One of the biggest obstacles I see that businesses engaging in social media have today is clearly understanding the effect their efforts — particularly in externally facing processes such as marketing — are actually having. There are a number of reasons for this and together they conspire to create an environment that leads to uncertainty and an inability to claim the fair results of a company’s hard work at social engagement with the marketplace.
The first challenge to isolating results is the sheer scale of social conversation today. There are over a billion Facebook users today, hundreds of millions of people on Twitter and LinkedIn alone, and there are thousands of smaller yet often more important social networks, online communities, and other niche, special interest and industry-specific community forums where relevant social activity takes place. Add a few million blogs to the pile, and just keeping track of the channels themselves becomes truly overwhelming, much less the social activity within them.
Frankly, I find that most organizations in general just do not have the resources or capability to identify the likely social venues for online conversations which are germane to their business, never mind actually understanding what marketing, customer care, product innovation, and other important business opportunities are flowing through them in real-time.
The second hurdle is wading through the universe of that conversation and determining which ones — and the people involved in them — are significant to your brand portfolio and its social marketing campaign or other engagement activity, such as Social CRM.
To find one’s advocates and to tap into them requires converting the giant sea of noise sprawling across social media into a clear signal for your company. And that means the ability to truly listen and assess all the human conversations happening at scale that are taking place. One big complication: It’s in natural language in real-time, while also mixed in with the various shorthand and jargon-filled acronyms of modern social media interaction.
Additional Reading: Eight Ways to Prepare for Social Engagement At Scale
The final issue goes to timeliness. Isolation of the people and discussions in social media that are truly relevant to your business only makes a difference if you can do it quickly enough to matter. Opportunities come and go and are lost or won depending on whether businesses can discern them and leverage the useful outcomes they represent, while they exist. Intervening in a brewing social media brand crisis while it’s still small and can be dealt with easily has significant reputation, revenue, and cost implications. Missing out on an important sales or customer service opportunity means losing business or losing a customer. While the marketplace is still willing to cut companies slack in social media and currently doesn’t expect real-time engagement, they do expect it will happen. Recent research from Oracle, for example, shows that businesses have between two hours and the same day to engage with someone who has reached out to them, depending on the social channel.
Can’t Isolate Impact? Then You Can’t Measure ROI.
So the first question here is, can the isolation of relevant social media signals actually be achieved? If so, how should it be done? Currently, with the vast channel fragmentation of social media and the sheer volume of conversation (in the billions of discrete social messages a day), the numbers say it’s simply not possible by hand. Nor would it be reasonable to expect organizations to staff the listening and analysis functions required in a cost-effective manner. No, the solution to social media signal isolation is going to require a technology assist.
Fortunately, there does seem to be some answers to this problem. Recently, I’ve been exploring how social media and big data are two technologies that are literally made for each other. The former generates vast intergalactic quantities of information in real-time (and when companies engage at scale, it generates more still again) while the latter is a discipline and set of technologies designed precisely to cope with epic amounts of data, even if it’s largely unstructured and messy (as the human conversations of social media are.) And connecting these two disciplines seems to be the key to addressing the isolation challenge, and the key to unlocking value and ROI. Specifically, this means separating the relevant and irrelevant signals in social media, finding the people who matter to your business, and ensuring that you understand if you’re reaching them, still need to reach them, and what effect your social business strategies and tactics are actually having.
Thus, extracting the social media signal from the noise for an individual business has become a required core competency for effectively engaging in social business. It’s why the industry has sprouted so many social analytics startups of late, and why companies are outsourcing much of the complex and specialized ability to track, monitor, and engage with social channels. This is one of the reasons why we’ve made a large investment in our own big data analytics platform.
The bottom line is that those who clearly understand what’s happening in social media with regard to their business, in full context, and connect this knowledge to their day-to-day operations will be the long-term winners in tomorrow’s marketing, sales, and support processes. Those who ignore this information, well, won’t be.