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To See and Be Seen: Social Media Data and Customer Intelligence

These days have been a whirlwind of projects. One of the biggest for me is the TDWI Best Practices Report I am working on, entitled “Customer Analytics in the Age of Social Media.” This report looks at what organizations are doing and could be doing to analyze information sources to improve their knowledge of and engagement with customers. Social media data is the revolutionary force in this realm; marketing functions are highly focused on how to take advantage social media both as a new channel and as a critical source of information about customer and market behavior. The heart of this report will be about how customer intelligence and analytics efforts are being reshaped by the influence of social media. This is exciting stuff.

When people talk about “big data,” much of the time they are talking about data generated by human behavior in social networks, blogs, chat rooms, comment fields, and more. Indeed, this can amount to a fast-moving, highly diverse “tsunami” of data that includes both internal (e.g., contact center interactions) and external sources. By discovering insights from this information, organizations can broaden and deepen their understanding of customers and get closer to a 360-degree view.

In addition, organizations can use social media data to gain an early view of the efficacy of marketing campaigns and product introductions. Many organizations are “listening” to such reactions in social media; leading organizations analyze the data rapidly and move quickly to adjust campaigns and engage in the social conversations to improve results.

To be sure, some organizations have serious reservations about social media data. First, not all organizations I have spoken with for the report find social media data to be trustworthy and take such analysis with a heavy grain of salt. My research found that while “gut feel” is losing out to the power of data analysis in most marketing functions, there’s still healthy debate about the real value of social media data to marketing decisions.

Second, while organizations at the leading edge of social media get a lot of attention, in a broad sense we are still in the early days. In our research, just 26 percent of participants said that their organizations are currently analyzing social media data; 22 percent are planning to do so within one year, while 21 percent have no plans to do so.

Where I found that organizations are gaining huge value is in drawing insights from social media to help them get closer to a 360-degree view of customer activity. Data silos are a problem in marketing; each channel often has its own dedicated applications and data. If organizations can correlate what they are seeing in social media with performance data from Web sites and other channels, they can begin to connect the dots across channels.

“Social media for us is not one isolated channel,” a data analyst at a large advertising services firm told me. “We use social media to gain an integrated view of the impact of our marketing across all of our channels, including billboards.” His organization is comparing social media data with their sources on marketing spending, customer transactions by location, and Web site performance. While not complete by itself, social media activity analysis enables a far more current view of marketing campaign performance than organizations have previously had.

“To see and be seen” is the credo of social media engagement. It isn’t enough to just listen; organizations have to be prepared to act. To do so intelligently, however, organizations must use social media data as not just a single source but as part of their integrated view of customer information.

Posted by David Stodder on April 12, 2012


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