Social Media in One or Two Words

socmedIt’s an interesting question: what is social media, anyway, to a modern professional? As a hectic work week was dwindling to an end on Thursday afternoon (Dubai work weeks are Sunday to Thursday — starting on Sunday is still weird, but starting the weekend on Thursday never gets old), I was chatting with my colleague Fouad Massoud. He’s in charge of MBC’s social media efforts (which he built from zero to an audience of millions), so he usually has some interesting points of view. As he was discussing how professional networking is transitioning from Twitter to LinkedIn, he pointed out one issue with LinkedIn: where do you find active, interesting groups?

Case in point: he did a quick search, and of course, there’s a “Social Media Marketing” group. It has a staggering 999,855 members (by the time you read this, probably over a million). But does that make for an engaging conversation? One of the two top posts is “what is the meaning of social media to you, in one or two words?” (the other is the same, but “in one word”). It has 15,991 comments. How is that useful in any way?

Unless, Fouad theorised, you’d get all those comments and turn them into a word cloud of what professionals think is social media. But that would be impossible to do, because LinkedIn doesn’t really have an API for getting comments on a thread (and even if there was any API to do something like that, it will be gone soon). Of course, on a Thursday afternoon, there’s only one possible reaction.


I set about this the quick and dirty way. First, to get all the comments. If there’s no API, and no way to manipulate the URL to get all comments on one page, that leaves one option: the browser Javascript console. Just jump to the latest comment, and programmatically click “show previous comments” every second or so. A cup of coffee later and most of the thread was expanded, copied to the clipboard, and then into a text editor. A few regexes easily extracted the comment text, a few more got rid of most of the spam (there are a lot of Russian brides and get rich quick schemes on offer). And finally, a few minutes of manual clean-up. It reminded me of the “data janitorial work” I mentioned in a previous post, though 15k comments is hardly big data — but the steps to take are similar.

Finally, I wanted a visualisation of what I had harvested. The obvious choice for a quick end-of-day challenge like this is Wordle, which dutifully turned the flat file into a colorful cloud. Here it is.


While entirely un-scientific, the fun of a Wordle cloud is reading the words grouped next to each other. It actually makes for a pretty good “zeitgeist” overview of what comes to mind, professionally speaking, when we’re talking about the impact and use of social media. I had fun with “just tool Building”, and I hope you like the result. Feel free to use it whichever way you want (attribution would be nice), and let me know what your favorite phrases are!

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