Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Social media insights from Zena Applebaum @ the SLA 2014 conference

Day 2 of SLA social media insights

Day 2 of my first Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference and I'm thinking to myself, "this is where I belong". Here I am, attending several presentations where information consultants have similar assumptions regarding using social media tools to find information as I do. Mining blogs, Twitter and other social media platforms for insights seem to be the norm in the information consulting industry. To information consultants, social media presents a very important and free information source in addition to paid commercial databases.

Zena Applebaum, Director of Competitive Intelligence at Bennett Jones LLP, was one such presenter that gave a talk on this subject. Two things fascinated me from her presentation entitled "Social media-Turning noise into action":
1.     The assumption that social media can be information sources from which information should be collected 
2.     That one can develop a social media collection and acquisition policy (or procedures) to make decisions about what social media data or information one could collect.
It is these points that I want to briefly review and talk about here in this blog entry.

First and foremost, Applebaum argues that social media sits between the spectrum of primary research and secondary research. She further argues that social media provides access to people essentially talking about themselves and others without the researcher eliciting those responses. She further suggests that on social media, there are both individuals and institutions that provide information. Her questions are not so much whether or not such information can be trusted or what's the value of such information, but how do we get at that information. This is in contrast to my discussions with some academics and in academia (including a few librarians), who are suspicious of social media information and ask can the data be trusted and how can we know whether or not the social media information is authentic or meaningful. Further, I've found that from informal discussions within limited academic circles, that there are doubts about collecting and storing such information, as social media information is deemed to be either too trivial, ephemeral or lacking the authority of traditionally published/secondary sources and primary sources.  

The second thing that impressed me about Applebaum's talk was that she laid out what seemed to be guidelines for getting or acquiring social media data. In her presentation, she discussed the need for competitive intelligence specialists to have a framework for monitoring and collecting relevant information from social media. This begins by determining what she refers to as "key intelligence topics". According to Applebaum (2014)

Key Intelligence Topic - (KITs) are those topics identified as being of greatest significance to an organization’s senior executives, and which provide purpose and direction for Competitive intelligence operations. 
How do we determine these topics? Applebaum suggests that we conduct a series of interviews of a representative group of users from which we ascertain the relevant topics to monitor media and social media for. Then we are to grouped these topics into appropriate categories and get our stakeholders (the senior organizational executives/users) to allocate a priority to the same. Hence to begin the process, Applebaum recommends that we analyse who are our stakeholders (or users) and what decisions do they make. In addition, we must also ask:
•What knowledge do the users need?
•What intelligence can we provide?

The second step in the process is to define what she terms the "collection plan" (Using my collection development training, I would call it the collection development/acquisitions policy/procedures. However, her term may indicate less formality in the process). This involves determining the producers of the information that one needs and how to locate them. In Applebaum's presentation, this analysis of the sources that need to be monitored involves asking:

•Who has the information you need?
•Who is their audience?
•What social media will they use?
•How do you search those platforms?

In my own experience as a librarian, the first two steps are similar to the process that I go about when identifying and determining which publishers (and vendors of commercial databases) to contact for what materials are needed for my library. The last point relates to how do I find those publishers (or vendors) in order to make those purchases (nowadays, we just deal with agents rather than contacting the publishers directly. Unless we are collecting rare books or items)

So when I examine this, I conclude that the skills of collection development are as relevant to social media information as they are to books and other items collected by libraries. In basic collection development policy we decide the purpose of our collection, its scope (and or limitations) and the types of decisions that we will make as to what sources to acquire or omit from the collection. Further, while we may not write it into our policy, we may implicitly establish procedures or a process to go about acquiring items for our collection. All this reinforces the idea to me that librarians can apply their skill sets (acquired from experience with traditional media and library sources) to new media and information sources/resources. The issue is whether or not we deem social media to be sources that we must collect, store, preserve and provide for our users to access.


Applebaum, Z. (2014). Social media – Turning noise into action. Presented at Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from http://sla2014.sched.org/event/db8c0c4fe1b010468310ab57b62d9eda#.U5aEzfldUrW.

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