The Social Cocktail, Part 1: Mixology

Gnip’s Chris Moody has been talking about the “Social Cocktail” recently, both at Strata and Big Boulder. At Gnip, we talk about the social cocktail a lot–mainly because people like cocktails. But also, it is an apt metaphor for thinking about what social data is useful for our customers. What audiences and modes of conversation are needed to build out understanding your market, your customers, perceptions of your product and the evolution of your message?

The fundamental question it answers is: Why analyze social data from more than one publisher?

Each social media publisher brings distinct capabilities and audiences, and encourages unique ways for users to interact and express themselves. The overlap in audience between some publishers is low, so adding publishers helps broaden topic coverage and audience perspective. Microblogs (e.g. Twitter) are fast and concise, making it easier to tease out breaking stories and emerging conversations. Blog comments indicate engagement and controversy, and therefore point back to interesting blog posts, where the in-depth analysis is found. Votes and likes provide additional signals of reader engagement–indications of the quality and the pitch of conversation.

To get the right mix, it is essential to understand some of the properties of each publisher’s firehose.  In this post, we’ll look at high-level attributes of the social media publishers.  In the next post, we will dive into a brief description of the social media responses to expected and unexpected events. Finally, in the third post, we’ll end with an example of the social cocktail in examining a real-world event—the JPMorgan-Chase $2+ billion loss announcement in May 2012.

One revealing way to compare publishers is to understand their relative speed and content richness.  In this case, fast content means that a statistically relevant sample of activity arrives shortly after the event or topic happens in the real world.  “Shortly” can mean tweets follow the event by be less than a minute, for some topics on Twitter (e.g. earthquakes).  In contrast to the speediest media responses, posts about the 2008 banking crisis in major US backs are probably still being written in 2012 as we continue to examine and discuss bank regulation.

Another telling dimension for comparison is content richness. While Tweets are very fast, they are also concise. To be a rapid responder to an earthquake or other immediate event, you only have time for the barest facts because you have only 30 seconds to respond with 140 characters. “Just felt an earthquake in DC,” would be a typical response. On the other hand, a publisher such as Tumblr encourages rich media sharing with Spotify plugins, support for video and audio formats, very simple photo uploading and sharing capabilities and a tradition of the users appreciating and sharing creative and artistic photography.  Blogs on Automattic’s WordPress platform can range from 10s of words to 10,000, giving ample opportunity for a writer to explore subtle ideas and complex analyses.

A few properties of Social Media Firehoses explained

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Table 1. Comparison of publisher ingredients.

Both Speed and Content Size can be quantified. We often use measures such as the time for the story activity to peak or the ½-life of a story to characterize speed. See Social Media Pulse for discussion and analytical details.

Content richness can be simply characterized by the number of characters. While this is fairly indicative of the balance of rich vs. concise information in a stream for text content, it overlooks media such as audio, photos, interactive applications, video and music. Other measures of richness might include audience participation, user-network interactions, amount of back-and-forth in a conversation and many higher-level measurements from textual analysis.

Surprising and satisfying cocktails come from a careful mixing of quality and–sometimes unexpected–ingredients. With practice and the right combination of publishers, you can mix a social cocktail to enrich your understanding of the conversations between customers, prospects, partners and pundits. You want to experiment with the mix to match your business use case. Getting the mix just right is always rewarding.

Next week: The Social Media Cocktail, Part 2 – Expected vs. Unexpected Events