When people are in the mood for a really good porterhouse in Minneapolis, they often head to Manny’s Steakhouse. Recently, some customers mentioned their meal wasn’t as good as usual. In many cases, a restaurant manager in that situation would have simply given the customers a gift certificate, happy he’d smoothed over a rare complaint. But when Manny’s analyzed social media comments it realized such grumblings were becoming widespread. The eatery was able to trace the issue to a meat supplier—a problem that could have gone unnoticed for months without the social media tipoff.
Social media monitoring is about making these kinds of connections. Manny’s was only able to uncover the problem quickly by combining verbal feedback, customer surveys, and social media. However, a new study from Altimeter Group found that, in most enterprises, social media is largely disconnected. The average enterprise-class company has 178 social media accounts spread across 13 departments, from marketing to customer support to legal.
“No other dataset is treated in such a fragmented way,” says Susan Etlinger, industry analyst at Altimeter Group. “That’s because it came in the enterprise through the back door.”
The danger is this “fragmented” data is increasingly being used to make strategic decisions—70 percent of the 27 companies in the Altimeter survey view social media in the context of other data to make business decisions. Respondents indicated that BI and market research systems are most common partners for integrating social media data (see Figure 1 below).
Etlinger acknowledges this is a small sample size, but believes it indicates the growing importance of social data.
Social data is most powerful when it’s combined with transactional data and other sources of information to give a comprehensive view of customers and business conditions. Relying too much on social data runs the risk of making decisions based on a partial view of a situation and missing important pieces of evidence.
Based on Etlinger’s report, as well as commentary from other industry participants, here are four key things companies should consider to create a holistic approach to using social data:
1. Think like your customers do.
Today, when a crisis strikes, your customers probably know about it — and may be talking about it in social media — before your executives are aware of the situation. Customers no longer interact with companies in a logical progression; they bounce back-and-forth between online and offline touchpoints in no predictable pattern.
“You have to accept you no longer own the channel,” says Melissa Pippine, vice president of marketing at Clarabridge, a maker of customer experience management software. “With social media, it’s like when someone calls your company, every phone in the company rings—and you can’t shut the phone down.”
However, the traditional ways of storing information—such as CRM, business intelligence, ERP, and supply chain systems—assume a more tidy relationship among datasets related to customer interactions. As a consequence, Etlinger says they’re too fragmented to provide a holistic view of customers.
Because of this issue, Caesar’s Entertainment, the gaming company, realized it needed to rethink its processes—which meant thinking like customers. Chris Kahle, the company’s Web analytics manager, says in the past Caesar’s couldn’t determine social media’s impact on revenues. That began to change when it approached data from the customer’s viewpoint and tried to understand the customer’s entire journey across all touchpoints and integrating all marketing data. This approach is just evolving, Kahle says. But early indications show that by integrating online and offline data, the hotel’s concierges make better recommendations and customers are more receptive to targeted marketing offers made through the right channels.
2. Speak in one voice.
Folke Lemaitre, CEO and founder of Engagor, whose platform does social media monitoring and analytics, says social data efforts usually start under the aegis of marketing or PR. But eventually those departments realize customer service must become involved as well.
As social data spreads across departments, leading companies are beginning to put all their initiatives under the control of a dedicated social media team. “That way the company can speak in one voice,” Lemaitre says. “You have to realize there are no longer just marketing issues or service issues—there are only customer issues.”
Symantec, the storage and server company, harvests social data from across the Web and sends it to a centralized team that determines which business function should best handle it. The company has developed a systematic approach where the inquiries are divided into seven buckets (called Actionable Internet Metrics, or AIMs) that incorporate workflow from the company’s top 15 product lines. For example, if a customer is comparing products, this falls under the “lead” AIM—a buying decision is likely to be made soon. The information is routed to the company’s lead generation pipeline.
3. Get backwards on metrics.
Measuring social media is difficult on many levels. Pippine says one problem is that departments often use different technologies with different measurements. One system might rate customer sentiment by a simple yes or no, another by a score of 1 to 10. She says a centralized team is needed to reconcile these different inputs to guide decision making. At the same time, it’s important that individual teams—or even, say, a store manager—still has access to metrics customized to their needs.
And make sure those metrics are relevant. While social media churns out lots of data, it’s not always clear what the data means—what is the bottom-line benefit of a Facebook “like,” for example? The best approach, Etlinger says, is to tie metrics to business strategies. For example, if your goal is to understand the impact of social media on revenue, reverse engineer the process—look at revenue-generating activities and connect them back to social content.
It’s also important to be clear about the realities of social data in this embryonic stage: leading companies are setting internal expectations about what data is readily available, the resources that are required to analyze it, and the value of the metric.
4. Forget perfectionism.
At this point, Etlinger says top companies are making a commitment at the senior level to integrate social media data with other systems, like CRM and market research. “However, the integration is not at a deep technical level in the data warehouse, but rather they are viewing the data in conjunction,” she says.
Notably, even with Symantec’s impressive systematic approach, most of the processes are still manual—the key benefit for the company at this stage is maintaining a clear vision. This means you shouldn’t wait for all technologies and systems to be perfected to tackle social data. Organizations need to act now; this is only going to get more complex as big data, real-time analytics and customer expectations evolve.
“Social data is a dress rehearsal for big data,” Etlinger says. “What’s going on now is just a taste of what’s to come.”
Joe Mullich, a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, can be reached at email@example.com.