Words vs. Deeds

What matters more: what people say or what they do?

It’s not just an adage to live by – I’m thinking about how this applies to managing a social business.

Over the past few years, the brand monitoring market has been steadily growing and maturing, with hundreds of companies adopting solutions like Scout Labs, Nielsen Online, and Radian6. Not surprisingly, the first step in any strategy – social or otherwise – is to “listen first,” i.e. research and understand the landscape.

This gets us a sense for what people are saying and necessitates short-term response. In the long-term, these insights supposedly can be used for insights, planning, and setting business direction.

But should companies really be listening to these people who are telling the world their opinions? Status updates are carefully crafted to create a particular image, perhaps with the intent of getting a new job, settling an old score, or selling social media advertising. Is this really unbiased, valuable data?

Maybe companies should also step up their efforts to pay more attention to people’s behaviors and predictive models of the outcomes. In some ways, that which isn’t said – but rather demonstrated by applying personal resources, whether time, money, energy, or all the above – might be exponentially more valuable than just chatter.

Perhaps the answer isn’t either/or, but both. However, solutions for the latter aren’t in abundance today as far as I can tell – feel free to leave suggestions I should investigate in the comments below. Jeremiah calls this “The Intention Web” – what do you think? As we enter 2010, I see the potential for a new cliche to come to life: “an action is worth a thousand words.”

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  1. In the end, it’s all about deeds and action. Listening and learning are important, but what you do with that information is key. I’ve beenusing a bad analogy lately: strategy is like butter on toast – use too much and you’ve ruined it.

    I think we’ve entered a business phase where strategy will need to be applied quickly and fluidly. Too much changes too fast for set-in-stone plans.

    Another area to watch in 2010 will be social media ethicism. Will we see some large-scale social media abuse that has a trickle down effect on those that listen and act upon a “pundit’s” comments?

    I’m guessing 2010 will be a year of deeds, not words.

  2. I think you answered your question correctly in the last paragraph…the solution is both are needed. The tools are only one part of the solution. We cannot forget the human element involved in analyzing these conversations…and understand that what is happening online is only a fraction of the overall conversations.

    Lauren Vargas
    Community Manager at Radian6

  3. Point #1: Value of opinions and status updates that are carefully crafted to create a particular image, perhaps with the intent of getting a new job, settling an old score, or selling social media advertising? They are valuable precisely BECAUSE they are biased. And sophistication into reading that bias is what’s key. What’s dangerous is when people go about their lives believe there is no bias, perspective or prejudice in how we observe and interpret.

    Clarification and point #2: Indeed, passive, observable social behavior is powerful. And that includes any sort of observable breadcrumb (credit-card transactions, electricity usage, logins, mobile-phone sessions, ignition fires, etc.), not only chatter (which is a small slice).

  4. I would agree with Lauren. I don’t think an aggregate quantified sentiment analysis provides companies with an accurate perception of their brand. I think it makes a lot more sense trying to hone and refine sentiment arounnd a segmented cluster of participants- similar to that of staticians. However, the analysis cannot stop there. Using tools like Radian 6, Buzz Metrics core services to quantify sentiment should be the preface to an entirely larger analysis. I think some sort of physical interaction is key too. In terms of coming up with an additional service or system to do this, at scale- would defintely prove to be challenging.

  5. Talk is cheap… put me in the camp of actions speaking louder than words, Pete. 🙂 The idea of a web that tracks and consolidates all the things that we do on-line is both intriguing and frightening though. The purchases we make, the media we consume, along with the things we create… Connecting those dots would definitely provide a more complete picture, of an on-line presence at least.

    Thinking about that kind of capability transferring to the off-line world is where it gets really interesting to me. Biometric and banking applications in cell phones seem like an easy start into connecting actions with individuals.

    I’ve also thought that, short of hacking into credit card transaction records, review sites like epinion or even Amazon reviews are ripe to being connected with on-line social accounts. If I give a review on something it’s a reasonable assumption that I’ve either purchased it or consumed it in some way, which says something about me. Can E-mail addresses serve as primary key unique identifiers?

  6. I had been meaning to read this post since you tweeted about it. Finally found a few quiet moments. I am not sure I am with you on the premise of your arguement (but I am with you on the conclusion).

    I just don’t feel the majority of tweets/status updates are agenda-driven. At the margins, absolutely. The masses will always be bookeneded by the crazies and the calculating. But I believe the voices that matter most are those in the middle of the bell curve. As a practical matter, the challenge for businesses that the noisy extremes have a tendency to drown out the center, and during meetings about “what people are saying about us” executive attention tends to get hijacked by the extremes.


  7. I definitely believe it’s a mix of learning about human behavior AND monitoring what people are saying about your brand in real-time.

    Most people are not completely “unnatural” in what they post on social media outlets. They do censor the appropriateness of their comments and alter their opinions in fear of dismay from other people. People’s thoughts and ideas are certainly filtered. However, by looking at the complaints or positives they are having with your brand you can fine-tune your products and services to better serve your customers. By just studying user habits and statistics, you miss out on why less people are watching that channel or buying that product. You just see the number dropping you don’t get to analyze why less and less people are going out and buying your products. Sure, you can draw some conclusions, but the anecdotes you get from plugging into social media, can really help you fix your brand and product in the long-run.

  8. Personally, I like posts that have a bit more “chew” in them… The micro blogging craze is unsatisfying.

    Is blogging about you and what you want to say? Or is it about your readers and giving them some chewy goodness that will keep them coming back for more???


  9. I think cross-disciplinary teams are a worst-case solution (perhaps the only potentially viable solution when you don’t have the sort of broad thinkers in house that would be optimal).
    But there are significant issues and weaknesses with this approach that make it worst-case.
    First – social media / social business activities are inherently a series of constant very small decisions (communication, etc). It’s simply not realistic for each decision to be handled collectively. As a result, you will inevitably see drift and spread and an accrual of small failures over time.
    Second – cross-disciplinary teams are financially feasible for large businesses, but are problematic for the SMB world – and are likely fatal for consultancies and service vendors. If every significant decision and action must involve 3 to 5 people collaborating – you will be non-competitive when faced with a vendor who has hired broad-thinking talent.
    Third (and most importantly) – humans are not naturally collectivists. It would be great if we were. But fundamentally, we look for leadership based structures. In any group (such as one of these teams) a structure of dominance and relationships will be established. If everyone in this team is a deep narrow thinker (a specialist) then the person who ends up being the leader will bring their own discipline’s perspective to bear and that discipline will dominate and skew the decisions. Worse than that, in many cases if the group is large enough there will also be one discipline that will be established as “the opponent” or “the outsider” and will be deliberately depreciated.

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