Hi John. What is your background and what is included in your current role at Retriever?
I attended university in Sweden wanting to get into sports medicine, ending up moving to the US and getting a scholarship to Hobart College for undergraduate studies in journalism, media and religion. Then moving on to Ithaca College where I received a master’s degree in communications. I became fascinated by companies, organizations and people who were able to communicate better than everyone else; those skills are evident in everything they do and how successful they are. It is actually rather rare that their ideas are that much better than the competition, it is mostly about communicating your idea, product or otherwise, in an attractive way.
When I came back to Sweden, I joined a startup called Lissly, where I was the first one in after the CEO. The idea behind that company was to challenge firms such as Retriever and Radian6, among many others, to really build a simple and effective tool to be able to get effective data, and then be able to do something with it, which I couldn’t do at my previous jobs.
In just two and a half years, Lissly was named the #1 social media monitoring tool in Scandinavia based on an independent and in-depth analysis of all media monitoring tools. What was interesting at the time was that Retriever came in a close second, where I am now working.
However, eventually, I began to feel that the company wasn’t going in the direction I had wanted, and wasn’t improving in the areas I needed, so I left, rather abruptly.
I then joined Retriever in a matter of days in a very coincidental mix of right timing and chemistry with Retriever management; we just hit it off in a major way. My official title is Nordic social media business manager, but, in reality, my role is everything and anything in between. I am firstly in charge of the social media tool called Pulse and the social media analytics surrounding it.
I travel around the Nordic countries since we have offices in Oslo, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Stockholm, educating staff in departments such as sales, customer relations and analysis, while also educating clients and helping salespeople conduct social media presentations. I also lecture (more and more in the last few months) about the challenges facing many organizations trying to get value and analyze social media and social metrics. I also help upper management develop plans for the future, and I assist our engineers and product developers in what we can and should be doing. It is an amazing job at the best company I have ever worked for.
What differs Retriever from other media monitoring companies in Scandinavia?
I am the first one to acknowledge that the industry of social media tools is problematic. We deliver great potential that is rarely used anywhere close to a satisfactory level. Partly because no company has been able to assist clients using their tools really effectively but also because the client base has been slow to educate themselves and find the resources to understand the value in social media. However, while working at Retriever, I have undoubtedly changed how we work with clients to not only store data, but to alter the way that we think about that data. And most importantly, at least for me, how the clients use the data, analyze and interact effectively.
There really isn’t a lot that separates most of the top companies when it comes to the raw data itself. Most of the firms around the world have reasonably similar and good data coverage. However, when it comes down to enhancing the data via language filters, filtering down the data to relevant and usable metrics and then doing something with the collected and segmented data, there are huge differences.
And in this regard, Retriever is different because we have really talented people and a lot of them, a team of 160+ individuals with great educations and experiences in areas such as journalism and statistics, PR and marketing and business, which really analyze and dig into the data without preconceptions and without making outrageous statements based on a gut feeling or insufficient data. I know that might sound like “big talk” and a rather harsh critique of the social media industry as a whole. But some of the tool providers have been very “wild west” dealing in outrageous statements when it comes to things such as reach, potential reach and success rates. A lot of the metrics have been hugely overstated, and that is me being really nice and conservative.
That is also why I am trying to raise the level of communication Retriever has with all clients and truly try to understand their needs, instead of giving them a tool that they are not able to use properly or create enough value out of. In this industry, I would say that a very high percentage of clients don’t know how to use the data or the tools at a proficient level. I both want to change that and feel we have to make these organizations both understand the data, and learn how to use the analysis and insight we can provide at a more useful level. To create real value. I would also say that is exactly Retriever’s biggest advantage over other companies, which is trying to really help clients understand the data, not just collect it for them.
You have recently added Facebook Topic Data; in what way is that important for your customers?
If you want to tell clients what they have been missing out on so far, as well as being completely honest, you could argue that other forms of media monitoring is almost futile without adding Facebook Topic Data! Because Facebook not only has the most amount of users, but also the broadest demographics of users. Previously, all this information was unavailable, so we had to make do with what was available. But now 100% of the Facebook data is, except for the private messages, which will remain completely private.
At Retriever we can now find out what things people talk about in conjunction with other things, and filter on behaviors, such as what people are going to do. This kind of data can really get into that long awaited “big data” phrase everyone throws around and we can cross reference that with all the other data we have and provide. It is not that the other data we provide is pointless, it is just that Facebook Topic Data elevates everything so we can make predications even on other platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. We will be able to analyze behaviors, patterns in communication and really understand the social media-shpere.
Another good thing is that it is anonymous; Facebook protects people’s names and makes it impossible to find out who the person behind the information is. But the value is in the demographics and the relationships we see, which gives us a great perspective. This information shouldn’t only interest marketers, but everyone.
I do have to say that other platforms we monitor and analyze, such as Twitter and Instagram, do give us a good perspective, but the demographics are limited. For example, Instagram users are mostly women, while Twitter in Nordic countries is geared mostly for politics, especially as of late. Facebook, on the other hand, has a more representative demographic, and is able to provide us with outstanding data, which is unparalleled. Based on that information, we can create behavior sets that are completely new, and can give that information to marketers, PR agencies and advertising agencies as wells as communication teams, to let them know if their campaign and advertisement worked, if they reached the targeted group, and if how they bought media was successful.
Which social platform do you see having the most potential in the future?
I believe that really depends on the purpose. For example, although Facebook has the best demographics and the most data available, it may or may not be the best or most accurate source to predict US elections. It is hard to say for any one given event or field and we have to let the data speak for itself. We still need other platforms and to look at other channels as a comparison to Facebook. For instance, political candidates change their message, the way it’s designed and delivered, to the person they want to target on the different social platforms. Does that change the data? It might. I have seen this happen when looking at data surrounding music competitions such as Idol and the Swedish Melodifestivalen.
Snapchat is a tool that still is in its infancy but has enormous potential. The problem is monitoring it. There are platforms that have enormous potential for companies but their data is not very attractive to monitor. That is a real challenge for us.
Are there any social platforms that are closed today that you would be interested in tapping into for monitoring that would benefit your customers?
Twitter has amazing quality data, but they refuse to release very detailed information, which they already have. Another platform I would be really excited about being more open is LinkedIn. That data would be invaluable because it is the #1 professional platform, which would be a big help in learning to understand that segment of the public. From an employer branding perspective and recruitment it would be priceless and such a great source of rich data.
There are some current discussions about the lack of measuring reach and engagement properly. Do you have any ideas on how this can be improved?
I really want the industry to be a lot more aligned, and not to be a Wild West with outrageous statements with little to no basis in reality. I want to take a stand to create a standard within the industry in terms of such things as reach, potential reach, interactions and all the other debatable metrics.This will create trust and understanding among our clients.
So many clients tell me that social media monitoring companies approach them and talk about “six million people having seen or could have been reached by a certain message” and then fail to explain what it even means. When we check the data we see that one tenth of that number would be more appropriate. The client then asks me: “how can the numbers differ so much?”
Engagement rates are often company/product branded and far from universal, used without any standards, and often without any statistical understanding, and that needs to stop. As an industry, we need to provide services that are not counterintuitive, and offer products that are not based on error or by knowing that the client does not understand and is afraid to look bad by asking.
What kind of data or media that you do not have monitoring on today, can be interesting in the future?
This is truly region based; for example, in Sweden, podcasts have made a huge comeback. They were hip six to seven years ago, died down, and now are back and more popular than ever. They are even sponsored by some of the biggest companies like Ikea, which have used the podcasts to cater their message.
I would also be interested in automated picture analysis. For example, getting data on a photo in a political campaign that has Ikea’s brand in the photo; if that would be tagged, that would be a big help.
And the Holy Grail would be sentiment analysis that actually works. In my opinion, on the data automatically analyzed today without any manual filtering, I have not seen any tool that is correct more than 65% of the time. This means that we can’t be totally honest integrating such a service into our system, because it would be too problematic. Although larger volumes of data would paint a broad picture, most clients don’t get such large volumes of interactions because the most common analysis is done over a month or a couple of months. I have a feeling we will see a lot of progress in this field over the coming couple of years.
How do you think that the media monitoring business will change in the next 5-10 years?
Tools will still be a necessity but most companies will only use them for customer service, marketing and crisis management. I think the future is in analysis where the data enters through a tool but the insight comes through a report. In fact, I am sure of it. The companies not investing in analysis are making a huge mistake; Retriever is heavily invested in tools, but are even more heavily invested in analysis.
Most Scandinavian companies will keep on buying and selling tools, but will need to sell them while increasing analysis and creating real value. More and more companies are realizing that real value is created through insights and those insights usually come from the analysis of the data and not from live alerts in a tool. Furthermore, I actually think this paradigm shift may happen in as little as three to five years from now.
By Renata Ilitsky