Vizie helps goverment agencies listen and respond to customers' comments on social media. Photo: iStockphoto
Getting to know you: CSIRO’s social media monitoring tool
CSIRO's social media monitoring tool is transforming the way Centrelink listens, understands and responds to customer feedback from social media.
Glen Paul: G’day, and welcome to CSIROpod. I’m Glen Paul. The internet has revolutionised the way we live and work, and social media is the latest stage of that revolution. It is opening up untold opportunities for Government organisations to learn about customer experiences, whether good or bad, so they can help tailor services to the needs of citizens.
To help organisations filter out the relevant comments from social media and online discussion posts CSIRO, in conjunction with Centrelink, is developing a social media monitoring tool. Joining me on the phone to discuss is Dr Stephen Wan from CSIRO’s Information and Communication Technologies.
Stephen, there seems to be no shortage of these social media tracking tools, so why has CSIRO decided to get involved?
Dr Wan: Well, there are quite a few tools on the market that do social media monitoring. At CSIRO we’re working together with Government Departments to identify how social media can better inform Government Departments about how their services are being used by citizens. And so some Government services will have great feedback, and other services might be discussed on social media, and that feedback on social media will highlight areas that can be improved in terms of providing those services to the public.
So you can find social media monitoring tools available at the market, but some of them only talk about the frequency of mentions of a particular brand name. What we’re interested in is identifying those areas and those aspects of a Government service that can be improved, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on.
Glen Paul: OK. So how does the system work? How does an operator set up the search parameters?
Dr Wan: Well, right now social media monitors in Government Departments will put a query into tools like Google and Social Mention, and they’ll be searching for the names of the Government Departments, or they’ll be searching for names of particular services, and they want to see what search hits they get back from web search engines.
And we do the same thing – we don’t try to reinvent the wheel there. We use the same sorts of tools that the social media monitors are already using, but what we do is in consultation with these media monitors, we identified how we can present that information to them in a way that’s easier for them to perform their day-to-day tasks. And that task is trying to identify which content really is relevant to their purpose of trying to improve Government service, identify which content is relevant, and if any actions need to be taken. So for example, maybe they might identify that the information on a website needs to be updated because it’s confusing people for example.
Glen Paul: OK. Now with social media monitoring the terms that are often thrown around are influence, sentiment, and volume – will you be looking into those with the tool that you’re developing?
Dr Wan: Well, we don’t look at sentiment, and we deliberately rely on the media monitor’s judgement of sentiment because they’re the best experts on that. But what we do is we try and give them an indication of what discussions are happening, how long those discussions are, how active a discussion is, and what timeframe that discussion has occurred over, so then they can get an idea of which discussions to have a look at in order to see whether or not there might be useful feedback.
There’s no point jumping in and having a look at a discussion which really doesn’t look like it’s attracting a lot of activity because the chances of finding some feedback might be less in such cases.
Glen Paul: Right. Well that is a lot of information – how does the system cope with it all; how does it manage it?
Dr Wan: Yes, it can be quite overwhelming for a social media monitor to deal with all that data – there certainly is a lot of it. What we did with this prototype was we first went and had quite a few discussions with the potential users of the prototype. So we went and talked to social media monitors in Government Departments, and we asked them what kinds of information are you looking for when you go through all this data, that you can already get through search engines? When you do this every day, what kinds of information are you looking for; what kinds of questions are you trying to answer?
And we found that it really helps to present the information to the social media monitors in the right kind of way, because otherwise it will be overwhelming. Sometimes you will open up a blog page and you’re staring at a giant wall of text, and you’re trying to understand quickly how that relates to your general question which is looking for information to improve Government services.
So what we do is we try and identify key words and key phrases that occur regularly through the collected data for the day, and that will give the media monitor some idea of what sorts of topics are being discussed.
Glen Paul: Right. And you’ve obviously been putting the system through its paces – who have you been working with to achieve that?
Dr Wan: Well, we’ve been collaborating with the Centrelink Government Department. At Centrelink they have a wonderful social media monitoring team, and the monitors there are quite knowledgeable in how to use social media to identify the most likely social media content to find feedback about Government services. So we’ve really been talking to them and engaging with them to try and understand how we can best meet their needs.
Glen Paul: Right. So when do you think the software will be complete and up and running?
Dr Wan: Well we’re hoping for a version to be available in the next six to 12 months for us to start some tests with other users who operate in a similar context to Centrelink, where they’re providing Government service, so we’re hoping in the next six to 12 months.
Glen Paul: So is it only Centrelink you’re working with, or would you welcome other Government Departments to be involved in the research?
Dr Wan: That would be wonderful – we’d love to hear from anybody who’s interested in the Government Departments. If you’re interested email me at Stephen.Wan@csiro.au.
Glen Paul: Right. Well, from one who podcasts, I’m sure the technology will prove beneficial to many wanting to know what people are thinking. Thanks for talking to me about it today, Stephen.
Dr Wan: Thanks, Glen. Thanks very much.
Glen Paul: Dr Stephen Wan. For more information find us online at csiro.au, or you can like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter at CSIROnews.