Dustin Eno

Social media monitoring: what’s possible and what’s not

Our tools and resources track more than 900 million pieces of new content every day / By Dustin Eno

Anyone who tells you they “monitor all social media” is breaking the law, or much more likely, lying.

Privacy settings, data protection and scale mean that it is impossible to monitor all social media activity – but monitoring as much as possible is more important than ever.

Navigate Response provides media and social media monitoring services to all our global clients. Our combination of tools and resources track more than 900 million pieces of new content every day. We track everything we can, but it is still far from everything. An estimated 300 million photos alone are published on Facebook every day and that’s just one of some 200 social media platforms.

In the early days of social media, it was possible to monitor a large percentage of everything posted – most users didn’t enable privacy restrictions and platforms provided relatively open access to content shared on their sites. The access to this wealth of content was used by people investigating crimes, by investigative journalists, by crisis communications strategists like Navigate Response and unfortunately by less scrupulous actors who sought to exploit, manipulate and deceive.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, in which it was revealed that the personal data of tens of millions of unsuspecting social media users was being exploited to influence elections, Facebook and most other leading platforms (with the notable exception of Twitter) dramatically restricted access to the content on its sites.

Facebook as an example

Each platform is a little different, but we’ll focus on Facebook as the largest social media platform. If a company’s page is tagged in a post, then Facebook allows the post to be monitored (found) using numerous commercially available monitoring tools. However, Facebook restricts monitoring of the same post if the poster does not tag a company:

For example, if we imagine a fictional shipping company – X-Ray Shipping:

Monitorable: “Major fire on @X-RayShipping vessel MV Skeleton”

Limited monitorability: “Major fire on X-Ray Shipping vessel MV Skeleton”

The only difference is whether a company’s account is tagged. If no company is tagged, then Facebook will only return a selection of results that their algorithm thinks are most relevant to you. They’ll only ever show a small portion of all results rather than all posts that match your search terms. For this reason, two people searching for the same thing may get different results.

Work-arounds

Navigate Response is focused on the maritime space and therefore we’re connected to many of the key influencers and groups on social media – this gives us expanded access to posts of relevance.

We also make use of tools which compile search results as if from many different social media users to see beyond the screens that social media platforms have in place for a single account. These are powerful techniques, but we do not have access to all posts – no one does.

Hackers are a creative bunch and there are tools which can pierce the veil a little further on some platforms to reveal more search results. But in some cases, these approaches may be illegal, they are generally not very effective, and they contravene the terms of use of the platforms. Navigate Response does not use such tools.

The reality

Social media monitoring has been severely restricted over the last few years and, while frustrating for monitoring, on the whole this restriction is a positive.

Journalists could once mine social media for content loosely related to any incident – even digging up posts from people onboard the vessel going back years – this is still possible, but much more difficult.

Despite the limitations, social media monitoring is still more important than ever and remains a vital canary in the coal mine of public opinion if companies are honest and realistic about what’s possible.

Three rules to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t get complacent – if monitoring doesn’t reveal anything it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything there – a storm could be brewing just out of sight.
  2. Where there’s a little, there’s probably more – much like exterminators say of vermin: “if you see one, it probably means there are hundreds”.
  3. If you don’t look then you won’t find – while even the best monitoring cannot guarantee that you’ll identify all posts, if you’re not looking, it’s guaranteed you won’t find any.

Email: dustin.eno@navigateresponse.com

Twitter: @dustineno

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