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As sites like Ning, Facebook and Twitter continue to grow and make their content readily available, what is possible starts to change. Social Media sites have mostly decided that a freely available API is good for both them and their users. Twitter is a perfect example of this idea. The base application has very little functionality, but their API has enabled hundreds of applications to be created based on a simple idea. These APIs and application openness allow a wealth of data to be gathered and queried. I recently wrote how Facebook could use this idea to monetize their site:

Facebook will be able to sell their data to companies wanting to understand market data. Facebook has the demographic and geographic data in place, and just needs to sell access to the data.

Chris Brogan looked at social media from a different angle:

In conversations with larger organizations lately, the tone is very similar: social media is another tool we all agree is swell, now how are we going to use it to improve business in some measurable and obvious way? That’s it, friends. That’s the sound of several larger companies saying, “We’re in, now what?”

Larger organizations are struggling with the whole social media thing as there is no real handbook on how they are supposed to use it (Chris should probably write one). He does give a little advice on what he thinks social media can do:

Here’s one hint: social media isn’t a PR tool; it’s not a marketing tool ; it’s a communications tool and a media making/distribution tool set … It’s about working on the larger need and then using the tools judiciously.

People really want to put social media into a specific marketing bucket. Chris is saying that it is more than that, and I agree. You also can not look at social media purely from the Facebook only angle. Facebook is great if you are looking purely for mainstream demographics or large scale marketing data. However, what if you want to target a different group, or a very specific demographic? Valeria Maltoni had a look at some research that did focus on a smaller group.

I’m always interested in research, especially brand- and media-related so when Crowd DNA reached out to me, I took the time to take a look at their UK Tribes project for Channel 4. To uncover the youth tribal profiles of brands and media usage, Channel 4 commissioned a sequel to the qualitative and quantitative research study conducted by Crowd DNA in the UK.

It is an interesting study, but it is not the results that matter to me as much as what was done. It was more like a typical focus group where people sign up and fill out a survey. I am sure they found good information, but I wonder if the data that marketers and brands are looking for is out there. What I mean is that the data is sitting in various applications, just waiting to be gathered, mined and analyzed.

Social media gives companies much more direct access to the people without needing a big marketing budget and large focus groups. There are social media monitoring applications, but they are only part of the solution. Joining social media sites and interacting with your consumers is only part of the solution. Gathering and analyzing data is also only part of the solution.

I remember several years ago that people thought we would “mine the web” for all sorts of interesting facts. That view of the web may be coming soon, but there is a different mining activity that could change the way that brands interact with their consumers. There are niche social media sites focusing on almost any topic you can think of. Ning is a platform dedicated to creating your own social network, so if you want to create a local quilting social network, you can do that. Local stores and brands may be able to review what people are talking about and get a better understand of their wants and needs.

If companies start mining the social web, they will realize that people are creating focus groups for them. They just need to listen, analyze and act on what they see. The data is out there, how are you going to use it?

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