Social media is a massive phenomenon that can drive incredible growth for businesses. Currently, there are 4.89 billion social media users worldwide, which is expected to grow to nearly 6 billion by 2027. In Mark Zuckerberg’s words, it is gradually encompassing the whole world and connecting people.
Facebook, which started as a little more than a picture gallery, quickly exploded into a heavily monetized billion-user platform. Simultaneously, social networks like Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, Discord, and others gathered their own massive communities.
Business owners and marketing specialists seized the opportunity to use social media to increase their enterprise performance. But how do they do that? They tap into a vast flow of User Generated Content (UGC) and extract valuable information from it.
That’s why discussing web scraping techniques in social media is essential – it’s one of the most efficient ways to collect online data.
What Is Web Scraping?
Web scraping is a process of automatically collecting publicly available web data and aggregating it for further analysis. The general principle of web scraping predates the Internet. Employees who manually analyzed various business aspects (price changes, product availability, etc.) gathered the same data that web scrapers now collect automatically.
An illustrative example is price comparison. Every business owner must align the prices according to the market situation, or they risk underselling their services. However, the global market is fiercely competitive. It has so many participants that gathering specific industry prices manually would take too much time.
Instead, they use Web Scraper and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to collect such data automatically. Web scrapers use bots and proxies (often residential) to connect to websites and extract required information, such as commodity availability, user reviews, star ratings, and prices. Simultaneously, they can use APIs to establish a mutual agreement between two consenting parties to share specific information.
APIs are more transparent. However, they limit data availability depending on agreed rules. Meanwhile, web scraping does not require mutual agreement and can gather more extensive datasets but must adhere to the website’s national and international data collection laws.
Knowing when to use API or a web scraper will help you to avoid legal issues and collect more relevant data without wasting time and resources.
Is Web Scraping Legal?
Web scraping is legal, but it is regulated. Firstly, Cambridge Analytica gave web scraping a bad name when they illegally gathered 87 million Facebook user data. Although the data was accessible through a vulnerability in Facebook’s system, collecting it was deemed a severe offense that forced Cambridge Analytica to go bankrupt.
The unwritten rule is only to gather data that is publicly available. For example, if a service requires logging in with a password to view the content, scraping it with a bot is a bad idea. On the other hand, if a review website like Trustpilot publishes UGC publically, you can collect it.
Most websites do not like being scraped as they consider it a competitive disadvantage. Further, they state their data-sharing rules in the Robot.txt file. Inspecting this file before gathering data and adhering to its rules would be best. Although websites cannot force you to stop collecting publicly available data, they can initiate long and costly legal processes, such as the LinkedIn vs. HiQ lawsuit.
Lastly, you should avoid gathering personally identifiable information (PII). General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) laws regulate when and how PII can be collected and stored. Failing to follow their rules results in hefty fines. If your business requires PII to function, you must be highly cautious and seek legal advice.
Scraping Social Media Data
Social media data is extraordinarily valuable because it is massive and organic. People tend to share their genuine feelings on social networks, which is more accurate than old-school surveys. Here’s what data businesses can extract from social media:
- Competitor’s posts;
- User posts;
- Username profile photo and URL;
- Publicly available likes and interests;
- Publicly available demographic data;
The list is incomplete since available data units vary per social media platform. However, businesses generally extract user sentiment regarding specific products, features, likes, and interests. This way, they can forge a consumer profile and keywords to improve the placement of their ads.
Social media data scraping is part of a successful online media monitoring campaign. Instead of spending countless hours on manual labor, you can use bots to join specific groups and extract the required information. These bots can extract a range of data, from positive or negative feedback to reactions to new product features, user expectations, and more.
Remember, you must depersonalize this type of data before taking action. Because if any information you collect can be traced back to a particular person, using such data can get you in legal trouble.
Otherwise, this information is invaluable to monitoring your brand performance. Users will post online whether they like or dislike specific innovations, and you can get ideas for further product development from competitors’ success stories. Continue reading to learn about three use cases to improve your social media marketing.
Brand Voice Representation
Users choose brands they love and can trust; such bonds begin with communication. By scraping social media data, you can identify your potential buyers’ interests, demographic details, passions, expectations, and more. You can use this data to construct an attractive brand image they can relate to.
Remember that your brand voice must be consistent. Any changes to your image will be reflected in user sentiment, and you can easily spot positive or negative feedback by scraping social media comments.
Research and Development departments are crucial for business longevity. Your services can survive only if they improve over time and keep up with the competition. As many R&D specialists will agree, one of the most complex parts is to develop ideas for new popular features.
After all, if you put a lot of effort and resources into a feature nobody wants, you will suffer significant losses.
You can scrape social media data to identify positive feedback on similar products. For example, if your competitors are actively upgrading their services, you can scrape the positive reviews and see what they’re all about. This might give you an even better idea for service improvement, or you might choose to implement a similar feature.
If consumers dislike a specific feature or anything about your services, they will use social media to share their thoughts. Your public brand channel is not the only place they will post. They can bombard review sites and communicate with competitors. For example, a popular video game franchise’s Metacritic score was ruined due to predatory monetization practices.
If you scrape such data and extract negative keywords, you will clearly see where the service fails. You can then either roll back the changes or change the development direction. Furthermore, this will signal to your client’s that you are reacting to feedback to restore a positive reputation.
Most successful businesses in 2023 will utilize data from social media to improve their business decision-making. As practical as it is, you must be cautious about gathering and using personal data and guaranteeing your client’s privacy. If you master the art of ethical web scraping, you will eliminate human error from datasets and gather required information much faster.