Social media is now pervasive in everyday life—roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults use Facebook, Instagram, or both. With so many users, the platforms are constantly evolving. This is especially true with recent privacy concerns over public vs. private information. The changes to data privacy are important in helping you recognize what can and can’t be analyzed to gain valuable insights about your institution. This super technical post can help you understand the data sources we’re able to gather in our social listening analysis. And if you make it past the nerd-speak, we’ll fill you in on what the changes mean for Campus Sonar’s data, the impact on higher education, and how we’re looking forward to help you achieve better outcomes.
The Changes to Facebook and Instagram
A lot has changed in the last year, keeping software companies, researchers, and analysts like the Sonarians on their toes. Facebook and Instagram (a Facebook-owned company) implemented changes to better protect user information. The changes are in response to the Cambridge Analytica misuse of data and the growing public scrutiny about what data is available to whom. Any agency that collects and shares data must comply with these changes to meet Facebook’s new terms and conditions—this includes Campus Sonar and our social listening software.
Details of the Changes
Facebook data removed from query search results. Facebook data can’t be included in query search results. This means that we can’t collect, analyze, or visualize any Facebook data that we collect from a search query. It also includes any historical and future data that we’ve gathered. If our client authenticates their Facebook account, Sonarians can collect Facebook data to monitor owned accounts and benchmark against non-owned accounts. However, we’re no longer able to see data from Facebook pages that we included in previous queries.
Facebook data exports removed. If you’re using third-party software, Facebook data can’t be exported into Excel, CSV, PPTs, via Data Downloads.
User mentions from non-owned pages removed. Anonymized mention data (verbatim posts and comments) for non-owned pages is now private. This means we can’t see the posts and comments, topic cloud, sentiment breakdown, and other insights that come from pages that our clients don’t own.
Ability to collect page data without authentication removed. Facebook pages need to be authenticated in order to search by them. To authenticate a page, you need to let your social listening software know that you have admin privileges for a page. This allows you to perform all of the administrative functions for the page, including collecting data. Authentications expire over time and you can’t collect data from an expired page. Previously, analysts could collect incidental data (posts and comments with text that matches your search query) when a token expired. At Campus Sonar, we prompt our clients to authenticate pages so our analysts have access to as much data as possible.
All of these changes limit the online conversation that’s accessible to you and social listening data analysts. Some of these changes may be more exacting than necessary and some of them may revert in the future—in fact, a few already have.
Facebook is requiring all social listening software tools to block/remove their data from open search queries. Even historical data. This slams the door on access to PUBLICLY POSTED Facebook data entirely (it's been dropping steadily for years). IMHO, this is an over-correction.— Dr. Liz Gross (@lizgross144) June 20, 2018
Facebook = 1, Social Listening = 0
Right now these changes mean that our social listening data analysts can see the content from Facebook pages that we or our clients have admin access to, but there is no additional access. On Instagram we can search our owned pages or our client’s owned pages for public posts, comments, and hashtags, both in real-time and historical. This significantly changes what we’re able to see in Facebook and Instagram, but keep in mind that Facebook data only accounted for 1% of our data from all sources before the changes. Now, it accounts for 0% of our data.
What the Changes Mean for Campus Sonar
Our analysts have access to publicly available and searchable content on 80 million websites. The data comes from varied sources based on the social listening software that’s used.
- Most of our data comes from Twitter because of the high volume (500 million tweets per day) and availability (public tweets are easily searchable). Other social networks (e.g., Tumblr, reddit, YouTube) offer limited data availability based on the software and type of search used—we regularly see this data in our clients’ search results.
- News sites, forums, and blogs are generally well-covered by good social listening software—unless the content is behind a login or paywall.
What’s Not Included
- Private data isn’t and has never been included in social listening data analysis.
- LinkedIn doesn’t allow any social listening software access to their site. This was never included in our data analysis.
Changes Coming Back to Facebook Data
Since the changes to Facebook implemented, our social listening software is improving what they’re covering—all compliant with Facebook’s updated terms. Coming soon:
- We’ll be able to see and analyze verbatim comments on non-owned pages, plus word clouds, sentiment, and data derived from the comments.
- Access to Facebook reaction data is being restored. Facebook users can add reactions (Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad, and Angry) to their posts and previously we could only track “Likes.” Once the change is added back in, we’ll now we can track and analyze the five other reactions.
- Dark Posts: Page owners on Facebook can post public posts on their page and “dark posts” to a specific audience. Dark posts are often used for advertising, but they can also be used to publish organic posts to a specific audience. Now social listening software is able to crawl and analyze all of the dark posts on owned pages.
The Impact on Higher Education
The recent changes have an impact on marketing and higher education. And, although this seems to make it harder for social media data analysts like the Sonarians to analyze online conversations, it actually doesn’t change our analysis that much—all of the data we use in our analysis is public. Campus Sonar Director Liz Gross detailed the implications of the changes in the April issue of Brain Waves, and Michael Stoner, president and co-founder of mStoner Inc., sees the changes as positive. He posits that institutions now have to work harder and smarter to create interactions with their audience, and he offers three observations about what the changes mean for higher ed:
- Facebook will continue to be the most important platform for colleges and universities.
- Compelling content will be more important than ever.
- Expect to ask for, and spend, more money for advertising on Facebook.
Where Do We Go from Here?
In the future, the changes in available data may begin to present ethical questions for agencies like Campus Sonar and higher ed institutions. And as access continues to evolve we may need to think about how we continue to collect data and how we represent ourselves during the collection process. Since analyzing social data is what we do, campuses can trust us to be efficient and ethical—something that might be hard for you to do given all of the other responsibilities on campus.
For example, our analysts are private users of the platforms we use to gather data. As an agency with a mission of empowering colleges and universities, we need to consider how we represent ourselves. If the Sonarians use their individual access to find social listening data, we would represent ourselves openly and determine how to share the information with the client.
Campuses and universities with pages that belong to a campus-owned group should indicate the intent of the page—that they use the information they collect for social listening. This allows you to use the information to build your strategy and engage with your audience as you currently do.
If you have questions about what’s included in our analysis, submit your question to “Ask an Analyst” at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact us to find out how we can help you analyze your online conversation around the always evolving parameters.
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