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Interview with Keyhole CEO Saif Ajani

Hashtag Analytics And Social Listening Made Easy With Keyhole

Ditsa Keren

Keyhole is a hashtag analytics and social monitoring platform that helps brands and marketers measure the impact of social media campaigns and know exactly what people are saying about them. In this interview, Keyhole founder and CEO Saif Ajani discusses the changes that online marketing is going through, and foresees a bright future for authentic influencer marketing.

Please describe the story behind the company: What sparked the idea, and how has it evolved so far?

I’m the co-founder and CEO of Keyhole. We launched this product in 2013, so we’ve been in the social listening side for seven years now, which is quite an eternity in the social media space. The focus of the Keyhole platform has always been around helping organizations measure the impact of their social media efforts. Whether it’s agencies and marketers who are running campaigns and want to measure the impact that their campaigns are having or on the social listening side, trying to understand the impact that their efforts are having in terms of brand sentiment, crisis management, and so on.

How does Keyhole work? What are its main features, and what makes it unique?

Keyhole has three strong arms that make it unique in the way they’re connected. What Keyhole does, in a broad sense, is to provide social media data and social media analytics to organizations. If you want to know what people are saying about your organization or your campaigns on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc., Keyhole helps collect and aggregate all of that so that it’s easy for you to understand. 

Obviously, in social media, there is so much noise that it’s really difficult to know what people are saying about any specific topic because the number of conversations that are taking place is endless. So how do you sift through that? If you’re only being mentioned three times a month, it’s not a big deal. But most of the organizations we work with are mid-large size organizations and agencies that are being mentioned hundreds of thousands of times a month. Keyhole helps collect all that information and present it in a way that’s easy to understand and measure. 

What makes Keyhole unique is that it’s not just about monitoring what people are saying about you on social media, but it also looks at how specific accounts are performing. When you’re publishing on social media platforms and you need to report back on how many followers you’re drawing, how much engagement your posts are generating, and most importantly, what can you do to improve engagement? Keyhole helps provide those types of metrics. 

The third arm connects the first two by helping you measure the impact of your influencer campaigns. Whether you’re running a hashtag campaign yourself or you’re working with influencers to promote your products and organization, we’ll be able to pull insights from influencer accounts that you’ve connected with and give you a true view on the listening side, because we’ve got visibility into the profiles as well, which is quite unique. In a broader sense, Keyhole is about listening to what people are saying about you and measuring the impact that your accounts and your campaigns are having.

Here’s a quick introduction to the Keyhole dashboard:

What would you say are the main challenges that social media professionals are struggling with today?

One of the biggest challenges is certainly trying to draw out the signal from the noise. With billions of people and conversations on social media, it becomes really difficult to know which parts of the conversation to pay attention to, and which parts are actually going to impact your organization, whether it’s about the topics and industries that you’re working in or the influencers that exist in the space. 

When I say influencers, I don’t mean having people like Kim Kardashian promoting your product. What I mean is that within every industry, there are tastemakers, people who are driving the conversation forward, and government officials who are developing policies. How do you pay attention to those types of thought leaders who are going to impact your business? That’s very difficult to do, given all the background noise in social media, so it’s certainly a big challenge that social media professionals are struggling with. 

The other part is about measuring the impact of your efforts. The number of followers used to be the most important thing, but over time, people have realized that is a vanity metric. A lot of people are buying followers, so the number of real followers isn’t accurate, or the number of followers you have doesn’t necessarily lead to business impact. You’re not going to generate sales just because you have more followers, because a lot of followers might be less valuable to your business. 

How do you connect your social media efforts with true business impact? That’s something that people struggle with, particularly when they don’t have full visibility into the data, because it’s hidden behind social networks. 

Networks like Instagram, Facebook, etc., will show you certain metrics, but there are other metrics they won’t show you even though you have a profile on their platforms. Being able to measure the impact that your efforts and your campaigns are having on the business is certainly quite difficult.

What would you say are the main things to consider when building a social media marketing strategy?

I think the first thing to consider is who is your target audience? Your content strategy can evolve, but if you get the audience wrong, it will be very difficult to build any value for the organization. So the first step is defining who the audience is that you’re trying to engage and what type of content is interesting for them. 

On social media, it cannot be about sell, sell, sell. It’s really about community engagement, and building a relationship with your community. The very successful organizations talk about things that are interesting for the audience they care about. They might be talking about things that are not even related to the business, but they know are related to the audience. 

So, the first place to start is asking yourself who is the target audience that you want to work with, and what kinds of content are interesting to them, as opposed to what kind of content do you generate. It doesn’t start with you, it starts with them. If you understand who the audience is and what kind of things they like, you start becoming either a curator or a thought leader for that type of audience. 

The content can be a spectrum of things, from writing blog posts that help your audience become better in their industry, even if it’s not specific to your product, or, on the other end of the spectrum, it could be memes that are relevant to that audience, that they’ll find funny or engaging. So the type of content you generate can be varied, but it has to start with who the audience is and what they think about every single day. 

What are some trends or technologies that you find to be particularly interesting these days?

I think the biggest trends are certainly around the areas of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and automation, and they’re all connected. There’s a huge amount of data just waiting to be processed by machine learning. 

In that sense, machine learning is simply about finding those parts of your job that happen frequently and can be made easier with automation. How can you spend more of your time doing activities that require thought, rather than spending your time doing activities that are just repetition? How do I automate the repetitive things and spend my time creating new value because I’m not spending 60-70% percent of my day doing copy-paste activities?

When it comes to the social media marketing tools that are out there, many of them are starting to bring in technologies that give you either predictive insights (which is something Keyhole has certainly built on the social listening side), or recommendations on how to run a marketing campaign, in terms of what content to create, when and where to publish it, etc. 

I think the technologies that are going to make life a lot more interesting and exciting for marketers are going to be around learning from past data to become smarter in what we do next. 

How would you say COVID-19 impacted your customers, and the industry in general?

On the marketing and social listening side, it’s really been a tale of two cities. In some industries, it’s been a big slowdown, particularly around influencer marketing. We’ve certainly read and heard across the board that a lot of the influencer marketing campaigns that used to exist have hit pause. COVID-19 has been a part of it, but it’s also been around social issues that are coming up. Brands are very careful about the types of influencers they work with because they don’t want to work with influencers who appear tone-deaf when so many people in the world are struggling. Brands are much more selective with the influencers they hire. 

Particularly, we know that many B2C brands have been hit, with a lot of stores closing down and a lot of retailers going bankrupt. They were the ones who were sometimes hiring influencers, so influencer marketing, as a whole, has certainly seen a slowdown. 

Another segment that’s seen a slowdown is event marketing. When was the last time we saw an event that didn’t have a hashtag? Event hosts were actually strong users of things like social listening and Hashtag tracking, but because events have slowed down they’re not using those things like they did before.

On the flip side, brands that care about social purposes have increased. We’re seeing a lot more engagement from non-profit segments because social causes, like Black Lives Matter, for example, have been given priority. COVID-19 has had an impact on the causes that nonprofits work for. So if you think about non- profits that are focused in the health sector, for example, COVID-19 has had a big impact and they’re interested in knowing what that impact is on the audiences that they serve; Organizations that work with labor unions want to know about layoffs and labor shortages. So nonprofits, as a segment, is growing and has seen higher engagement. 

B2B brands and technology companies have also become stronger. There’s certainly a much higher use of technologies. In the B2B segment, we’re certainly seeing a big increase in the efforts they are putting in through the COVID-19 period. 

The third segment is organizations that serve the public sector. Think about cities, towns, and countries that want to know what their citizens are talking about. They’re interested in what’s happening with COVID in their specific cities and countries and that has seen an increase. 

Marketing has not stopped, it just shifted away from unauthentic marketing to more authentic marketing. The segments that relied on unauthentic marketing have paused, and authentic marketing has grown. Organizations are more interested in social causes and are trying to show that they are supporting social causes.

Another segment that’s going through some hardships and insecurities is marketing agencies. We know that agencies are heavily reliant on brands running campaigns and providing ongoing support to the internal marketing teams, whether it’s brand management, PR management, crisis management, or campaign management. 

During this COVID period, as brands and organizations have started to question every dollar that they spend, some have stopped working with agencies or have paused their campaigns, and are now questioning whether they actually need all these agency services. 

One of the things that we’ve seen the strongest agencies do articulate the value that they provide, not just in terms of the activities that they do but in the way they link their activities to their clients’ true business goals. Either because the work that they do would save the need to hire more people and help them reduce costs, or by showing the impact of their work using third-party validation. 

Agencies that work with Keyhole are able to show their clients the exact impact that they’re making, validated by a third party, rather than just saying that they’ve made an impact. Being able to articulate ROI and business benefits around the growth that agencies are helping organizations achieve in this time has certainly helped agencies to recover.

There are certainly success stories for agencies that have been able to recover because they’ve been able to tie their efforts to either cost savings that they’ve helped organizations achieve, or by generating revenue for those organizations, measured by remote third parties that anyone can trust. Agencies are facing their own existential crisis through this time. The ones who are able to show their impact, backed by solid data, are going to survive and succeed a lot more than the ones who are simply relying on relationships. 

And how do you envision the future of Social media marketing?

I think It’s going to continue to shift towards authentic marketing, with more emphasis placed on the voice of the brand itself and the voice of its true advocates. Some of the brands that stepped up and did well in things like Black Lives Matter were brands like Nike, which were true, authentic supporters. COVID-19 has shown that certain types of marketing that are true and genuine in the long run have proven effective. What works during COVID-19 is always going to work. What’s going away in COVID-19 is the fluff. People will reconsider whether to bring those portions back. Influencer marketing will come back, but it will look very different because the influencers are going to be very focused on authentic engagement and authentic voice. Brands will be focused on authentic influencers who truly love their brand and not just the Kim Kardashian’s of the world who have lots of followers. 

I think marketing would shift in terms of the types of campaigns that are run. In terms of how marketing organizations work, I think we’re going to see a lot more tech-driven efficiencies and effectiveness.

I think that virtual engagements, virtual conferences, and virtual communities that have developed during this period, will continue to evolve and shape our reality. 

I think marketing to communities will shift from being off-line and asynchronous to live video engagements. People are so used to Zoom calls these days that engaging with audiences via Zoom calls or hosting conferences and classes on Zoom has become mainstream. I think that will continue and actually get better because people have learned that there’s value in that. It might not replace direct interactions, but there’s certainly going to be more of that. There’s also going to be a shift caused by things like A.I. and automation because whether that’s been impacted by COVID or not, it’s certainly a trend that’s not going anywhere.

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