The 4 (F)laws of Social Listening

4 laws of social listening

Social listening is big business. Having access to a platform that can interrogate social media data has become a must have for many, if not most, organisations.

The problem is the vast majority of these platforms suffer from major flaws which can often lead to them producing pretty graphs and analysis that at best tell you very little and at worst are hugely misleading.

For social listening to be effective in providing genuine insight, it needs to fully address the following: refine, contextualise and weight the data, and be wary of sentiment analysis.

1. Refine

This is where it starts. Rubbish in, rubbish out. Within any social media the volume of spam (or robot created) accounts, conversation and content is vast. Any social listening exercise or platform must be effective at filtering this crud out, otherwise the resulting analysis is going to be seriously flawed.

Think of it like refining oil. You could try running your car on raw crude, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Separating the wheat from the chaff is not a simple exercise. Just saying “let’s look at data from accounts with more than X followers” or “at least X shares” or similar sliders that many vendors provide doesn’t cut it. In fact, it can often result in missing really important conversations involving key individuals who just happen to be less active or noisy.

You need filters that are sophisticated enough to eliminate the noise, whilst retaining the signal, something Ray Dolby knew a thing or two about.

2. Contextualise

The keyword. That wonderful item, beloved by social listening platform users the world over. Selecting the right keywords has almost become an art for some people. They produce complex Boolean searches in a desire to find the conversations they hope are contextually relevant.

The thing is, the more complex your keyword search criteria, the more likely you’re missing something you needed to hear. I want to identify conversations about Apple the brand not the fruit, so I search for a string of “Apple” AND “XXXX”, or “Apple” NOT “XXXX”.

More sophisticated solutions use pattern recognition and topic clustering to identify the context and save you thinking of every AND XXXX or NOT XXXX. But what about conversations that are relevant, but in a less direct way? What about competitors like Samsung or Microsoft? When I ask for Apple data do we include these conversations or ignore them? Is it only when they mention Apple? Where do we draw the line?

The other major weakness in these approaches is that they rely on semantic content in the first place. If keywords aren’t present in the social media post then the system can’t identify them. Makes for a pretty major weakness when you consider the huge increase in visual based social media like minimally tagged Instagram posts, or tweets where it’s the picture that tells the story.

The bottom line is neither of these approaches is a human way of listening. We don’t rely on keywords to tell us if something is insightful or of interest; we have the capacity to recognise it when it is. Social listening solutions need to be designed with this in mind.

After all we are listening to people, not simply crunching data.

3. Weight

When Barack Obama gets up to the White House podium, the world listens. When @abc45xxx (not real) with 200 spam followers auto posts a link to an article, no one does.

I’m not talking about influence measurement here – though it’s a related topic – I’m merely pointing out that social media may have democratised conversation, but that doesn’t mean that every social media post should be given equal weight. It also doesn’t mean that only posts from “influencers” are important either.

Social listening solutions must take account of the relative importance of what is said, by whom and how people reacted to it and then weight their analysis accordingly.

4. Be wary of sentiment

This is simple. Automated sentiment analysis is quite simply not much better than a coin toss in many cases.

If you’re happy to make business decisions on this basis then fine, otherwise don’t believe those seductive dashboard graphs and accept that you’re going to have to take a more human approach to such analysis and that means you probably can’t do it for every last tweet, YouTube comment, blog post etc. 


Compliance with all the first three requirements is an absolute necessity if a social listening exercise is to have any potential for producing insight.

If you don’t filter out the noise your analysis is flawed from the start.

Filter the noise, but don’t ensure you have the right context and you’ll be listening to the wrong conversations, even if they will be crystal clear.

And fail to weight what was said and you risk missing the key voices that were driving the conversation.

Social listening solutions need to start addressing these (f)laws properly and fast, before users realise how irrelevant and misleading a lot of what they are telling them actually is.

50 plus 50 equals 100 most influential UK journalists on Twitter?

The Press Gazette has announced its Top 50 most influential UK journalists on Twitter and I suspect most people won’t be surprised by many of the names. Like any such list though, there will always be people we might have expected to see who aren’t included.

With this in mind I put together this list of 50 (using Lissted), one or more of which on another day, on another basis, might well have made the cut.

Of course there will be other contenders too, so please feel free to suggest them in the comments.

I’ve created a Twitter list of these 50 plus the Press Gazette 50 here.



@bbcnormanS (Norman Smith)


@BowenBBC (Jeremy Bowen)


@Dannythefink (Daniel Finkelstein)



@dpjhodges (Dan Hodges)



@Freedland (Jonathan Freedland)


@gallaghereditor (Tony Gallagher)


@greensladeR (Roy Greenslade)












@maitlis (Emily Maitlis)









@PennyRed (Laurie Penny)


@ShippersUnbound (Tim Shipman)







@toadmeister (Toby Young)




1/3 of LinkedIn’s Trending Content articles in March were from the LinkedIn Publishing Platform

LinkedIn has launched a tool, LinkedIn Trending Content, that lets you see the content that has been shared the most by different sections of its community. The site is currently showing the most shared URLs between 1/3/14 and 22/3/14.

Its an interesting tool for identifying the articles, and related topics, that have generated the most reaction in different groups.

It also provides the basis for a few other observations:

LinkedIn Publishing Platform content ranks very highly

In three groups – Students, High-Tech and Health & Pharma – the top ranked article is one that has been published on LinkedIn’s own Publishing Platform.

8 out of the 10 groups have at least one LinkedIn article in their Top 15 and in the case of Students, C-Suite and Marketing more than half of the Top 15 are from LinkedIn.

Only the Automotive and Financial Services groups have no LinkedIn articles in the Top 15. An opportunity there for someone?

In total 49 out of the 150 results are from LinkedIn (there are a couple of duplicates in there). I haven’t had the time to count the results for all the other individual sources but a quick scan suggests that none of them have more than 10.

LinkedIn Articles in Trending Content

17 shares are enough to trend in Automotive

The table below shows the number of shares on LinkedIn as a whole that the articles ranked 1st and 15th (the lowest position shown) in each section have received.

LinkedIn Trends Industry comparison

I assume the tool’s ranking is based (sensibly) on shares by members of the specific section e.g. Health & Pharma, concerned. This explains the instances shown in orange – IT Decision Makers and Financial Services – where the 15th placed article has received more shares overall than the 1st placed.

This must be because less of their shares were within the specific section being evaluated e.g. the 15th ranked article in Financial Services must have received less than 47 of its 297 shares in this specific section or it would have to outrank the 1st article.

The interesting takeaway for me is that the more specific groups – High Tech, ITDM, Health &  Pharma, Automotive, Financial Services and VC (with the exception of Marketing) – all require less than 500 shares across the entirety of the 270million+ members in order to rank in the top 15. In Health & Pharma, VC and Automotive it’s less than 150.

In a measurement context therefore a piece of content in any of these areas that is receiving tens of shares would appear to be significant.

US content dominates

All of the top ranked articles are from US sources and a quick scan of the others in each section suggests this is the case across the board. No great surprise given that US members are the biggest group at around 30% of the total.

Articles checked for share stats


1st How to Answer Stupid Job Interview Questions
How To Become A Jedi Knight

C Suite

1st 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently
15th Confidence. Conviction. Charisma: The Art of the Sale. 

Small Business Owners
1st 18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently
15th 5 Hashtag Tracking Tools for Twitter, Facebook and Beyond 

1st Behind the Preplanned Oscar Selfie: Samsung’s Ad Strategy
15th 5 Business Goals of Content Marketing

1st Big Data: The 5 Vs Everyone Must Know
15th Is Microsoft telegraphing the demise of Windows Phone?

Health & Pharma
1st Saying Goodbye to the Old World of Healthcare
15th A Third Of Nursing Home Patients Harmed By Their Treatment

IT Decision Makers
1st How to Build Trust as a New IT Executive
15th 6 IT Strategies to Stay Ahead of Data Center Trends

1st New York VC Investments Top $1B In The First Quarter
15th The Top Venture Capital Investors By Exit Activity – Which Firms See the Highest Share of IPOs?

1st First Times Drive: 2015 Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid
15th Hyundai Revamps Sonata That Upgraded Carmaker’s Image 

Financial Services
1st Employee’s Whole Life at-a-glance
15th Should I Rent My House If I Can’t Sell It?

The Value of Social Listening – Dixons & Carphone Warehouse Merger Talks

Social listening potentially made investors £75,000 yesterday morning when a blog post from an ex Daily Telegraph journalist apparently lead to an increase of c. £75 million in Dixon Retail’s market capitalisation.

At 9.52am yesterday, Dixons and Carphone Warehouse confirmed they are in the “very preliminary” stages of merger talks.

This confirmation wasn’t planned however. An hour earlier their existence was the subject of a blog post by former Daily Telegraph M&A and Markets Editor, Ben Harrington. Ben tweeted a link to the post shortly after publishing:

Our Lissted application spotted Ben’s tweet, plus retweets from fellow journalist Neil Craven and retail insight provider Steve Dresser (a member of our Top UK Retail Influencers)

Lissted Dixons Carphone initial tweets


Some people were listening

Before Ben’s blog post, between 8:00-8.52am, there were around 500,000 Dixons shares traded and the price was pretty static at around 46.7-46.9p.

Dixons pre blog post


Share price leaps, apparently in response to rumour

In the 20 minutes after the blog post was published around 10x this number of shares (c. 5 million) were traded (mostly purchases) and around 90% of these were traded between 9.05-9.11. This resulted in the price rising to nearly 49p per share, an increase in the market capitalisation of the company of around £75m.

Impact of Dixons trading post blog post


The activity died down at this point and the price settled at its new level between 48.6-49p.

Activity and share price jump again when rumour confirmed

Then at 9.52, when the official confirmation came through, activity jumped again with around 20 million shares traded in the first 12 minutes after the announcement and the price reaching 50p.

It was only at this point that the mainstream media started to report on the talks.

Dixons reaction to announcement


The value of being early

Those who were aware of the published rumour, and prepared to purchase shares in the initial 20 minutes, would have acquired their holdings at lower pricing.

Based on estimates during this window for share purchases of 4-5 million, and average price paid of c. 47.5p, gives a potential gain of around £60,000-£75,000 for these “quick off the mark” investors.

Not the only value around

There were many other valuable reasons to be aware of this story quickly. Reputation management, analyst relations and HR being three obvious ones.

However, here’s an example where the £ note value of social listening can truly be demonstrated.

N.B I’ve focussed on Dixons because the trading activity around Carphone Warehouse during the period before the official confirmation was considerably less, which raises some interesting questions of its own.

Google isn’t killing PR, but it may be applying some Weedol

There were two big topics of conversation in the PR world last week. The first was Google’s updated Link scheme guidance on how it treats links with keyword rich anchor text in press releases and Tom Foremski’s resulting post on ZDNet asking if this was the end of PR Agencies. The other was the Channel 4 fakefans investigation showing how some in the PR and Marketing world are buying fake likes and followers to inflate brands’ apparent popularity.

The first issue has particular relevance to us at RealWire. In response to Google’s guidance we have implemented the rel=”nofollow” attribute to all links within releases published from today onwards and will apply it to all links across historic press releases hosted by us over the next few days. We were already planning our response before last week’s “excitement”, however staff absence due to holidays delayed our ability to implement the changes necessary until today (note to self, don’t allow staff holidays!).

We considered limiting the changes to the types of anchor text links Google highlights, as such links are very infrequent in releases our clients ask us to distribute. Ian McKee highlighted this option in his very well thought through post on the whole debate. However given the nature and quality of our client base, we’re confident that any marginal page rank that might accrue from our site for the odd editorially relevant keyword is unlikely to impact materially on their rankings, or feature very highly on their list of reasons for using our service. Taken inconjunction with Google’s apparent preference for all links in press releases to be nofollow, we’ve decided that this approach is both safer for our clients, and avoids any confusion.

It’s also worth noting that a recent report by Searchmetrics (a user of our service) highlighted the increased importance to search rankings of having a mixture of backlinks, including nofollow links, and the reduced importance of links with target keyword anchor text.

So what about the wider questions raised by Tom Foremski’s post? I think these have generally been summed up as follows:

Is this change by Google the end of PR?  No.

Is it the end of PR Agencies? No.

Is it the end of newswire services? No, but it could hurt some, particularly any that are reliant on a client base that has been producing the very keyword rich, link filled, low quality content that Google is out to target.

It’s in this context that I would characterise Google’s action as more like treating a lawn with Weedol. Google is seeking to eliminate poor quality and irrelevant content i.e. spam, from its results, but it doesn’t want to destroy the good stuff.

The fakefans situation is also just another form of spam. The idea that buying fake likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter has any value is just ridiculous. Facebook and Twitter should take a leaf out of Google’s book.

The only thing that professional PR people, and quality distribution services, have to fear from these changes and practices is complacency. We need to make sure that once the weed killer has done its job, the lawn that remains is rich and green.

Finally, on a RealWire note, it may be coincidental but during the same period Google has been making its Penguin and Panda updates our ranking for keywords relevant to our own market has improved. So much so that at the time of writing we are ranked No.1 for “press release distribution” on, when we were rarely in the Top 10 before Google started its clamp down.

Read into that what you will….