Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rogue Peas in a Field of Health Care Related Social Media

My first job (not my first career job) but my first "actual job" as a young man was working for a farming corporation. I was fourteen years old and my best friend's dad had management responsibilities for a pea seed factory in rural Idaho. He was a farmer and a cowboy through and through. That man knew how to work, and he taught it to the group of us that had the pleasure (and the pain) of working for him during our summers away from school. The big benefit...all the peas you could eat.

Managing acres and acres of pea seed required a lot of maintenance. We had the important responsibility of roguing the pea fields (hundreds of acres of them - maybe even thousands of acres). Roguing is the agricultural process of weeding "rogue" plants out of fields to maintain high quality product. It's always about quality control isn't it?

It was a different era and the work was all done by hand. Here's how our day went. A group of us (all teenagers) would meet at a central location (within walking distance of our house) at 6:00am. We'd hop in the back of our boss's truck and ride about 15 miles to the location of the office and seed silo. From there, we'd organize and head to a local (or semi-local...1-2 hours away) pea field. On arrival, we'd jump out of the truck and begin. The goal, our entire mission, was to extract pea plants with purple flowers. We'd space ourselves about 30 yards away from each other and walk up and down the fields. When you'd see a purple flower, you'd pull out the plant down to its roots. When you'd reach the end of the field, you'd dump the plants you picked and start over...and over...and over. When the field was complete, you'd move to the next field. We became pretty dang good at identifying purple flowers and keeping up. We were constantly looking for the needle in the haystack. We must have seen millions (trillions) of pea plants each summer.

Social media research is a little like this process. Instead of looking for the one "bad seed" you are looking for the one "good seed" in a field of useless information. Often times, when we evaluate social media content, even using search processes to streamline the content, we start with hundreds of thousands of pieces of information that need to be filtered out for quality, evaluated, and analyzed for its content "worth" associated with the subject. It's a rather rigorous process that requires our analysts closely evaluate the content for value. As you get involved with social media research and social media monitoring/listening, I suggest you evaluate your platform for its ability to find the needles in the haystack, the "good seed" in the field of irrelevant information.

Much has been written about Social Media and its uses for businesses but there continues to be a lack of understanding surrounding the real benefit. A recent study illustrated what social media content is capable of given the right statistical techniques and quality control processes. In the process, over 1,000 sites were evaluated for content related to the healthcare industry. The researchers ran across a lot of irrelevant content. They also identified some of the purple flowers of information. Though the study is specific to health care, the principles apply to other industries and business types. Feel free to download it, it's free and may give you some ideas of how social media content analysis may benefit you. The paper can be found here!

It's important to understand the opinions of your customers and there are a handful of very effective ways to go about it. Social media research provides a very good look at these unsolicited opinions if you can identify the content that matters to your organization in the field of information that can be left alone or ignored... i.e. find the purple flowers in the sea of green.

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