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Social Media Data is Changing Customer-Focused Business Intelligence

[Blake Cahill, Visible Technologies, Monday, March 08, 2010]

In today’s super-competitive business world, information is everything, and the customer is king. The best-run companies pay particular attention to information that helps them learn about their customers and their preferences. This customer intelligence informs nearly every business decision, from pricing and promotions to customer retention and operations planning.

Traditionally, the sort of customer data being fed into a business intelligence (BI) system has come from customers. With much data being input at point-of-sale, only those who actually bought an item were being tracked. Other information-gathering techniques, like surveys or phone calls, mostly have been directed at existing customers.

Social media is changing this after-the-fact approach to customer data. With the proliferation of social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube, an entire universe of consumer information has opened up. And with the right tools, a company can now track its customers, prospects and detractors, to learn what they think, what they’re saying and who is listening to their opinions.

Gleaning this kind of in-depth information from the explosion of consumer-generated media (social media) that is out there takes a lot more than putting your ear to the ground. Although listening to what consumers are saying online is a great first step, to really use social media data intelligently a company must then analyze what it’s seeing in the social world: Who is talking about your company? How frequently? How do they feel about your brand? How many other consumers read these sentiments and act on them?

These questions can help a brand pinpoint its most influential promoters and detractors and come up with outreach plans that take these factors into account. For example, a company that is trying to be efficient with its marketing dollars may want to target its next campaign at only its most influential word-of-mouth promoters – trusting these popular social networkers to spread the word to others.

Social analytics can also be used to figure out just what qualities your new campaign should focus on. Online input can show you the perceived characteristics of your brand and of your competitors. If your competitor has the monopoly on a key trait – say, reliable coverage, if you’re a mobile service provider – that shows you need to tweak your marketing and branding strategies to shift consumer perception. Some desirable characteristics are not owned by any company. These “white spaces” are a leadership opportunity for your brand if you know where to find them and how to approach them. Keep analyzing social media content once the new campaign launches; your earliest feedback will come from these online sources, and you can use it to fine tune your strategy.

Other data feeds, from corporate research, point-of-sale or customer call centers, have an inherent time delay. The immediacy of the Internet allows you to see what consumers are doing, thinking and saying in real- or near-real-time. If you can harness that information with analytics software, you’ll be able to respond to customer needs and desires more quickly. Social media analysis even allows you to find customer sentiments that may slip through the cracks on first glance, such as comments that don’t use a specific product name but are directed at your company. And because social media data is so personal, your response will be faster and more relevant to consumers than anything concocted from more general data gathered elsewhere.

Customer service and outreach are the most obvious implementations for social media data but this valuable information can and should be used to improve strategy across the business. For example, a customer Tweet about messy aisles should be addressed through public relations and customer service channels, but should also lead a retailer to reconsider its in-store operations. Analyzing social media for BI can even be preemptive: Say previous analysis shows your company’s core prospects tend to visit a particular Web site. If user commentary on that site shows high anticipation for a particular product, you, the savvy retailer, will make sure that product is well-stocked and upcoming campaigns showcase it.

The bottom line is the information customers volunteer online is essential data for the modern business. It is as much a part of BI as corporate sales numbers and is applicable to every level of your business, from customer service to marketing to product development. Trust your customers, listen to them. If you truly commit your company to analyzing social media, the data will not steer you wrong.

Above insights are from an article published by Blake Cahill is senior vice president of marketing for Visible Technologies.