We do a lot of monitoring work in the social media data streams for clients – delivering social business intelligence.

That work entails :

  1. Capturing relevant social data from many sources;
  2. Organizing it into meaningful categories and in ways that the client can easily digest;
  3. Creating views that allow comparisons across terms (such as competitors);
  4. Filtering out some of the content (because with so much big data it’s hard to remove every non relevant item automatically through limited search capability);
  5. Often retagging it because the tools just didn’t quite get it right. (this is particularly true in sentiment analysis where the tools struggle with nuance – especially Australians sense of ironic or sarcastic humour).
  6. 6. Seeking out trends – changes in data over time.

Monitoring the  data streams in social media can provide a wealth of insights to assist in the improvement of your business, but rarely does it yield much without applying the kinds of analysis work above. We have talked before about the high noise to signal ratio in the social media data streams – yes, you get to see the woods AND the trees but ultimately you need to get to the gold and make it easily understandable. You can understand why sentiment analysis is difficult to automate, but the social streams as a whole all require various levels of “deep diving” in order to extract the best business value.

That’s why the free analytics tools rarely provide everything that a business needs to make sense of the countless tweets, comments, posts, likes and discussions in social media.

Turning data into insight

The solutions, such as those from our good friends at Sysomos provide a vastly superior platform for both collecting the data and for then analysing it and are well worth the modest investment for most organisations. And they provide the capability to organise the resultant insights in a way that is highly visual and easily understood which is key for social business intelligence.

But it’s easy to trivialise the effort it takes to sift, sort, filter, categorise and analyse the data into true social business intelligence. It takes time, it takes experience and it takes some knowledge of the clients business, products and services if the social business intelligence services are sourced from organisations such as ours.

We hear much about how social media is free and the basic analytics tools are free but we rarely see discussion on the effort involved in turning data into insight.

So what, who cares?

In my business career I have always been taught the importance of asking two fundamental questions – So What? and Who Cares? And so it is with social media generally and social business intelligence in particular.

I have seen some really bad advice lately suggesting that businesses not put too much weight on social data, such as sentiment analysis, because there is no way to tell if they are a customer or potential customer for your products or services. Far better advice would be to understand how and why they are talking about your brand or terms of interest and how influential they are. They may not be a potential customer, but they may be an industry analyst for example with 100,000 followers!

Just understanding “social influence” itself takes some effort and business understanding. There are tools which measure social influence alone, and plenty of debate about the validity and usefulness of such measures. But the fundamental thing we do know is that influencers pass your messages around in the social networks very effectively. It’s what Laurel Papworth calls the ripple-ability of social networks. So knowing who are your influencers, and why, even if they never buy your products, is vitally important.

In putting together the measures you wish to track you should apply the twins of So What? and Who Cares? And you should apply the same sensibility when responding to the social data streams. It is unfortunately true that there are people who just want to engage your business for the exposure it brings them; some just want to turn conversations into contests and some are just plain miserable people who want to take up your time. But they are easily spotted and typically have little influence and can be dealt with in different ways to those who truly have an issue to be resolved or who want to understand more about what you do.

True social business intelligence is more than monitoring and responding. Applying some analysis with liberal doses of So What? and Who Cares? can and does provide true insights.