Can Publishers Harvest Social Media Intent in a Meaningful Way?

Ideas for Social Media IntentMany publishers are now doing a good job of developing social media strategies for brand awareness, content promotion and user engagement. And they’ve made good strides in utilizing social media monitoring and measurement to better understand user behavior and quantify the success of their efforts. But is it possible to extract user intent in a meaningful way?

This week I’ll be part of a panel discussion at Socialize that will address just that question: Social Media: Harvesting Intent for Better ROI. It’s an interesting topic and one that is more challenging for news and content sites than some other types of businesses.

In search marketing extracting basic intent signals is fairly straightforward since users’ search queries often reveal their intentions. Shari Thurow has written some good articles on key types of searches to be aware of (beyond navigational, informational and transactional queries) and on drilling down on commercial intent.

Thus by understanding searcher behavior publishers can position their content to be well matched to searches with editorial or informational intent.

But can the same approach be successfully applied to social media?

A lot of social activity around editorial content is focused on sharing something simply because the person likes the content or finds it useful or interesting. There is not always intent beyond that and harvesting meaningful signals can be challenging.

One reason is that the language used in social sharing does not often include much more than the article headline (be it in a tweet, Facebook like or some other share). And even when a user adds a personal comment (e.g. “great article or “good tips”) that information may help with sentiment analysis but it may not reveal intent.

Another reason is that just because a user shares something once doesn’t mean they will regularly share content on that topic. Similarly, just because someone engages with a publisher once doesn’t mean they are a strong candidate to become a repeat visitor or site evangelist. So a single social media touch point may not shed much light on user intent.

That said, by looking at social media activity in aggregate publishers can start to get a better understanding of user behavior as it relates to their content.

Even the basic benchmarks like the number of tweets/likes/shares/comments per article as well as the types and quality of interactions provide some meaningful signals. And when tied to referral traffic, pageviews and time on site, repeat visits and interactions, subscriptions and sign-ups, etc. the data becomes more useful.

Is this harvesting intent? Not exactly, but it is a step in the right direction. At a minimum publishers can develop a reasonable understanding of what topics and types of content users prefer, how best to package it and when and how to promote it. All of which leads to opportunities for better monetization and improving ROI.

What else can publishers do to accurately harvest and interpret social media intent? What tools and methods are you using?

Photo credit: Khalid Albaih


  1. says

    Listening to your customers and analyzing their feedback correctly is, I think, one of the most important parts of any company’s presence on the internet. It is rather difficult to measure ROI on Social Media in general.. It seems to me there should be a measure for the catalyst of sales when it comes to social media for companies – but it should not the “be all or end all” for marketing for any company. Social Media should be used in tandem with other marketing options that exist in order raise the ROI on the company as a whole and increase customer satisfaction.
    Social Media Magic

  2. says

    Well said Kimberly. Specific to publishers, applying ROI to social media activity should be part of a larger scale evaluation of all audience development initiatives.

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