Social Media: Diamonds in the Rough
Social media is everywhere, and social intelligence continues to be a growth segment for businesses trying to make decisions from this source of "Big Data." But how do you know where to start looking for answers? Here are four tips on where marketers should start digging to find social insights that help meet business goals:
1. Establish Social Objectives
At the core of social media analytics is the task of finding a conversation and opening a dialogue based on what is said. However, just knowing the conversation exists doesn't do any good if marketing managers haven't identified the objectives and key business questions that will be most impactful for the brand/company.
One definition of success may mean being able to quickly and adeptly manage customer feedback and communication—either through the normal course of business or during periods of crisis. This social objective is far different from an objective for analyzing social data to make product development decisions. Regardless of the social objectives, it is imperative to make sure they are well-defined and effectively communicated within your organization and to your agencies/partners, as they will influence where to find the most relevant data and channels.
2. Insights Are Not Equal
Once primary social goals are set, marketers need to realize what kind of communication occurs on each social network. Just as diamonds, gold and rubies are each invaluable, they hold different values depending on who the consumer is. This is true for the various social media platforms—each holds an abundance of information, but the most cherished information will come from choosing the appropriate audience to achieve the overall business goal.
Common questions to ask when deciding what source to use include:
- What is the overall purpose and audience of this network?
- Who are the key influencers?
- How are users/customers expressing themselves?
Twitter is great for very quickly understanding what news is trending, but it's not optimal for deriving rich insights about consumers. Twitter is more of a broadcast channel used by people and companies to amplify a particular announcement or for link sharing, and the amount of original content produced is surprisingly small. If the social objective is to get a message out to the highest number of consumers possible, there's definitely value in leveraging Twitter. For customer service, Twitter is great for quickly responding to issues that come up before the problem spreads to other channels. From a research perspective, however, Twitter doesn't allow a deep dig into what makes people decide to align with a brand, make a purchase or take any sort of action.
Facebook, on the other hand, can tell marketers a lot more than Twitter about people connecting with a brand—not only because of the profile information made publicly available, but also because people tend to share more detailed personal information/opinions on Facebook. Marketers are, therefore, equipped to formulate holistic personas about a person's life stages, interests and hot buttons.
Individuals are also sharing more personal information on LinkedIn, but content for the most part remains focused on users' professional lives. The information available on this platform has great research value, including understanding users' connections, groups and expertise, as well as the content they tend to share. Lastly, LinkedIn has the ability to identify influencers who are important to the brand. LinkedIn is a great place to establish delineations of expertise and assess credibility within a community, because leaders are appointed by the community members where they contribute content.
3. Finding Social Intelligence Gold In Forums
As a marketer, some of the richest information can come from forums, but these sources tend to be overlooked. The real insights within them are the tight communities where participants build relationships over time and look to each other for advice and opinions that extend far beyond the original topic that brought the group together. Forum participants share deep details and opinions, and offer each other advice on a wide variety of topics, including relationships, parenting or lifestyle choices.
For example, regardless of a company's vertical, weightwatchers.com is often seen as one of the top sources of discussion, even if the business brand is completely unrelated to food, fitness or health. The hugely engaged community has formed rich subgroups with deep relationships that evolved over time. Primarily comprised of women, the discussions in these forums often sway off topic to offer advice to someone buying a washing machine or a new car, or to sound off about banking fees.
4. Making Sense of the Data
Once the raw information is compiled, there is a good amount of human—yes, human—analysis that needs to come into play. For instance, someone who tends to be loud in a forum isn't necessarily influential. (Like in real life—just because someone talks a lot doesn't mean others are necessarily listening.) So, while analytic tools are invaluable for identifying influential sites or authors, there really needs to be some human analysis of content, as well. Some aspects of influence—such as relevance and credibility—require qualitative assessments by people to validate.
Beyond understanding how users are communicating on social platforms, the right analytic framework can help answer focused business questions that marketers have about customers and consumers. Actionable insights from social intelligence can help facilitate a targeted dialogue with a customer, shift communication plans, generate sales leads, steer product decisions, protect corporate reputation or boost brand equity. A long-term research program can help brands understand how they are moving the needle over time and how to shift gears when needed.
With social, the sample of a brand's customer base is typically engaged and passionate—they want to be heard. What's really powerful is when marketers can align and integrate their social research with other ongoing research within an organization. Consistent research frameworks allow marketers to connect the dots, and social can often enhance and augment findings from other programs. Think of it like research on steroids, it can have a great impact on business performance.
Michelle Vangel is the director of insight practices for Bellevue, Wash.-based social media monitoring, analytics and engagement provider Visible Technologies. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.