Why humans are better than computers at social media analytics

No, not this Data. BIG data.
No, not this Data. BIG data.

When it comes to understanding what is being said about you/your company/your product via social media – and whether it’s positive or negative – humans have the edge.

Or, at least it’s possible for those who can understand context, inflection and emphasis. Shocker.

See that? Sarcasm. It’s the bane of online communication. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve written an email or blasted out a sarcastic tweet that was misunderstood.

That’s why Jim Sterne thinks understanding social media analytics is so much more than measuring RT’s, hits, mentions with data tools.

Computers crunch numbers, analysis is real work that must be done by people, Sterne said during his talk at a recent Third Tuesday Ottawa event.

When examining social media data, the greatest understanding isn’t during a “Eureka!” moment, Sterne said.

Rather, more can be gained from asking “That’s funny… I wonder why that happened?”

Just as in journalism, asking the right question will help you understand the story more fully.

Quite a few times during Sterne’s talk, I found many parallels between social media analytics and things we practice naturally in journalism.

Sterne spoke of intuition, and this need for understanding as important as intelligence and knowledge when looking at data.

Creativity is essential – when examining social media metrics, we need to look from a different perspective, Sterne said. And then he delivered this gem, which all journalists can probably identify with:

The goal to presenting social media analytics is story telling, Sterne said.

“Don’t just crank out numbers in reports,” he said. Help people understand your audience, who the typical person is who you are appealing to.

“And sure, if someone comes at you looking for statistics, give them all the charts and graphs they want,” he added.

One point I took issue with was Sterne’s response to a question about real-time analytics. They’re not accurate enough, he said. You need to have a broader perspective of what’s out there – and real-time is drilled down too far.

“The problem is you look at the last data point, and not the whole picture,” Sterne said.

I disagree. When it comes to social media, you need to be on top of what is out there, whether you are dealing with crisis communications or customer service. I think you need to look at the forest and  the trees.

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