'Structure Is The Next Big Thing In Social Media Analytics'

Interview with Marc Smith, Director at Social Media Research Foundation


Marc Smith is a sociologist specializing in the social organization of online communities and computer mediated interaction. Smith leads the Connected Action consulting group and lives and works in Silicon Valley, California. Smith co-founded the Social Media Research Foundation, a non-profit devoted to open tools, data, and scholarship related to social media research. While at Microsoft Research, he founded the Community Technologies Group and led the development of the "Netscan" web application and data mining engine that allowed researchers studying Usenet newsgroups and related repositories of threaded conversations to get reports on the rates of posting, posters, crossposting, thread length and frequency distributions of activity.

We sat down with him ahead of his presentation at the Social Media and Web Analytics Innovation Summit, taking place in San Francisco this April 26-27.

What do you see as the key trends impacting the world of social media measurements and web analytics in 2016?

There are a growing number of business requirements that are based on data, and access to data and reporting will be essential. Extracting the best and fastest insights will be a determining factor, and the methods for analysis will be critical to doing this. Most central to this analytic shift is network theory.

Are there any particular developments that will make it more challenging for marketers and analysts to derive insight from social/web data?

API access is being limited by the platforms to drive marketers and analysts towards their own analytics solutions.

Analytic sophistication requirements are increasing. A solid background in data science is becoming a requirement for marketing!

What are the developments that will make it easier to derive insight and enhance business value?

Compute resources are cheaper than ever and continue to drop in price. A world class data center with super-computing resources can also be rented for a day at very attractive rates.

Better tools are coming that simplify the data collection, analysis, insight process. In the same way that desktop publishing transformed the role of the 'printer', analytic tools that guide users through complex processes will augment people who lack the deep technical skills needed to do it by hand.

Are there any obvious winners or losers as the social media & web analytics and optimization markets continue to mature and evolve?

Tools that go beyond the count and search model that dominates now will gain big advantages. Most tools currently look at volumes of messages, posters, and keywords. But this approach ignores entirely the 'structure' of connections that form as people link and like one another.

Structure is the next big thing in social media analytics: the same number of people can form very different patterns of connection with one another.

Collections of collections have patterns. Being able to recognize the type of network you are in and to understand the kind of network that you prefer is at the core of a next-generation approach to social media analytics.

What do you intend to talk about in your presentation?

I will talk about the ways network analysis can unlock our understanding of social media. The talk is about how to 'Think Link'. It's a shift in the way we look at the world that builds on hundreds of years of the study of networks. With Network Science concepts and methods, we can reveal the hidden structures of social media, organizations, markets, and cultures.

The talk focuses on the practical task of collecting, analyzing, visualizing, and communicating actionable insights into a collection of connections.

We will identify the key influencers, map the divisions among sub-groups and neighborhoods in the conversation stream, and highlight the top topics, URLs, and hashtags used overall and in each sub-region of the network.

You can hear from Marc, along with other experts in data analytics, at the Social Media and Web Innovation Summit. View the full agenda here.


Image courtesy of Gil C/Shutterstock.com

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