5 Effective Ways to Use Social Media Analytics for your Business

The social media revolution
1994 - Geocities
1997 - Sixdegrees
2002 - Friendster
2003 - Myspace
2004 - Facebook
2006 - Twitter
Does the above list ring a bell? A large percentage of the planet’s population is interacting with friends and peers as users of these social media and networking sites. Today, sites like Facebook and Twitter jointly account for close to one billion active users. There are many more sites where users can freely share their views through forums and blogs or even videos. The world of commerce is suddenly waking up to the ever-growing volume of conversations happening on these sites. But, how do they tap the potential of this new online content?

Impact on business
Most of the social media sites were originally created for like-minded communities with shared interests. The conversations on these sites often include explicit or implicit opinions about an industry, a brand, a product, a service or customer services. Positive references to a specific brand in these conversations can have a viral effect on the brand’s image in the marketplace. On the flip side there are possibilities of negative sentiments voiced by the online social communities which may quickly tarnish a brand’s image in the marketplace.

Oceans of data
It is easy to get lost in the sheer volume of social media content that is available today. The volume is growing exponentially even while you are reading this blog. Can you guess the record for number of tweets per second during an event? Hold your breath -its 7196. This was during FIFA Women’s world cup final between Japan and USA, held last year at Germany. It is not unusual to see such amazingly high number of users “Like”-ing a Facebook comment or viewing a Youtube video. Similarly there are comments by millions of users on topics ranging from ‘Dachshund training’ to ‘the latest cool gadget’. Businesses with ambition to tap this vast volume of social media content must be prepared to answer a few important questions.
  • How do they filter the data that is relevant for them?
  • How do they monitor the data real time?
  • How do they understand the user sentiment about their brands?
  • How do they transform the distributed and conversational content into actionable intelligence?  
Social media analytics vs traditional web analytics
The traditional role of business analytics is based on structured data available in enterprise applications. The focus has mostly been on extraction, organization and presentation of the data. The last big breakthrough in business analytics has been the advent of OLAP servers that facilitated multi-dimensional data analysis without using predetermined queries. The more recent discipline of web analytics deals with extraction and analysis of structured data available from the APIs, offered by popular sites like Facebook and Twitter. Searching of keywords from unstructured web content is also widely used in web analytics. However the challenges that the social media content presents are of a far higher level of complexity. Analyzing the structural patterns of interactions between humans is of utmost importance to discover the perception about a brand among the network users. The complexity becomes overwhelming when the source of texts is tagged to users across time, demographics, language and cultures.

Application areas
Social media analytics can bring a completely new perspective on how various business functions traditionally work. Social CRM can be potentially the greatest beneficiary of the social media revolution. In addition to the customer touch points already available in standard CRM solutions, there are a few areas where use of social media analytics is going to be imperative if not critical in the near future.
1. Campaign accountability - Campaigns organized by marketing departments of big corporations often create a flutter in the social networks. A recent example is the telecom major Vodafone’s Zoo-Zoo campaign, which took the whole nation by storm. Metrics like Facebook “Like”s and Tweeter “Retweet”s can give insights on a campaign’s popularity index. Traditionally the success of a campaign is generally measured by its effect on the bottom line. Metrics derived and analyzed from social media can provide much needed alternate perspectives. Quantitative and qualitative analysis across a time axis to capture the campaign life-cycle, can provide alternative insights into the success of a campaign.
2. Public sentiments on brand - Blogs, review sites, forums specific to industry segments or brands can provide useful insights on the sentiments of the online community. Heuristic analysis on public comments against important brand announcements or product launches can play an important role in deciphering sentiments from free texts. The same applies to peer to peer conversations which is an exclusive offshoot of social media content. These analytics can provide essential intelligence inputs to marketing strategies and product design along with the traditional market research techniques.
3. Customer service - Even though forward looking corporations are going great length to out perform each other with quality customer service, the efficacy of their services are often limited by the limitations of their CRM applications. It is never realistically possible to capture customer opinions beyond the service touch points. Frustrated customers often vent out their anger in public forums to draw attention. It is critical to monitor such content and turning a deaf ear to such conversations may be damaging to the business. On the flip side mining similar contents on competitors may present useful intelligence to convert brand loyalty. An interesting byproduct of monitoring customer grievances on social media is an opportunity to reduce the cost of customer service by enabling peer support through social media sites.
4. Inputs to product roadmap - Indifference from consumers lead to untimely death of promising products. Turning a deaf ear to consumer’s reaction on the latest product releases is no more an option for design teams. There are enough examples to substantiate the fact that great products were born from a flash of brilliant idea generated by a talented and maverick individual. However to sustain the relevance and competitive edge, design teams need to carefully study analytics derived from social media about their own products as well as competitors. General discussions on an industry or a product segment often throws up interesting needs and wants of prospective customers. Listening to those discussions with the help of useful analytics may offer interesting insights into the product road-map. A more proactive approach of testing concepts, prototypes and ideas may be to organize polls or events on social media sites and engage prospects and customers. This approach would give them a feeling of inclusiveness to the process of building a brand or product and improve their loyalty.
5. Opportunity mining - Traditionally, opportunity mining efforts are constrained by size of the sales force and have limited access to prospects and markets. Social media platform presents an opportunity to enter into previously untapped demography and geographies, by analyzing living habits, product usage patterns and social interaction patterns of users. Analyzing relevant metrics may help sales teams to qualifying prospects and leads more efficiently and optimize their resources. 

Other than social media CRM there can be other applications where social media analytics can play a crucial role in the future. For example, social profile of prospective candidates can be analyzed before hiring, to ensure fitment into a company’s culture.

Analyzing sentiments hidden in textual conversations, blogs or even videos is the key challenge in the paradigm of social analytics. However, in order to establish a 360 degree communication with millions of online users and bloggers, there are greater challenges in the horizon. While technology can be used to analyze information relevant to a business, human inputs are needed to engage in conversations and maintain good public relations. With the technology options available at present, it may be more realistic to design work-flows involving systems and humans to make businesses interact with social media in an optimal way. Can future business systems adapt to an inclusive approach towards social media? Well, this can be an interesting future blog topic..