Point of view: Content needs context

Molly Flatt

How accurately do your social media conversations reflect your actions in the real world? I spend a lot of time helping marketing teams to acknowledge and understand the living people behind the tweets, photos, videos and blogs about their brand. But I also like to remind them that our glimpse into the preferences and passions of those people is highly edited. The gregarious, fashion-savvy, culture-loving woman in my social media feeds is very different from the one who likes to gossip about trashy magazines on the sofa with crusty scrambled egg on her M&S sweatshirt. Our online personas, however authentic, are only a particular and partial shadow of our true selves.

So if brands want to influence our offline behaviour, is social content a reliable indicator of what we will do once we're in the shop or on the beach? Listening to word of mouth online then using that data to improve products and create content has become big business: Altimeter reports that monitoring platforms represented the biggest social media spend for companies in 2013, an average of $62,000. But are we drawing insight from simplistic, self-censoring avatars rather than complex human beings?