Every time people post an update, “like” a page, or otherwise engage with social media, their movements are tracked, followed and recorded. For businesses, this data is a gold mine of information about consumer thinking, preferences and opinions.
“Businesses should view social media as a treasure trove of data and insights that can virtually impact every business function of their organization,” Wilson Raj, global customer intelligence director with SAS, told CRM Buyer. “I believe the key question to ask is not ‘how do I plug my business into social media?’ but rather, ‘how can I plug social media into my business?'”
2-Way Data Street
Social media data is useful for getting the word out about new products and services, and for communicating marketing messages to the public. It’s usefulness doesn’t end there, though.
“The most common type of data and analytics associated with social media is sentiment and attitudinal in nature,” said Raj. “Typically, social media monitoring is consigned to the PR function or reputation management function of the business. However, with more sophisticated social analytic tools, you can extract insights that inform a business’s brand strategy, influence outreach, consumer insights, competitive intelligence, R&D efforts, customer service initiatives, marketing programs and even recruiting.”
Information, in other words, flows two ways: from the business to the consumer, and from the consumer to the business.
“The cross-function value that social media brings to a business is vital in today’s hyper-competitive and connected market environment,” said Raj. “Businesses that don’t avail themselves of the hindsight, insight and foresight inherent in social media just won’t be around for long.”
Social media is not a simple realm. New sites and tools are constantly evolving, and along with them come new kinds of data.
“Social media is in a constant state of ‘evolutionary flux,'” Morgan Arnold, CEO of Sprokkit, told CRM Buyer. “Just this year we’ve seen the rise of Pinterest and Instagram. The platforms are constantly changing, and consumer behaviors within each platform are changing just as fast. It is a lot for any brand or marketer to keep up with. To catch these shifts as they are happening — or hopefully, before they happen — requires very focused skillsets and attention.”
Choosing which data to mine, in part, depends on the kind of site and how consumers use it.
“Consumers seem to have settled around Facebook as their personal social platform of choice, LinkedIn as the central business networking platform, and Twitter as the primary way of disseminating time-sensitive news and information as it happens,” noted Arnold. “So, within the perpetual flux of innovation, we also see some maturity and stability coming to the sector.”
Data-mining tools do everything from tracking mentions to making sense of back-end analytics.
MediaVantage, for instance, tracks social media for keyword mentions and other information, and then offers the ability to fully analyze that data.
“MediaVantage provides a useful and flexible Web interface that allows users to efficiently drill into results, save or discard them, and then produce clip books and analytics reports,” Jean-Francois Pouliotte, director of product management for MediaVantage, told CRM Buyer. “These reports can be exported to various formats and shared with all the relevant stakeholders.”
Tools like Sprokkit’s Track Social arrange the data into categories that simplify the process of analyzing and interpreting it.
“Metrics tracked relate to brand and user activity such as fan numbers, likes, retweets, mentions, etc.,” said Arnold. “Algorithms then roll this data up into high level ‘pillars’ of presence, audience, engagement and buzz, that summarize the overall positioning and help brands understand their performance at a glance. The system then allows you to drill down into the data through dashboard charts and graphs.”
That contextualizing of data is a valuable part of the social media information industry, since it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information.
“We use data mining to build very industry- and business- specific taxonomies, topic clusters, sentiment rules, customized business rules and so on to ensure that the data feeds and analysis engines are being constantly tweaked to changing conversations and business needs,” explained Raj.
“You truly unleash the power of social media when you are able to combine it with the business’ own unique data sets,” he said. “This helps the business filter out a huge volume of distracting, meaningless social media conversations, which is a prevalent and expensive issue for businesses that embark on social media analytics today.”