Mind Readings: The Future of Social Listening in the Age of AI

Mind Readings: The Future of Social Listening in the Age of AI

In today’s episode, get ready to dive into the future of social listening and discover why the methods you’re using now will soon be obsolete. You’ll learn how large language models are changing the game, why social media companies are guarding their data more closely than ever, and the steps you need to take to adapt your social media strategy. Prepare to be challenged and gain valuable insights that will keep you ahead of the curve!


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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for watching the video.

Christopher Penn: In today’s episode, let’s talk about social listening. Social listening, social media listening as we know it, is going to be a thing of the past—for real. Let’s talk about why this might be the case.

First, let’s define social listening: listening to social media. It is listening to conversations. There are really good tools like Talkwalker, Brand24, etc., that you can use to listen—Sprout Social does this as well; I’ve got their shirt on today.

What can you listen for? Brand mentions, replies to your stuff, mentions of competitors, trends, ideas, general conversations—there’s a ton of information available to listen to. Humans—we are a font of useful data. These conversations have been used by social media marketers for years now to navigate the landscape, understand share of voice (which is not my favorite measure, but a lot of people still use it), and just get a feel for what people have to say on any given topic.

Granted, social listening systems have to be fairly robust because there’s a lot of crap. There are a lot of people with some, shall we say, less than correct information, very confidently sharing that information online. But in general, people are really good sources of this kind of data that marketers can use to calibrate their efforts, come up with product ideas, and address market needs.

So, you’d think the future is bright for social listening—social listening is more valuable than ever. And that’s why it’s going to go away. The culprit: AI models in general. Here’s why:

Companies that make these massive AI models—OpenAI, Google, Anthropic—they all need data. They’re starving for data, and they’re trying to buy up as much of it as possible. I saw a news article not too long ago; one company was approaching Photobucket—for those folks who were on the internet in the early 2000s, you remember Photobucket. This company was like, “Hey, you’ve got a lot of labeled data, we want to buy it—buy the license to that archive.” I’m thinking, “I remember all the trash people shared on Photobucket. Do you really want that in your model?” But the answer is yes. These companies are starved for more data, and many of them are concerned about running afoul of intellectual property rights laws by using data. So they’re trying as much as they can to get this data legally.

And the social media companies, the social networks, they don’t have to ask permission to use data because in the terms of service for pretty much every social network in existence, there is a terms of service. And in that terms of service, it says things like, “You give them the right to create derivative works of what you submit” on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat, you name it. An AI model is a derivative work. An AI model is a derivative work of content we share, and we agreed to this when we signed up for Facebook and Instagram and so on and so forth.

Think about all the content that we have created for these companies. Microsoft bought LinkedIn, and that is obviously going to feed models like the ones that Microsoft is building, that OpenAI is building. Twitter has its decades of data to feed the Grok model. Meta has Facebook and Instagram and Threads and WhatsApp to feed their LLaMA models. Google has YouTube and Gmail, their search catalog, Google Photos—yeah, every time you put a photo on Google Photos, you’re helping train their model—Google Podcasts, you name it, to feed Bard and its other models.

So why does this matter? Because social networks realize that exporting their social network data fundamentally undermines their ability to make general AI models, to make money on their general AI models. Right? We saw in the last couple years some really big throttling. Twitter just outright canceled its API except for the enterprise version to access their API because they closed the doors on a whole bunch of stuff. Meta recently announced the isolation of its CrowdTangle service, which has been in existence since 2015, that used to give marketers access to raw data from Facebook and Instagram. No more; that door is closed. Microsoft shut down most of the APIs for LinkedIn years ago now and has taken people to court for scraping LinkedIn—it already has many, many safeguards in place to prevent people from scraping data and crawling data. You, for example, try to scrape a bunch of YouTube data—you’ll get locked out, either temporarily or permanently. Don’t ask me how I know.

Basically, if a social network or any service that relies on user-generated content has data at scale from us, expect them to lock it down. And that also means locking out more and more social listening tools. These companies recognize the value of that data, and they don’t want to give away the little goldmine that they are sitting on.

So, what does this mean for social media marketers?

In all likelihood, you’ll be able to keep grabbing data when you post to LinkedIn, Instagram, whatever—you’ll be able to get your information, but the days of endless buffets of broad social media data, data that is not yours, data about what competitors are posting, data that random people post, those days are coming to a close rapidly, as social networks grasp the value of their data and either sell it or make their own models from it. But either way, they’re going to put up as many walls as possible to prevent other people from taking it. And it’s their right, that’s their right—it’s their data. Well, it’s our data, we’ve given it to them.

So what do you take away from this?

If you’re a social media marketer, expect it to get harder to get broad data. You may have to come up with your own system for doing that. If you have some skilled programmers, or you’re skilled at using generative AI to write software, you may have to write some workarounds that look at narrow slices and can simulate a human being using a social network. That probably does in many cases violate the terms of service, so be aware that if you do that, you may get kicked off of that social network and banned from it.

Be aware that that’s probably the direction many things are going to go. That also means that if you have access to data now, you should be hoarding it as much as you can because you may need to make your own models at some point just to be able to predict what happens on a social network once that data gets locked down.

And if you are a truly enterprising person, you might just make your own social network. Maybe it’s not huge, maybe it’s just a community on Discord, or maybe you clone or fork Mastodon and turn that into something, but you might—if you truly want continued access to data from your audience—you may have to build your own social network to do that. For example, we run the community Analytics for Marketers; it’s a Slack group. Go to TrustInsights.ai/analyticsformarketers to join it. In that Slack group, as an administrator, I can do an administrative export of that data and archive it, and then I can use that data as I need to. Trust Insights owns that community; we own that information. And so the conversations that people have in there, we can use to triangulate and understand our audience better. You’ve got to own that data, you’ve got to own that network to do that.

So, some thinking for you to do about social media listening. That’s gonna do it for today’s episode. Thanks for tuning in, we’ll talk to you next time. If you enjoyed this video, please hit the like button, subscribe to my channel if you haven’t already, and if you want to know when new videos are available, hit the bell button to be notified as soon as new content is live.

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