Author: Chrissie Hartgill

What’s in a tweet? Top tips for social listening

by Chrissie Hartgill |

It may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked: a key element of any communications activity is listening. Without it, the chances of engaging with our target audience is significantly reduced.

The same goes for social communications. For a social campaign to be successful, you need to listen to what’s going on in the social stratosphere. Think of some of the most successful social media campaigns to date: Always’ #LikeAGirl, or WWF’s #EndangeredEmoji; they didn’t happen by accident. They came about in response to careful research and listening. The brands listened to what users respond to, who the influencers are, what matters to them and which channels of communication resonate the most.

There are a few things to consider before conducting a social listening exercise:

  1. Have the right tools

For any social listening programme it’s recommended that a social analytics tool is used. At Makara we use a platform called Meltwater, but there are many others out there with various capabilities and price options. The biggest advantage of these platforms is they do much of the hard work for you, analysing the data and reporting it into meaningful graphs and visuals that you can then mine for insights.

  1. Choose your keywords carefully

The crux of social listening is ensuring that the keywords in your search are relevant to what you’re looking for. This is another big advantage of social listening platforms; you can perform much more sophisticated searches, using Boolean queries which allow you to include and exclude certain keywords. See a basic example below:

((“diabetes” AND “kidneys”) OR (“diabetes” AND “heart failure”))

This will show results that include posts mentioning both diabetes and kidneys, as well as posts showing both diabetes and heart failure.

  1. Identify the keywords you don’t want

It’s more than likely that your first search will bring up many results that aren’t relevant, especially on social media where users tend to go off-topic! This is where the “NOT” search function comes in handy.

For example, if your diabetes search above brings up many results on Type 1 diabetes, but you’re only interested in Type 2 diabetes, you can refine this search as below:

((“diabetes” AND “kidneys”) OR (“diabetes” AND “heart failure”)) NOT (“type 1”)

You can add as many exclusion words as you like, and you’ll find that the more you chip away at your search, the more refined your results will become.

  1. Get your hands dirty

Sophisticated social listening platforms are incredibly useful at finding quantitative data effectively and reporting it in a meaningful and visually appealing way, but sometimes it’s worth doing some extra digging of your own. What this means is going through the results and really looking at individual posts. Maybe someone has spoken about a personal experience that is particularly relevant to your campaign. These nuggets of information and little anecdotes are just as important as the overarching quantitative results. They can provide the real insight that you need to inform the campaign message. It might even prompt you to refine your search further, looking into this particular aspect of the topic that you’ve discovered.

  1. Know when to stop

The world of social media is vast, and you can find yourself searching forever. But your campaign will only need a certain chunk of insights. Spending months on end gathering insights and evidence is generally not feasible and not always helpful. If you find there’s nothing out there in the first few weeks, then that’s a telling insight in itself. Give yourself two or three weeks to set up your audit, do your research and record your findings. Then call it a day and use the great insights you have! 

The evolving story of coronavirus and the media

by Chrissie Hartgill |

A couple of weeks’ ago, if someone had said the word “corona” you’d probably be thinking about that free-living summer beverage while you struggle through Dry January. Now, almost everyone exposed to the news will associate it with the SARS-like virus that started in Wuhan, China. In just 12 days, the number of confirmed cases has increased from 60 to nearly 10,000, and deaths have risen from 2 to 213. The media is updating us daily, giving higher figures and increases in the number of countries affected with each day.

It’s interesting to see how the media reports on something that’s evolving so quickly over time, when even the World Health Organization hasn’t known the full scale of the problem. Language has been fairly standard for this type of story, with phrases like “deadly”, “death toll surges” and “evacuations”. Seems quite strong for something that’s in the same viral family as the common cold.

We’ve seen this before, with the 2003 SARS outbreak and the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic – but in 2020, daily news just isn’t enough. It’s assumed we want minute-by-minute updates: new figures, ‘has it hit the UK?’, ‘have they stopped flights from China?’ – especially with many flocking to Twitter to consume the news as it happens.

Public Health England has been publishing updates every day at 2pm and, in contrast, its communication is pragmatic and reassuring, despite containing increasingly alarming figures and outlining tighter measures being taken by the UK government.

Health comms professionals are only too aware that unless a story is shocking, tapping into our emotions and vulnerabilities in a big way, it’s less likely to see the light of day. As a result, important stories about diseases that impact fewer readers or have a lower profile are unlikely to be of interest to national media. When the Ebola virus first hit, the national media were alive with fear because it had the potential for mass devastation – we thought it might be airborne at one point. As soon as it was under control and only affecting certain developing countries, the papers went quiet. Last year, a life-saving vaccine was approved – but the national media had moved on.

The media are only reporting what is deemed to be in the biggest public interest – but is it time we started questioning what that is? What if some readers would welcome a less generalist, less sensational approach to breaking news? The constant barrage of round-the-clock updates can certainly feel overwhelming.

One of the most worrying properties of the coronavirus is its 14-day incubation period, during which there are no symptoms. It will therefore be interesting to see how the story evolves further over the next few weeks. It seems inevitable that we’ll be faced with the “first UK case of coronavirus” stories that hit the papers, and the close monitoring of its travels will continue. Much is still unknown, and it’s a waiting game for reassurance and appropriate action. If you’re worried, try not to drink in the alarmist language too much, don’t forget about Public Health England and its useful updates and, if in doubt, keep washing your hands!