Does social media has any business value?

In the decade since social networking was born, we have seen the power of platforms that unite humanity. Across our professional and person...

In the decade since social networking was born, we have seen the power of platforms that unite humanity. Across our professional and personal lives, social platforms have truly changed the world. Social media has been the tool to ignite revolutions and elections, deliver real-time news, connect people and interests, and of course, drive commerce. Industry analysts were skeptical about how blogging and its successors could ever be used in business; today every single social channel has both B2C and B2B offerings sprinkled generously throughout the content.

As businesses figured out that they could use social networks to interact directly with their customers and prospects, questions were immediately generated about efficacy and ROI. Was it just hype and noise, or were new audiences being reached and new opportunities created? For the first several years, the only way to answer these questions was anecdotally. Many brands and businesses viewed social media warily, feeling that nothing good could come from engaging in online discussions directly.

Things changed as the technology matured to offer tools for social listening. Whether for business, politics, or news, organizations learned they could identify trends and patterns in all the flotsam and jetsam of online content. Another leap forward occurred as analytics engines were applied to the vast stream of unstructured data, when suddenly big-picture profiles and behaviors could be identified.

Today, organizations of all sizes and missions are looking for ways to make sense of the information available on the social web. Analyzing social media, the right way at least, is now just as important as a brand presence or advertising strategy. When done correctly, the insights available can shape decisions, make organizations more responsive, and quell negative press before it takes off.

Social Media Analytics provides much-needed understanding of both what can be accomplished by examining social streams and why such insights matter. In post we look at data quality identification, sources, determining relevancy, and time horizons.

Social media has evolved quickly from the initial hype, through the naysayers,and to a point where it is no longer viewed as optional. Today, however, there are so many social channels, devising a strategy for sharing and leveraging the online conversation can make the difference between success and failure.

Just What Do We Mean When We Say Social Media?

A social media website doesn’t just give you information, but rather it is built around a way to interact with you while allowing access to the information. This interaction could be collecting comments or suggestions on a blog or voting on a specific topic—allowing users to have a voice in a conversation as opposed to simply reading others’ opinions—this is why we call it a social media conversation.

Think of print media or a static web page or website as a one-way street, much like reading a newspaper or listening to a report on television; you have very limited ability to give your thoughts on the matter. (Radio talk shows at least allow users to call in to express their opinions—although ultimately they have the ability to limit the conversation by cutting off the call at any point.) Social media can be considered a two-way street that enables communication between end users. Social media gives users on the Internet the ability to express their opinions and interact with each other at speeds unheard of in the past with traditional media. This popularity of social media continues to grow at an exponential rate.

Why Look at This Data?

Consider one of the most famous cases of using Twitter to watch for customer satisfaction issues: @ComcastCares. As BusinessWeek’s Rebecca Reisner [1] said, Frank Eliason is probably the best known and most successful customer care representative in the world (or at least the United States). In April 2008, Eliason’s team started monitoring Twitter traffic for mentions of his company, Comcast, made by disgruntled customers. (Comcast is one the largest providers of entertainment, information, and communications services and products in the United States, providing cable television, broadband Internet, and telephone services.) His tactic was to watch Twitter and immediately reach out to these customers who expressed dissatisfaction with Comcast’s customer service. The idea was to quiet the spread of any negative sentiment amongst Comcast customers, while providing a sense of personal touch to these frustrated clients.

According to a 2011 report (Eliason has since left Comcast for greener pastures), the new Comcast customer care division processed about 6,000 blog posts and 2,000 Twitter messages per day, which resulted in faster customer response times that directly translate into improved customer satisfaction indexes . While Comcast is not analyzing social media per se, it is watching issues related to perceived poor quality so that it can quickly address issues and interact with these customers.

How does this translate into social media business value?

According to Eliason , Comcast was able to understand issues on Twitter far in advance of their call centers (that is, when customers would call in to tell of a problem) [2]. For example, during the NHL playoffs, a sports network carried by Comcast went off the air. People used Twitter to complain about Comcast, claiming the problem was poor service. However, in reality, all of the other networks were offline as well due to a lightning strike. The Comcast call center was able to find out the reason within a few minutes of it happening and was able to put up an automated message telling people what happened. In this case, Comcast estimated that it was able to save $1.2 million by putting up a message about the outage. Customers were able to listen to the message and hang up rather than call in to complain, thus using valuable call center resources.

As another example, consider a new product launch. The marketing team spent hundreds of hours determining the best way to disseminate the message of your new offering, and the company has spent millions on advertising, yet there appears to be lackluster acceptance.

Why?

One way to listen to the man on the street is to scan various social media outlets such as discussion forums, blogs, or chatter on sites like Twitter or LinkedIn. Perhaps you can pick up on messages or customer perceptions of your product or brand. Perhaps when you look at the discussion around your product, you’ll see something similar to the situation shown in Figure I.1.
social media business value
This graph was produced for one of the projects we worked with during its launch. Note the steep rise in conversation at the initial launch. Social media conversations went from 0 to more than 6,000 mentions over the course of a few days. This is great! But look at what happens next. The level of conversations fell off rapidly, with just a few isolated spikes in conversation (which were later revealed to be additional announcements). So in this case, it wasn’t so much that potential customers didn’t like what they saw in the marketplace (of course, that may be the reason for the lack of conversation), but it appears more likely that the marketing campaign wasn’t resonating with the public to pick up and carry on the conversation. We look at this particular case in a bit more detail later, but the message here is that a simple analysis within social media can quickly reveal where your business plan might have gone awry.

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