Effective social media analytics
Effective social media analytics
Monday 10 June 2013 12.09 BST First published on Monday 10 June 2013 12.09 BST
Six months ago, your company launched a new product. Last month, your sales dipped. Why? And how interested are people in your competitor’s new product? Don’t pay money for a focus group or a market survey that will deliver data three months from now. Listen to the social network instead. It’s 2013, and social business isn’t about collecting Facebook “likes” anymore. Welcome to the age of social media analytics.
Online social networks bleed information. Every time someone posts something on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, they create a digital footprint. Every time someone else reads it, or watches a YouTube video, they add to the data trail. Facebook is currently building a data centre in Sweden the size of 11 football fields, joining two others in America, just to collect and process the stuff. You can analyse it to make a variety of business decisions.
“In the past, if you offered a marketing director a box that she could put on her desk that would let her listen into all the conversations about her brand and her competitors’ brands, she’d have thought you so stark raving mad that she would have had security walk you off the premises,” says Philip Sheldrake, managing partner at Euler Partners, which advises companies on how to use social media properly. Now, it’s routine.
The information that you look for will depend on your business goals. Some companies use social media to push people through the sales funnel to a conversion. “If you’re selling autos, you might be tracking how many times you generate a test drive in a dealership [from a social media campaign],” says Jay Palter, a personal brand and content marketing strategist from Edmonton, Canada. Others concentrate on brand awareness, and don’t worry too much about who buys. Still others are particularly focused on brand trust, or increasing customer satisfaction, or perhaps they simply want to understand why customers do what they do. Non-profit organisations and governments may be more interested in simply getting a message out. All of these goals require different types of analysis.
A marketing officer might track customers and prospects on social media to see what key words they are discussing, and then fold those key words and concepts into status updates or tweets, to be more relevant to that audience. Perhaps she might monitor which messages attract the most readers to click on a link to her web site. She could then spend more money promoting that content on a social network to reach even more customers.
There are a variety of social media analytics tools to help marketing experts do all this. Some, such as HootSuite, span multiple channels, while others focus on particular networks such as Twitter. Some tools include workflow; they not only enable you to monitor the “buzz” around particular keywords, but also allow social media managers to connect information to others in the organisation. Tweets complaining about a particular product issue could be routed through to a customer service department, for example.
Customer feedback raises another issue: sentiment analysis. Some tools analyse what’s being said online to create an index of user sentiment about a topic. Sentiment140, for example, tries to mine opinion about particular products or brands.
But as Marshall Sponder, social media analytics expert and author of the book Social Media Analytics says, sentiment analysis is an inexact science. “The way that people speak isn’t uniform,” he says. Opinion mining can be a useful trend indicator, but it isn’t gospel.
The best analytics will put social media data in context, says Sponder. He defines context in various ways. Tweets sent from a smartphone often reveal a person’s location. Then, there’s customer history. “Most of the information comes from a customer’s journey; it’s behavioural based,” he adds.
Things can get really useful when marrying this data with other information in your organisation. Displaying custom results for your online bookstore based on what a visitor had tweeted about that day might push up sales. Perhaps a large percentage of your Facebook followers under the age of 25 are suddenly searching for particular things on your website, raising the possibility of a targeted campaign.
Maybe a trend is only just emerging. “When we used to analyse our marketplaces, we used to resort to statistical significance,” Sheldrake points out. Companies could not afford to act on a trend that wasn’t very strong. “But now, we can start looking for weak signals because there is zero cost to that. We have made ourselves a lot more sensitive to real-time responses.”
The problem with marrying social media analytics with management information is that in many cases, these other data sources are siloed within different departments. Big data may be useful, but it is also fragmented and hard to reassemble. As social media analytics become more sophisticated, the future barriers to use maybe as organisational as they are technical.
Show me the money
For many CEOs, the terms “retweet” and “influencer” won’t mean nearly as much as one simple phrase: “ROI”. Return on investment is a critical metric for those holding the purse strings, but how do you measure ROI in a social media context? It’s simple, says Andrew Bruce Smith, founder of digital communications company Escherman: Follow the traffic.
“You have to make a clear decision between financial and non-financial outcomes,” he says. Getting 20,000 more Twitter followers is a non-financial outcome. But if you can prove that a percentage of them visited your website because of a tweet, and subsequently bought something, then that counts.
In this context, one of the most important tools is also completely free: Google Analytics. It tells you how people got to your website, Smith explains, and what they did afterwards. It’s something that Sarah Flaherty, head of content and PR at insurance firm Confused.com, has been using to good effect.
“Through Google Analytics I tracked the traffic that came to our site, and then what they did,” she says, adding that she can tell if they came directly to the site via one of her social media campaigns or other content channels. “I can tell you from any piece of content whether their next step was to get a quote.”
Facebook also provides tools for measuring engagement success. Conversion Measurement lets businesses track the number of actions such as registrations or shopping cart checkouts from Facebook ads and sponsored stories, while Page Insights show the level of engagement users have with Facebook content.
Tracking analytics in enterprise tools such as Salesforce Buddy Media and Adobe Social are another method of measuring ROI.
Even if an organisation isn’t focused on sales, it can still tie website traffic from social media campaigns to other objectives, such as communicating a particular message, or getting people talking about a product. If you can quantify that, then you can measure it against your goals.
Look out for future articles on this site on the importance and impact of ROI.
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