Customer Experience, Digital Marketing, How Smart Marketers Extract Value from Big Social Data

For decades, marketers have struggled to deliver competitive advantages to their brands with insights into the decisions and actions of consumers. For the vast majority of this time period, surveys and focus groups have been the primary tools used in an attempt to extract buying behavior information from the minds of consumers.

Scaling these tactics on both a widespread and ongoing basis has been a major challenge to organizations that want to see the continuous shifts and trends in their markets.

Companies now have an invaluable, perpetual resource available to them within the big data of “social media,” which is made up of billions of daily comments by hundreds of millions of consumers across tens of millions of sources spanning the open social universe. Innovative Marketing, Insight, Brand and Product teams are leading the charge to extract actionable intelligence and strategic insight from this big social data. They are using this advanced social intelligence, filled with unprecedented consumer insight, to set their marketing strategies, guide their decision-making and drive product innovation.

As the “Age of the Consumer” advances and shoppers become more empowered with product reviews, shopping engines and pricing tools, smart Marketers are gaining a powerful perspective on the paths-to-purchase and customer journeys shoppers experience as well as their demand moments and decision points to influence and ultimately impact purchase behavior.

Surveying the Universe

A major gating factor to social intelligence is the understanding of what the social universe is. A widespread, though diminishing belief is that the open social universe is primarily made up of the major social networks like Facebook, Twitter and possibly YouTube and/or Pinterest.

While these networks collectively account for billions of daily discussions, the bottom line is that the majority of these social comments are irrelevant to any specific business. In other words, while these sources may reveal some valuable insights to a brand, they also produce a tremendous amount of noise and spam that has to be filtered and disposed of.

Conversely, there are millions upon millions of social sources in the form of blogs, microblogs, forums, communities, review sites, open comment sources, etc. that can deliver a wealth of highly specific, actionable insights for specific brands and products.

Focusing solely on the few gargantuan social networks is like defining the Milky Way Galaxy by one or two major solar systems and thus ignoring the estimated 100 million other solar systems that make up the galaxy. It’s a myopic view that Marketers can’t afford to embrace, lest they miss a tremendous amount of relevant, actionable intelligence.

“Buzz” vs. “Big Data”

The issue many marketers are recognizing is the numerous issues with first-generation social “monitoring” tools. In the early days of the Social Media Age -- just a few years ago -- the open social universe was relatively limited, with a few networks that collectively accounted for maybe a few million posts per day. Companies could find simple mentions of set keywords to serve as a basic barometer to measure “buzz” (high-level sentiment) on their business or brand.

The issue with this “buzz” is that it is not actionable, and in many cases not even accurate, given the myriad of ways different individuals can communicate the same concept or idea. It simply serves as a “thumbs up / thumbs down” estimate, but does not relay the drivers behind this sentiment for Marketers to act upon and ultimately influence.

As the volume of social media continues to explode exponentially, the main goal of social listening has quickly evolved from monitoring “buzz” to extracting insights from “big data.”

Equipped with these limited, first-generation monitoring tools that rely on keyword lists and data samples, many professionals in the realms of Marketing, Insights, Research, Product and Innovation are realizing that they are ill-equipped to filter, classify and analyze the continuous onslaught of billions and billions of daily social comments in real-time. This has pushed Marketers on many fronts to lead the “big data” charge by extracting valuable intelligence with advanced hypercomputing processing technology (upwards of one billion operations per second) and complex concept modeling technology.

An Insightful Impact

The value of social intelligence is multidimensional, delivering deep insight, directly from millions of consumers. What’s more important is that the intelligence can be highly specific, and thus actionable, to help guide decisions, set strategy and drive innovation. Aside from this, the real-time, ongoing nature of the discussion allows brands to immediately identify consumer and market shifts and trends to strategically adjust in real-time.

Within a myriad of insights, here’s a look a five major impact points social intelligence is providing to leading brands today:

Mapping Shoppers

Social intelligence facilitates deeper understanding of specific consumer demand points and decision motivators that ultimately drive consumers toward a purchase. From this, shopper paths-to-purchase and customer journeys can be constructed, helping the Marketing team understand and ultimately engage at the right demand moments to influence the decision triggers. This results in smarter, more effective marketing messages, channel selection and audience targeting.

Personifying Consumers

Aside from understanding the decisions and paths consumers take to purchase a product or service, social intelligence also clarifies consumer segments by helping to construct detailed personas. These personas are developed based on expressed likes, dislikes, interests, actions, attitudes and beliefs across specific segments. It also maps these attributes to actions and decisions. This helps Marketing, Brand and Product teams to understand how, where and when to message these consumers. It can also identify key consumer segments that were previously unrevealed.

Innovating Products

Often, these newly identified personas drive an added dimension to the organization’s marketing strategy, allowing them to potentially find significant untapped markets through the identification of unique product uses and unmet needs in the market. These factors help guide new product enhancements, feature sets, product introductions and even market entries to align with these discoveries. This significantly mitigates risks in the process and provides a deeper understanding to effectively drive innovation.

Beating Competitors

One of the fastest-growing strategic areas advanced social intelligence is being used for is with competitive analysis. Marketers can now achieve powerful insight on the competition based on consumer behavior, product usage, and switching and specific feature attitudes. Marketing teams can also gain deep understanding of their competitors’ reputations and market reactions, often better than they understand them themselves, which delivers great power to set and execute strategy on a wide array of fronts.

Testing Efficacy

Through all of this, the real-time nature of social intelligence can provide timely feedback on market and product testing in terms of aspects like messaging, packaging, segments and channel selection. Social intelligence allows for multidimensional, rapid testing with immediate market feedback to identify and enhance the efficacy of these and other product variables. This allows Marketers to test and measure specific feature and benefit sentiment to drive sales.

Making the Leap

While other teams across the enterprise, such as Finance and Technology wait and wonder if the promise of “big data” will ever come to fruition, the ability for Marketers to conduct digital consumer ethnography via real-time streaming “big data” processing is a reality.

Within the billions of daily social discussions is revolutionary insight helping Marketing, Brand, Product and Insight teams to understand, engage and win consumers. The key to achieving this is to embrace social media as a “big data” challenge rather than a focus on mere “buzz.”

With today’s “Age of the Consumer,” shoppers are more empowered and savvy as the purchase cycle for many products continues to contract. Given this it has become critical for Marketing teams to have deep understanding of consumer demand moments and decision points to ultimately influence their purchases. Unlocking social intelligence from the big data tsunami that is social media is the key to achieving this. And several smart Marketers have already figured this out.

Title image courtesy of Ella Sarkisyan (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: For another perspective on how marketers are tapping big data, see 6 Basic Mistakes Marketers Make About Big Data