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Using BI and analytics to harness your social media data

Social media is here to stay, for better or for worse, and businesses can ill afford to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to engaging their customers online. The reality is that your customers are talking about you, whether you have an engaging online presence or not, and ignoring this fact will at best provide no advantage, and at worst actually harm your business.
By harnessing the proliferation of data that social media generates, and by extracting patterns, trends and forecasts from this data, businesses can leverage an opportunity to tap into unique customer insights. Since all social media data exists in the public domain, businesses can also gain a more in-depth understanding of competitors and customer sentiment towards their products, allowing organisations to take advantage of the opportunities presented by customer churn within competing organisations. Business intelligence (BI) and analytics are key in harnessing social media data to drive business opportunities and competitive advantage.

Lack of structure presents a challenge

Social media data presents somewhat of a challenge to business, due to its unstructured nature and the sheer volumes of information generated. However, it has become an increasingly important source of information, as it gives organisations insights 'straight from the horse's mouth' as it were.

Customers volunteer huge amounts of information about their behaviour, their attitudes towards a business or brand and more using these forums, so they are a vital tool in truly understanding customers. In order to harness this data, BI tools such as text mining can collate information from social media platforms, which can then be analysed to extrapolate insight and turning this into intelligence. Text mining collects unstructured data and then uses complex algorithms to discover attitudes as well as links between products and customers, which indicate the relationships between various products and the types of customers who purchase and/or are interested in purchasing them.

Analysis will bring better understanding of customer needs and wants

By analysing social media data, businesses can gain a far better understanding of what their customer needs and wants, as this data delivers an unbiased connection to the customer. This creates a deeper level of customer understanding, which in turn enables marketing and sales strategies to become highly targeted. Using social media, businesses can target customers more accurately based on insights gained from analysis of social media data. This enables organisations to, in effect, sell the right product to the right customer, based on what the customers themselves have indicated they are interested in. It is also possible to use this information to gain insight into attitudes on products, based on what is popular and what is not, and what customers may be likely to be looking to purchase in the future.

Overwhelming, but more is better

While the vast amounts of data generated by social media can seem overwhelming, with the right solution in place data volumes can provides businesses with a winning edge. At a higher level, the more data you have at your disposal the more data you have to make accurate decisions and gain accurate insight, as a result of better-defined pooling trends and affinity. At a granular level, these insights can be used to drive greater customer service and satisfaction, by ensuring that businesses are able to respond to customer sentiment around their product, keeping existing customers loyal and preventing unhappy customer churn.

Social media data can also be used internally to determine staff sentiment about the organisation and to minimise staff turnover, by analysing internal sentiment towards the business on social media sites and acting to correct negative perceptions and attitudes towards the business, improving the staff experience.

First, the strategy

BI and analytics are essential for organisations to leverage their social media data and extract insights. However, it is important to bear in mind that a strategy needs to be in place before insights can be gained. You cannot simply 'measure' social media data, you need to know what your objectives are and understand what you want to find out before any meaningful information can be gleaned.

For example, the main objective of a television broadcaster is to attract, retain and serve its viewers, and evaluating programmes is important. Social media data can be used to assist with this goal, by helping broadcasters to stay in close contact with the opinions and wishes of audiences, helping to optimise the programmes that are broadcast. Businesses may also wish to monitor and improve their online reputation, which requires near real-time response to online feedback. Social media analytics can be used to determine customer sentiment towards a business across a variety of platforms, enabling organisations to measure the effectiveness of marketing and other campaigns and better understand customers' needs.

Managing perceptions

Managing customer perception is an important aspect of social media intelligence. Using data mined from social media, organisations can determine both negative and positive perception towards brand and products, and also perception of competitors' brands. By incorporating strategy into social media analytics, you are then able to act on insights, working towards correcting negative perception and outdoing competitors on customer service, rather than passively receiving information. This in turn helps to drive competitive advantage, improving revenues.

Audiences are moving online, away from traditional printed and broadcast media and towards social media. It makes sense therefore that you will find the majority of your customers where the majority of the audience is. And if your customers are there, your business should be too. If you have an online presence, you need to know what your customers think of your brand and your products. After all, competitors may be addressing social media and your lack of 'presence' becomes magnified. If the competition is engaging their customers better and using the power of social media to their advantage to deliver better customer service, then you stand to lose your customers to them.

Business analytics linked to social media gives your customers the best possible experience online. By targeting their experience correctly and by engaging with customers on their turf, marketing becomes an opportunity instead of a nuisance, and you as a business are presented with the best opportunity to attract, grow and retain customers.

About Max Ottavin

Max Ottavin is Director at Cortell Corporate Performance Management