iStock 000018891409SmallDo you ever wonder if there is a secret ingredient for social-listening success? Given the huge volume of conversation online—is there a way to definitively separate the signal from the noise? How do you get relevant conversations that lead to actionable insights—not just conversations and data? It all boils down to one thing: asking the right question.

So what is the right question? The right question isn’t the search query or terms you use to conduct the social-listening activity. The right question is a specific business question that, once answered, can drive business decisions.

What does a poor question look like? A question that is too broad in scope or definition, or that will not provide insights to drive decisions. For example: “What are diabetes patients saying online?”

So how do we structure a better question? It may sound simple, yet identifying and then structuring the right business question is no simple task. But there are five steps to ensure you’re on the right path.

1. Begin with the end in mind.

2. Know the context.

3. Fully define the question.

4. Understand what decisions it will drive.

5. Test the question and refine if necessary.

 

1. Begin with the end in mind.

Visualize the types of results or outputs you could foresee informing the situation you’re currently addressing. What would it look like? Would it be stand-alone or require correlation with other data or information sources? Evaluate whether conversations in social media are the right source to identify these insights—do people talk about this situation or issues online?

Example: If you are trying to understand the impact of key online influencers (KOIs) in a particular therapeutic area, you’d most likely envision a report profiling the channels where these therapeutic discussions are taking place. This may include detailed profiles of the KOIs; their individual sphere of influence; what they talk about; the volume, frequency and relevance of their posts; size and engagement of their following; as well as opportunities on how to engage them.

Envisioning the ideal outcome, both in terms of what it would answer and how it would inform your question, and the steps it would take to get there can help you craft the right question in the first place.

2. Know the context.

The context would apply to people, process and content. To fully understand the context, it’s important to evaluate and understand the people perspective first: Who are the stakeholders for this situation or problem? Identify and prioritize the primary and secondary stakeholders. Who will be the audience reviewing the social-listening insights? Will the information gleaned provide the breadth and depth required and is social content the right data to be working with? Will it answer the questions definitively from the stakeholder’s perspective?

Example: It’s easy to ask a broad question like, “What are diabetes patients saying online?” but the key stakeholder might be most interested in being responsible for patient education following diagnosis. So a broad question wouldn’t deliver actionable insights for the stakeholder.

3. Fully define the question.

Flesh out your question—drawing from design principle, you’re better off if you keep it simple, stupid (KISS). If your problem or situation is complex, then you should break it up into multiple questions. In this way you can definitively answer the discrete questions.

Example: “What questions are newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes patients in the United States asking? Where do they go for information about their disease?” By knowing the stakeholder’s needs and keeping the questions simple, these tactical questions can be addressed much more effectively than a large, broad question. 

4. Understand what decisions it will drive.

How will the stakeholder and key decision makers use this information? Will this be enough or the right information to drive their decisions? Will you need to correlate it with other data sources to put it in context to be applied? Will the potential impact of the information gleaned be worth the time and money invested in the social listening?

Example: The insights from “What questions are newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes patients in the United States asking? Where do they go for information about their disease?” would be actionable for a stakeholder responsible for patient education following diagnosis.

5. Test the question and refine if necessary.

So you’ve identified and crystalized the business decision, but you’re not done yet. Review your question step by step to ensure that it will answer the business problem, it will be relevant and meaningful to your stakeholders—and is actionable.

Now you can see why “What are the unmet needs of newly diagnosed Type 2 diabetes patients in the United States?” is a better question than the broader question “What are diabetes patients saying online?” Whether it’s the right question would still depend on the business situation and working through the five steps above.

Envisioning the ideal outcome, both in terms of what it would answer and how it would inform your question, and the steps it would take to get there can help you craft the right question. With the right question, you can effectively engage in social listening. The rigor that went into developing and crystalizing the right question will yield more focused actionable insights from your social listening.

Topics: social media, Social Listening, Jackie Cuyvers, pharmaceutical industry, Pharma