In our second installment, we reached out to three service providers to gain insights into the crucial relationship between social media analytics vendors and their end user consumers.
Featured in our second panel are:
Meta Brown, General Manager of Analytics, LinguaSys
A hands-on analyst who has tackled projects with up to $900 million at stake, she is a recognized expert in cutting-edge business analytics. She has conducted over 4,000 hours of presentations about business analytics, and written guides on neural networks, quality improvement, statistical process control, and many other statistical methods. Her seminars have attracted thousands, from novices to professors.
Christie Campbell, Director of Marketing, Socialware
Christie joined Socialware with more than 15 years of marketing strategy experience with companies including Trilogy and National Instruments. She brings an enthusiasm for effectively integrating social media into strategic marketing programs to her role leading the Marketing and Market Development organizations at Socialware. She has spoken about the evolution of social media for financial services firms at industry webinars, roundtables, and conferences.
Pirouz Nilforoush, President & Co-Founder, NetShelter Technology Media
As President, Pirouz oversees the company's product and media offering roadmap and handpicks every site in NetShelter's portfolio. Under his leadership the company has grown by more than 900% in size of audience, while adding almost 300 top independent technology publishers and building the largest technology audience online. NetShelter's publisher focused vision is the direct result of Pirouz's deep experience and ties with tech's most influential independent publishers. Pirouz was the recipient of Profit 100's 2009 Young Entrepreneur Award for being the youngest President on the Profit 100 list of fastest growing companies in the country.
How have your clients' understanding of social analytics evolved over the past few years, if at all?
Brown (LinguaSys): There has been a big shift in attention from survey research for monitoring consumer attitudes to social media research. Many sophisticated market researchers who understand good research methods are now exploring social media. These clients are sophisticated; they understand data analysis, know how to identify flaws in the process. They are pushing for more and deeper analytics, more proof of value for social media investments.
At the same time, there are newcomers interested in social analytics who are still totally green. Companies with a long history of making decisions through a mix of canned reports and gut feel are now experimenting with social media and exploring analytics, but it doesn’t come easily to them. And many internet entrepreneurs without analytics experience are hearing from their gurus that analytics is important, but they are not getting good guidance or training. Their understanding is naïve, often flat-out incorrect, but they are still very sure of themselves.
Campbell (Socialware): At Socialware, we work primarily with financial services firms. While enterprises in other industries were able to use social media, financial services firms often prohibited use due to regulatory concerns. As these same firms began allowing social media participation by employees, social analytics were often focused more at the corporate brand level. Technology now makes it possible to provide a lot more insight into social media use at the employee level, too. The larger firms are focusing on social media usage by thousands of financial professionals, so it's important that each individual professional can determine if they are successfully using social media. At the same time, it's also necessary to look at the effectiveness across that entire set of professionals at the enterprise level.
Nilforoush (Netshelter): At NetShelter, social insights are at the heart of every marketing program we build, to help our clients reach their objectives. While most social analytics platforms are designed to help brands listen to the conversations taking place, our focus is on finding ways for brand marketers to leverage what they hear, along with social insights, to better understand and engage the top influencers of their brands. Our clients understand that it is absolutely vital to understand which people are impacting their brands. We are focused on providing tools that enable a brand executive to act on the data and knowledge they collect. Listening is just the first step. Brands need to act on the insights. I think we are going to see this trend continue in 2012 – it is not enough just to listen or collect data – that is simply the starting point.
What are the most common misconceptions about social analytics?
Campbell (Socialware): One misconception is that social media is not measurable. It is indeedpossible to measure meaningful interactions through social media. Of course that is dependent on commitment and usage. Other factors like critical mass are important. For example, it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of content shared if it is only being shared with a very small group of connections in social media. This would be similar to emailing just 10 or 20 people. Knowing standard email response rates, the 10-20 provides a very small group for potential data.
Another is that there is so much data, but it is difficult to relate the data to business outcomes. The first step is to ensure that the expected business outcomes are clearly defined. Then, it is necessary to have the appropriate process and tools to measure those outcomes. Sometimes the expectations for the technology do not match the intent of the tools, and technology alone will not provide the needed analytics.
Brown (LinguaSys): Most common would be an unrealistic expectation about the level of accuracy and detail that is achievable, and the effort required. The first thing to understand about measurement on the internet is that everything is an approximation. Within social media, even simple things may be unknown – such as the number of views for a given piece of content. You can’t always measure what you want in social media; instead, you have to figure out how to get you where you need to go using the information that’s available.
The flipside of that is the assumption that weakness in measurement means social analytics are not worthwhile, or can’t produce positive returns. Some just get frustrated when they realize they can't attach a value to a "Like." Others come into social analytics looking for a pie chart of consumer sentiment about their brand – what percent positive, what percent negative? There’s a wide margin of error on estimates like those. Even if the measurements were perfect, the connection between that information and increased profits is weak. A better approach is to draw from the playbook of traditional direct marketers – if an individual can be identified engaging in certain activities, discussing certain subjects, expressing certain sentiments, what does that indicate? Is this person more or less likely to make a purchase, vote for a particular candidate, donate to a charity? That kind of thinking builds bridges between measurement and decisions.
What do you believe the average consumer thinks about companies' social media listening initiatives?
Nilforoush (Netshelter): I think the average consumer is confused as to why different brands are initiating conversations with them online that can resemble advertising or spam. Brands need to focus their efforts around engaging their top influencers, rather than trying to engage with every single person that has something to say about their brand. It is not a scalable model for the brands and can be annoying for the end user. Instead, brands should focus their efforts on the people that have the biggest impact on their brand. These influencers will do the work for brands on their own and impact the masses.
Brown (LinguaSys): I don’t believe the average consumer thinks much about companies' social media listening initiatives at all! They are on social media to interact with friends and family, not companies. Their interest in companies runs deep enough to look for bargains or interesting products. Consumers who care, or even think, about companies listening to them in social media are a minority.
Campbell (Socialware): Consumer expectations have evolved and there is an expectation that companies are listening and responding authentically. The work we are doing with firms also illustrates that consumers do not form meaningful relationships with companies. These relationships are formed between people. That is why it is so crucial to empower and educate individuals to speak on behalf of the company at that personal level.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about employing social media analytics for their company?
Campbell (Socialware): Analytics are important, but they must be based on well-articulated and agreed upon business objectives. It is only when you are very clear on what business outcome you are striving to achieve that you can make sound analytics decisions. In that way, social media is similar to other business options.
Nilforoush (Netshelter): Develop your strategy before diving into the tactics. Analytics can be very powerful if you know upfront what problem you are looking to solve. Don't think of social analytics as a way to listen and engage with every potential customer that is talking about your brand. Aggregate the insights and analyze the trends. Then, engage with the right people – people that have the power to move markets and make sure that you are doing it consistently. Analytics can only be effective in impacting your overall brand influence if you are engaging with your brand’s top influencers.
Brown (LinguaSys): Start with just one narrow project tied to a specific business problem. Choose something where you feel confident that quick improvement is possible. Plan carefully – what’s the path from data collection to analytics to action to returns? Give yourself the best opportunity to succeed - don’t begin until you have made a plan that gives you a way to demonstrate measurable value for your investment in social analytics!