Gregory Artzt is the founder and chief strategy officer of General Sentiment, a social media analytics company in the business of gathering, processing, analyzing and framing results from large social media datasets. Following is an excerpt of Artzt’s take on the present and future of social media.

Tell me about General Sentiment and the data it analyzes.

We are in the business of solving big marketing problems using social media. General Sentiment looks at the flood of social media data that is currently available out there. This data originates from various sources such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, forums, news media and anything that is in text form. We then analyze it so it makes sense for business decision-making, particularly in marketing where we can ascertain what people are saying in real-time. What this allows us to do, for example, is to help advertisers find ways to make their messages more targeted and reach the appropriate consumers for their goods and services. 

“Likes” on Facebook has become an important metric for social media. How relevant is the number of “Likes?” Does it really reflect anything?

It’s amazing how much attention companies are paying to the number of fans they have on Facebook these days and followers they have on Twitter. That is one of the main ways they are measuring whether their social campaigns are working or not. And so the tools in social media management that are growing are really the ones that help them create more fans and create more followers. It is important, but it is not standalone. It is not the only thing to look at. There are people who are very valuable—fans and followers—who are going to create more of a viral, positive effect for your products. And then there are people who are very passive, who just happen to like it because their friends did and they are just going down a stream of things. You expose a million people to it and a certain percentage will respond. 

So a big part of what social media to date has been about promotion. And when you are using it for intelligence, you do need to filter out certain things. This is one part of the equation. Fans and “Likes” are one part of the equation as are Followers. But we look at other things. We look at what they are saying. When there is a certain amount of discussion, that indicates more of a commitment to the product, the brand, the television show—whatever it is, they care about it more if they are taking the time to talk about it. They want their friends to see it. They want their voice to be heard on this issue. So that is a much more significant way to voice your opinion than simply liking and following. Analytics goes well beyond this basic metric, but it is indeed one piece of the equation.

Where do you see the future of social media heading five years from now? Will it expand? Will it shrink? Will it morph?

It is hard to see social media slowing down right now. We think that it will continue to accelerate. Facebook already has close to a billion users so you can imagine the number of users will continue to grow at current pace. However, and more importantly, people are spending more and more time and contributing more to the site, and that’s what causes growth. It is a good time to be asking that question now that there is talk of Facebook going public in early 2012. 

There has been an undeniable trend of centralization online from the early Internet days of disparate websites and forums.  Now, people are spending so much of their time on Facebook and Twitter. Those are the primary places. There are other locations that are really good for specific types of things—if you want to voice your opinion, if you want to share common interests with people. There are other social destinations and Google+ is carving out their place right now. There will be other tools that will create new types of interest. Some are more private than others. There are social networks out there like Experience Project. You don’t know who the users are, but they share their opinions more than ever because of the anonymous environment. Social will continue to evolve and grow. And the amount of data that is made available will also continue to grow. I don’t see this slowing down any time soon.

Ed Note: The rest of Weisler’s five-part video interview with Gregory Artzt can be found on her blog. Artzt addresses data ROI, STB data and his predictions on the future of social media metrics. 

(Charlene Weiner is a research veteran, member of the Set Top Box Collaborative executive committee, the CTAM Research Committee and a CIMM consultant. Her email address is WeislerMedia@yahoo.com, or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/weislermedia.) 

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