Social listening or tea leaf reading? What’s a better determinant of brand success

Agencies and brands have been tempted to use social mentions/social share of voice as some kind of proxy for business success. The problem is, this methodology is completely unfounded.

The following evaluation shows why tea-leaf reading — an ancient fortune-telling method, is essentially as useful as social listening tools for measuring success for your brand.

Method 1: Social listening tools

SOV is an effective measure, social SOV is not

For the last 16 years, it has been statistically proven by three independent academic studies (1/2/3) that in order to grow a brand share of market, you need to grow your share of voice (media spend) beyond your SOM percentage. For instance, if you’re a tea brand that owns 20% of the tea market, then you need to own a share of voice (media spend) beyond 20% of that market.

However, in the eight years that have followed, no social listening tool has proven that there is any linkage between social share of voice and share of market. Crimson Hexagon — a leading social listening tool, has even gone as far to say,

‘For us, it’s not about counting mentions or SOV — it’s about gaining consumer insights from social data, that can help improve everything from sales to product development to ad spend to planning.’ 1 2

Social listening can’t accurately capture all category buyers

One of the biggest drawbacks of social listening is the limited access to conversations. The large volume of results come from Twitter. However social listening fails to track a number of the other big social platforms including Facebook (with limited access), Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp which all have larger number of daily users than Twitter.

What’s more, Pew Research has found that social platforms are not universal, aside from Facebook. Twitter and other smaller platforms have big variances in who uses the social platform based on ethnicity and demographics. On top of that, Twitter lacks demographic data about their users, so you cannot cut the data into figuring out who is in your target and who is outside your target. This raises massive red flags for any brand who is looking to get a representative sample of category buyers as you are going to get a lot of noise.

Method 2: Tea Leaf Reading

The historical art of reading tea leaves, or ‘Tasseography’ has not historically been considered an accepted technique to measure brand performance. However, the mystical interpretation method does have some advantages. Especially, when you consider it has been a practiced art form for the last 400 years.

‘The first inklings of Western tasseography can be traced to medieval European fortune tellers who developed their readings from splatters of waxlead, and other molten substances. This evolved into tea-leaf reading in the seventeenth century, a short time after Dutch merchants introduced tea to Europe via trade routes to China. Wikipedia

Firstly, It is universally accepted and practiced method around the world, which makes it an attractive candidate for global brands.

‘Many interpretations for symbols exist, but readers commonly focus on the color of the symbols. Since most cups used are white or ivory and the grounds are dark, symbols are formed from the strong, contrasting colors. White is considered a “good” symbol foretelling of generally positive things for the querent, while the grounds themselves are considered to form “bad” symbols. Wikipedia 

With this, it’s safe to assume that more white in the cup would suggest that your campaign is a success and big market share gains are in the works. If you are seeing more tea leaves, you can easily conclude that consumers don’t know a good branded hashtag when they see one, and potential market share losses are on the horizon.

What’s the verdict: Social mentions or tea leaves?

Both measures hold about the same amount of weight in helping to predict a brand’s performance. A safe bet would be to do both methods if you want a cheap gamble for measuring marketing success.

If you are a BBDO client, find some time to speak with your Comms Planner about the right measures of success, we will continue to cover better methods to measure your brand on our BBDO Comms Planning Medium blog in the upcoming months so stay tuned.

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