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The Social Media Intelligence Blog

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Want to Work in Social Media? There's a Few Things You Should Know First

By Alex Walter  •  March 24, 2015


Want to Work in Social Media? There's a Few Things You Should Know First

Posted by: Alex Walter on March 24, 2015

“I’ve been up for nearly three days straight” the towel-clad gentleman proclaimed proudly. “Oh? Are you a doctor?” I guessed hastily, unaccustomed to half-naked chit chat in the health club sauna. “No.” he corrected tersely. “I work in social media monitoring and engagement.”

“Cool—I work heavily in the social media research space.” I replied, honestly interested.

He shrugged. “Eh, it’s all the same thing.” He concluded definitively.

“No, it is NOT!” I shouted in my head.

“Social media monitoring, engagement and research are incredibly different!”


The terms social media engagement, monitoring, and research are often seen as related to the same function, but in practice, each is actually quite different. This is something that even seasoned veterans find themselves mixing up.

However, if you’re interested in a job in the social media space, the differences are something you’ll need to know in order to find that position that fits you best.

This post explains what each function relates to and the differences between all three.

Social Media Engagement

The most traditional approach to utilizing social media. This is often the responsibility of community managers. When leveraged correctly, the unique opportunity arises to showcase your brand’s personality, build trust, support customers, and win customers for life.

Wielding this enormous power though, can also provide a very public platform on which to stumble. See Coca-Cola #MakeItHappy. More like #oops..

Bottom line: interacting with clients directly in the public eye provides a wealth of opportunities for big wins—and the potential for embarrassing hilarious flubs.

Social Media Monitoring and Analytics

Engagement’s quiet, nerdy brother, monitoring is a more hands off approach that focuses on monitoring for specific terms and counting associated metrics like mentions, retweets, and potential impressions.

This typically has a strong bias towards metrics found on specific social platforms. Social media monitoring’s value lies mainly in providing unprompted, honest brand feedback in the form of numbers.

Convinced that your customers love your latest flavor offerings? Actually, they think it tastes like “melted dirty gym socks cooked in bear whiz”. Turns out they’re just too darn nice to say it to your face.

Social Media Research and Intelligence

The analyst, or researcher, position has become increasingly important to marketing teams and brands, and is what I have the most experience with.

From my vantage point, research is the same as engagement and monitoring in that its use varies wildly across industries and businesses. However, unlike engagement and monitoring, you must first ask the initial question, “what are we trying to solve for?”

Essentially, knowing what makes people tick is helpful, but understanding why people tick is paramount. I spent many hours of my collegiate career peering through a one-way mirror, taking detailed notes on unsuspecting subjects to understand their behavior. I see social media research as a more honest, web-based version of this one-way mirror.

To wrap things up, I recently stumbled upon a Harvard Business Review article, thoughtfully titled “Metrics are Easy; Insight is Hard”. In this article the author provides a succinct definition of insights, which aligns perfectly with what social media research is all about.

“Insights are actionable, data-driven findings that create business value.”

Tasks Related to Engagement, Monitoring, and Research

For quick reference, I created the table below that covers the different day-to-day tasks for roles in engagement, monitoring, and research. For the research column, I’ve also linked to some helpful examples of the application of each task.

Engagement Monitoring Research
Relationship building Listening for online mentions/perception of your brand, competitors, and industry (volume) Measuring purchase intent and buying behavior
Reporting on activities Listening for direct and indirect questions from customers Informing new business pitches
Launching campaigns (retweet to win / promotions) Discover brand advocates and detractors Segmenting and analyzing psychographics
Tracking likes Learning where customers are talking about your brand (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) Performing trend analysis
Community management Listening for the most popular topics about your brand Preparing for and measuring product launches
Publishing posts to social media Listening for mentions of company executive team Performing category analysis
Customer support / service, responding to people who are upset Monitoring mentions of product misuse Undertaking earned brand reputation analysis
Lead generation and sales Monitoring for brand specific hashtags Performing deep competitive analysis


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