by Michael White, Keene Communications
Stop declaring that your agency’s social media campaign is the most revolutionary piece of communications work since the Internet was invented. Social media has already happened and there's something much bigger on the way. If you think digital developments over the last ten years have been radical, prepare yourself for the next three years.
To explain, I need to tell you why Shrek, onions, and the Internet have so much in common: All three have layers. In its simplest form the Internet can be divided into the human readable content and the scripted technical structure which builds pages and links them together. These layers co-exist to form the World Wide Web. It is this very framework that allows our web browsers to display content in seconds, delivered by servers dotted all around the world.
In the public relations (PR) industry this system has become the foundation behind our social media campaigns and interactive marketing websites. When PR professionals attend fancy social media events to boast about their latest and greatest digital campaigns, remember this: None of their hard work would be possible without the Internet onion.
The Problem for PR: The Expanding Internet
We, the communications industry, are digital, and agency work is increasingly more about hyperlinks than physical press clippings. And as the Internet grows ever larger, we all face a huge challenge: Just how are agencies meant to deliver for clients when we must monitor the entire—and expanding—digital universe?
The answer lies in software. To offer any form of media monitoring service accurately today is impossible without its assistance. Some degree of automated media detection is needed, and in addition we need a system that can analyse web pages for meaning. Especially for online reputation management services, where it’s necessary to review a great many articles to understand different themes, who’s involved, and emerging story patterns. Online reputation management today is big data.
The Solution Is On the Way: The Semantic Web, Readable By Software
At Keene Communications we believe the solution for the "reputation management monitoring problem" the industry currently faces will arrive in the next upgrade of the Internet. This will be what the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, alluded to in 2001 as the Semantic Web. This new layer of the Internet onion extends its traditional boundaries to a web of data beyond the control of individual applications. The Semantic Web comprises specific web-scripted markup tags which make the meaning of the content of web pages readable by software. This is a significant upgrade to the traditional structural tags, which currently only inform browsers of the physical layout of web pages. The actual metatags behind the Semantic Web have been around since the late 1990’s, and are known as Resource Description Framework (RDF).
The Semantic Web and Semantic Analysis
When it comes to the Semantic Web, it’s important to make a distinction:
- There is the Semantic Web, the extra layer of the internet onion which I’ve previously described.
- There is Semantic Analysis, a software-fuelled process which either collects data from the Semantic Web or independently analyzes data by crawling the Web and collecting content.
It will be semantic analysis software which will help drive our ability to monitor and comprehend the web’s big data moving forward. This software will understand the semantic meaning in web pages, link similar pages together through RDF (rather than hyperlinks), and allow content analysis. This means much, much more than just matching keywords on social networks. It is, instead, navigating the internet through the content that is published.
This isn’t science fiction—examples of the Semantic Web are cropping up all over the place. Just look how search goliath Google operates. When a user provides a search term an exact lexical match would not be appropriate for running a search query due to the synonymity of words. If, for example, results were delivered simply on the basis of an exact lexical match of “cheap gardening spades shop,” Google would deliver millions of extraneous results.
The search engine version of semantic analysis examines the patterns of words across indexed web pages (among other methods). In layman’s terms, the process assumes that similar words will be used within related contexts, discovered through the relationships between words. This form of analysis will be perfected even further if and when Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of the Semantic Web comes to pass. In reality, it is the responsibility of developers across the world to insert the correct semantic tags into web pages, and not just metadata for search engine optimisation strategy.
Sometimes semantic analysis even makes its way into smaller mainstream tools. At London’s eCommerce Expo earlier this year I learnt how a basic semantic engine underpins the popular home cooking app Whisk, allowing it to crawl recipe websites and deliver machine readable content to supermarkets.
Keene Communications is researching semantic analysis in response to the rapidly growing need to monitor increasing amounts of reputation data. Each week we get closer to building a fully automated semantic analysis system, and we anticipate good news on this in late 2014. We are developing a news delivery system which will ultimately be able to automatically categorise different stories. This will allow us to accurately track our clients’ reputations even as the web continues to expand.
For the PR industry the Semantic Web offers countless opportunities to enhance and redefine our offerings for clients. Its capabilities will not only be a giant leap forward when searching for viable methods to measure reputation online, but will also help re-imagine stakeholder analysis.
The Semantic Web is a brave and ever-closer new world. I predict that in the next three years it will overshadow the hype we still see around social media.
And what if my prediction doesn’t come true? I’ll sit down, watch "Shrek" and eat a raw onion.
Michael White is a consultant at Keene Communications. He devises and executes digital and social media campaigns. Email him at michael[at]keenecomms[dot]com or tweet him at @keenecomms.
The Measurement Standard is a publication of Salience Insight. Salience Insight is the media measurement division of News Group International – a global provider of business intelligence and media resource services. Salience is a fresh, new global brand which incorporates the former UK-based Report International and US-based KDPaine & Partners, acquired in 2012.