Tigers and the army: Following the London Riots on social media

The widespread looting in London this week has seen shops and businesses wrecked, burnt and emptied by mobs of youths hidden behind hoods, seemingly unaware of the damage they are causing to communities and the country as a whole. On the evenings in question, and as a resident of London, I was concerned and eager to find out information about the riots, to find out what areas were affected, and what areas were in danger. Although news channels tirelessly followed developments, the most information available was to be found on social media sites, particularly Twitter.

Yet did this do more damage than good? As hype and hysteria grew during the evenings, there were increasing numbers of false rumours as the truth was very much muddled with the fantasy. If I was to believe what was being written on Twitter then unfortunately where I live (Balham) would have been a pile of rubble by the following morning. There were also even wilder rumours circulating, including the army being spotted in camouflage at Bank and animals (including a Tiger) having escaped from the London Zoo. As it has transpired none of the above took place. Exaggeration is a part of human nature yet for some reason, social media multiplies this effect. 


So what does this tell us about social media as a channel that companies use to listen to their customers?

My experience with social media this week demonstrates one of the key problems with it as a feedback channel. There are a plethora of social media monitoring solutions that companies engage to mine online comments for complaints and comments around their brand. But how much can these comments be truly relied upon? Whilst common social media mining technology may flag occasional genuine customers expressing genuine concerns; the ability to ‘cut the wheat from the chaff’ is both elusive and complex. Fizzback’s Natural Language Processing engine constitutes this precise ability. Using the same engine that computes and analyses customer feedback from more orthodox feedback channels, NLP can help our clients to sound out the truth from the fantasy online.

Yet before I completely kill off social media as a feedback tool, it is something which is also necessary to take note of. Rightly or wrongly it does give companies a view of brand perception, and is an incredibly powerful marketing tool for spreading word of mouth (and complaints on social media shouldn’t be left to fester). What I am saying is that it must be taken with a pinch of salt, and in conjunction with other methods of engaging with your customers to really drive forward performance improvement.

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