Why social analytics are so hard, but so vital

By now everyone has heard the story of how Target in the US was able to figure out that a teenage girl was pregnant before her father. Controversy from that specific case aside, being able to engage with customers at that kind of depth is a holy grail for modern successful business. But many struggle, because while collecting customer data and storing it is relatively easy, making sense of the data in a way that benefits the business is a far bigger challenge.

From a marketing point of view, social analytics is incredibly useful for reasons beyond community management and engagement. Increasingly marketers need to be accountable for their investment decisions and the ROI from campaigns to justify their spending. The continued shift in media spend away from traditional to digital media demonstrates that marketers are increasingly wary of booking ads without a clearly defined way to analyse the impact of the campaign. Digital channels offer rich analytics, and so also offers the marketing team the kind of accountability that they’re looking for when working out how to measure the effectiveness of digital marketing efforts and in particular social media.

The tools on the market to collect useful data about your customers are engaging with you digitally are plentiful, and using that data in a constructive manner can provide a clear competitive advantage as you’re going to know more about your customers and what they want. It takes guesswork out of marketing and replaces it with meaningful information. That is, of course, if you’re aware of the objectives of the project before embarking on it. Many social initiatives fail from the outset because the organisation isn’t clear about what it is trying to achieve. Many marketers will convince themselves that they are driving brand ‘engagement’ because they are accumulating many followers and likes. But how is that engagement translating into leads, transactions and revenue?

That’s not to say that there is any kind of behaviour that shouldn’t be measured through social analytics, because with digital channels just about everything is measurable in some way. Brand metrics are important, but so too are direct response measures, and in reality these are easier to quantify. You need to make sure that you are capturing the right data, based on a set of predefined objectives that need to be created before embarking on a campaign.

After capturing the data, the next step is to understand how effective the social campaigns have been in engaging with the customers. This goes beyond measuring clicks, followers and fans and you’ll want insights around how your investment in social is driving leads, transactions and revenue. From there the goal should be to measure the results against the goals, being able to demonstrate to management that the campaign strategy is working, and then securing the necessary resources to make further investments into the strategy.

Organisations should also be aware that data collection and analysis needs to be an ongoing process. It’s not enough to run a data collection campaign once and leave it at that, as a smart analytics strategy is continuously being optimised and improved on. Equally, it’s important to check and double-check that the recording of data is accurate. Clean, accurate data is the only data of value to an organisation. Bad data is a PR nightmare.

Across the business social data and analytics offers benefits and making effective use of your customer’s data will drive a more efficient and effective operation across the entire organisation. It’s not necessarily easy to achieve, but the value it brings to the organisation is essential.

Tristan Sternson
BY Tristan Sternson ON 18 November 2013
Tristan Sternson is the Managing Director of InfoReady