When it comes to social media, it's best to start with a solid listening strategy. And while you're fine-tuning the "what, where, when and how" as you're eavesdropping on conversations around the social web, remember that while analysis can be assisted through technology, it's by no means a fully automated process.
Take, for example, the recent press release announcing that Walmart has begun selling caskets online. A bit odd, but as it was introduced with Halloween around the corner, the news caught on and was aggregated across the social web.
As the casket story grew, it began to trend on social news sites such as Reddit, and because Walmart empowers its consumers with the ability to rate, comment and share product reviews, a few clever folks started writing fictitious (yet highly entertaining) comments about the products on Walmart.com. The hilarity of the reviews began to border on the absurd.
Now say I'm a brand manager at Walmart and I'm analyzing social-media chatter and sentiment. At first glance, I would be pleasantly surprised when free products such as social-analysis tool Social Mention determined positive sentiment around the "Lady de Guadalupe Steel Casket" that Walmart is selling. And, given the vast number of reviews on the infinite products in Walmart's inventory, it may not become apparent immediately that the sentiment is indeed fake and facetious -- sometimes the Long Tail can sometimes work against you.
The example, funny as it is, serves as a reminder that your approach to social media monitoring should follow a similar approach to what SEM/SEO experts do. Use filtering to your advantage. Leverage tag clouds to determine what words are the strongest within a web page of content. If something looks fishy, dive deeper in your analysis. Also, if positive reviews don't match the number of sales, that too should raise a red flag.
It appears Walmart has taken down the faux reviews and its casket example deserves more accolades than criticism. Walmart implicitly trusts its consumers to both defend the brand as well as take a role in advocating what they like and dislike about the products they sell on their shelves.
But it serves as a reminder that every marketer needs to make sure it's not monitoring the social space myopically. The reports you see on your desk that present your brand's health in the social web is the first step to fully understanding what role your brand plays in the lives of your consumers.