brogan, yet again, beat me to it. I’ve been trying to get this post finished for a couple of days now and in my procrastination Chris comes up with a better worded, more provoking post than my draft.

BOOOO HISSS

After all Chris has been at this longer than me so it’s probably to be expected. His post this morning “How Many Chores Does It All Add?” put into perspective the sheer amount of work swimming in the SM world takes.

“In the morning, I open up Google Reader and start by checking out who’s talking about me, my company, PodCamp, and a few other choice terms. I read a few blogs (around 700). I check on some other searches for clients that I’ve loaded into my reader.”

Warning, hard work ahead

The one part of SM that has become blatantly obvious to me in the past year is the constant nature of keeping up with it all. Unfortunately the internet does not sleep and so the posts and their creators do not sleep either. It is the Matrix, a constant stream of stuff that may or not be relevant but needs to be weighed and judged.

This is why it’s best to spend time working out who you listen to, who you read and why. Your time is precious, especially if SM tasks are directly related to engaging the customer base of a company. Without a defined focus it’s easy to loose track and definition of the very thing you’re looking for.

Warning, tools ahead.

To help, I use certain tools to help me stay focused.

Tweetdeck – Organizes various Twitter groups into separate streams

Perpsctv – Gives a great overview of a search term’s penetration in blogs, Twitter and Google search.

Technorati – Blog search engine.

Google Trends – Tracks how search terms are trending.

Delicious – the great book-marker in the sky.

There are plenty more but I use these to keep ahead of what I’m looking for.

How I do it

First thing in the morning I check the Twitter feeds to see if anything interesting has popped up. I don’t read everything immediately, I open the link and move on to the next item. This will normally lead to having 10-15 links open which I will digest through the day.

I make sure that I subscribe to relevant blogs so that I am prompted when new posts appear. This saves me from making sure I check them. If anything interesting surfaces I then move on to a more in-depth search using Google, Techorati and Perspctv.

Delicious is my archive. I tag anything interesting I find in Delicious. The key is to have a predefined set of tag words so that a coherent pattern appears without similar links being marked with multiple tags. Basically the free wheeling dissemination of opinion and expertise that is SM actually requires organization and discipline to track it.

Think of it like the stock market

The closest analogy I have found between tracking using SM and anything else is following stocks. There are thousands of stocks to invest in. It takes time to find the ones you like and understand so you have some chance of knowing the underlying business model. It then takes time and discipline to research those stocks, their movements and how they react to other economic stimulus. The weight of data and opinion out there is staggering and it’s up to the investor to weigh and judge in order to formulate his premise for investment.

Any thoughts?

I’m, by nature, an organizer. I’m never happier than when I’ve constructed a workable, scalable, implementable procedure. Maybe my reaction to tracking SM is purely to do with me. How do you do it?

How to hear the song in the noise.

So, social media is officially buzzy. All kinds of people will throw all kinds of acronyms, synonyms, analogies and stuff they heard someone say that sounded right at you. In all this noise how do hear your consumers singing?

Identify and follow

An established organization should have a pretty good idea who their customer is. If so, you’ve got a great start point in integrating social media into your marketing outreach. If not then you have a deeper issue and I recommend you go find out. Now.

Identify

Define a set of key search words which can be used as a benchmark for research on your industry. Do the same for your organization and how you wish to classify the results. Plug these search terms into Google, Perspctv, Technorati and see what comes up. To re-hash Lord Leverhulme, do it often and never neglect to do it.

Every day would be a minimum until you get an idea of the pulse of how your industry interacts with social media. A quick glance over the sites that pop up will be enough to decide whether they’re a legitimate result or not. As these sites, blogs and outlets are identified use Delicious to archive them. Rinse and repeat.

After a short period of time and reinforced by your stack of Delicious tags you will begin to notice patterns. The same blogger names will keep popping up, or the same sites, or the same quotes from the same source.

Follow

As a clearer picture is beginning to emerge of how your target interacts in this world, follow them. Make time to follow the bloggers you have identified, read their work, understand their perspective. Remember social media is all about them and not about you. The definition of your brand is where your message meets your customers perception.

How your message is being perceived is probably the most useful side effect of engaging in social media. It provides perspective on how your message is doing, for better or worse. As you get to know those who are commentating on what it is that your company does entry points for interaction will appear (more on that later).

Identify and follow. To quote Radiohead “Karma police, arrest this man. He buzzes like a fridge. He’s like a detuned radio”. Trying to find your consumers singing in the noise of social media is like listening to a detunes radio, hopefully you now know where the tuner dial is.

My post “Know your market. Know your customer” on March 5th discussed how social media could be used to extend the reach of marketing or PR campaign. I thought I’d run through a possible scenario to extend the news cycle using social media.

Lets take as a start the Wired magazine article on the Coker Tire unicycle, from henceforth known as the “ouch”.

1. Article published in Wired

2. Coker writes about it in it’s blog, Facebook page and tweets using Twitter. They make sure to include a link to the article in both posts.

3. Coker adds a link to the article and, separately the YouTube video on it’s “news/media/bragging page”.

4. Coker comments on the online version of the article “yeah, it’s a behemoth, that’s why there’s a brake.”

5. Using Perspctv, technorati and other search engines Coker tracks any other blogs or Twitter posts commenting on the article. If any other posts pop up Coker comments on the posts. “Most people don’t get more than 5 ft, that guy did really well”.

6. Having identified the movers and shakers in the “giant unicycle” market Coker sends an email, with link, to each of them.

News cycle elongated.

This presumes that Coker have already identified how the “giant unicycle” market works, who are the main influencers and has taken the time to build relationship with them and the community.

It’s an extra few minutes a day to  track your online presence and prod it accordingly.

Know who influences both and how.

Back in the good old days, you remember them, 2002, 2003 and before? Back when men were men, women were women and everyone understood the internet and how it could be used to sell stuff? Bloggers were pesky people with opinions that didn’t follow your finely crafted message? Yeah, then. Anyway in those halcyon days getting a story in a publication or on TV was the end of the marketing time line, the culmination of all efforts.

A marketing or PR dept could not really influence the story beyond that point. A handful of well connected people could and were paid handsomely for their counsel. It was in the hands of the readers and viewers of <insert name here>. Your job was done. Smug smile? Snide remark to your detractors? Enjoying your coffee gazing out across the domain of your influence? Check!

Then came Myspace, then Facebook and your domain increased but your influence didn’t. With the rise of social media it was possible to influence the story after it’s traditional end. In essence it became possible to control the path of the golf ball after the stroke. FANTASTIC! YEAH! One Problem, DOES ANYONE KNOW HOW TO DO IT?

Which lands us back at the beginning of a huge learning curve. Using a tool like Perspctv it’s possible to track how a story moves through the media. It’s possible to track who picks up a story first, second, third. It’s possible, for each type of story, to work out how the story may track and thus be able to influence each step.

Unfortunately at the moment, it’s about as accurate and coherent as the stock market without decades of technical analysis. With time it will become easier to predict how stories and ideas permeate through the populous. Until then using social media to influence relies on knowing your target customer, knowing how they react and knowing who every influencer of the market is.

It comes back to the fundamentals of marketing. Know your market. Know your customer. Know who influences them and how. Sound familiar?

Social media is, I think, a very efficient way of influencing people once the foundations are built. Building the foundations is very hard work. Traditional media has taken years to become analysed, metricised and packaged so it could be sold without understanding how it really worked. Social media isn’t there yet. Those who are willing to put in the time to map and discover how it works are those who will benefit the most.