Signal To Noise

One term you might have seen when you’re looking at stereo systems is Signal To Noise Ratio. It’s exactly what you’d think – the relationship between the desired signal and whatever background noise is present. I like what Wikipedia has to say about a variation on the theme: 

Signal-to-noise ratio is sometimes used informally to refer to the ratio of useful information to false or irrelevant data in a conversation or exchange. For example, in online discussion forums and other online communities, off-topic posts and spam are regarded as “noise” that interferes with the “signal” of appropriate discussion.

Part of what we do as marketers and business people generally is to gather information. We listen (at least I hope you do) to all of the sources of data, especially social media. In theory this allows us to gain insight into the concerns of our customers, the opinions of our brand, and the actions of our competition. However, as it turns out, these social signals have a huge signal to noise ratio, at least when it comes to brands.

The folks at Networked Insights did a study for Fast Company.  You can read the results here but the fact that blew me away is that in some cases as much as 95% of the social buzz on Twitter about a brand was spam.  They defined spam as tweets from fake accounts, social bots, coupon offers, the brands themselves or celebrity endorsers – basically anything that isn’t a true consumer writing.  The categories most weighed down by spam are those in which consumers make a lot of purchases, such as shopping, finance and tech. Significantly less spam occurs in categories such as religion, sports and science.

Most importantly, the nature of the conversation changes dramatically when the signal to noise ratio improves as the spam is removed.  More granular and nuanced topics emerge from the background noise (spam) and you get a better sense of what really is important to consumers along with how they’re feeling.

It’s critical to listen.  It’s just as critical to do whatever you can to improve the signal to noise ratio so that you’re gaining valuable insights and not just more data.  That’s true whether it’s social, analytics (is your data filtering out bots, your own employees, etc.?) or any measure you use to make important business decisions.  Got it?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

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