Evolution of use cases, ROI metrics and new technology has paved the way for widespread adoption of social media intelligence tools.
Social media platforms have enabled companies to engage with their customers like never before. Building a social presence has become one of the first steps that any company takes, in many cases even before they launch their website. Social media intelligence is an umbrella term for various social media analytics tools for social media listening, social media measurement and social media engagement. These tools promise companies that they would help them understand and engage their customers better, based on analysing data generated in social media.
Like many technology applications, social media intelligence has followed Gartner’s Hype Cycle to a T, with the Peak of Inflated Expectations from customers and investors occurring in 2012 and 2013. A lot of this interest, as is the case with all technology investment, was based on herd mentality, where people followed their peers in other organizations in the fear of not being left behind. This meant that their investments in many cases were unwarranted and were inevitably followed by buyer’s remorse. According to Gartner, social software began its slide towards the inevitable Trough of Disillusionment in 2015. However, contrary to what one might think, this is actually good news for the field.
The trouble began because measuring the ROI for social media intelligence was difficult for companies. It is difficult to attribute the success on hard metrics like revenue growth, churn and life time value based on measuring soft metrics like fan growth and content engagement. For social media intelligence to be seen as adding value, it was necessary for the field to mature in three ways:
1. Use cases needed to evolve,
2. ROI needed to be better defined, and
3. Technology had to get stronger.
Let us look at how all three are now happening.
A. The first major change has been the emergence of strong use cases:
1. Social media analytics is replacing traditional market surveys in many instances and the results are impacting decisions in board rooms. Instead of designing and conducting a survey and then tabulating the responses; which is slow, expensive and open to manipulation; companies are relying heavily on understanding unsolicited customer feedback in social media. Right from measuring customer reaction to company policy changes to measuring customer satisfaction on products right after launch, customers are using social media intelligence to quickly understand the pulse of their customers and then re-calibrating their decisions if necessary.
2. Many companies have embraced social media platforms as a legitimate channel for customer support. With the help of social media intelligence tools for customer support they are able to address customer complaints, queries and leads in social media, much like they would in a call centre but at a fraction of the cost.
3. Companies have realized that their social media engagement should be thought of more as a retention program than as a customer acquisition vehicle. Hence, their efforts have shifted towards getting their existing customers to engage with them over social media and then putting out the right content targeted to these customers. Social media intelligence tools help with finding customers in social media as well as in measuring how effective a company’s content strategy has been in terms of engaging its audience compared to its competitors.
B. Measurement of ROI has become stronger through definition of metrics that correspond to business outcomes and use cases as opposed to soft vanity metrics. For example, if the use case is customer support, the metrics are time taken for resolution, cost per resolution, churn for customers who were attended to in social media, etc. If the use case is building customer loyalty, the metrics are LTV of a fan or follower, churn among fans and followers, cost per engagement action, etc.
For each of these metrics, social intelligence tools provide analytics that will help you figure out what you could do to improve on that metric. Thus, they have moved from being merely descriptive to being prescriptive. For example, it might suggest a different time of day to post a particular kind of content, or different content type that works for a target audience category.
2015 has seen several large enterprises launching full scale social command centers, which are physical rooms with large video walls tracking KPIs derived from social media, manned by cross-functional teams from marketing, corporate communications, customer service and business intelligence. 2016 promises to see many more such social command centers getting launched.
What you will have noticed is that these metrics are measurable only if social intelligence tools are integrated with each other and with external data sources and systems, which bring us to the final leg – technology.
C. There have been two powerful technology trends that have helped social media intelligence mature – integration and machine learning.
1. Instead of social media intelligence tools being used in silos, companies are seeing value in integrating these tools with each other and with their internal systems. Common integrations include integration of social media customer care with CRM and integrating social media marketing software with web analytics. Probably the most ambitious of these integrations would be to build a single unified view of each customer that integrates social media and other customer communication channels like email, voice and chat with CRM transaction data and marketing automation tools. If done successfully, this will enable companies to achieve the Holy Grail of marketing, namely, personalised marketing or marketing to the segment of one.
2. While Machine Learning has always been an integral part of social media intelligence, its usage has increased many fold beyond solving diagnostic problems like sentiment identification and theme detection to more predictive and prescriptive problems. For example, companies have begun building models that predict when some content or campaign will go viral, or to prescribe how to allocate their media spend based on how the content is faring in social media, or to identify customer churn based on signals from social media.
All of these trends augur well for the social media intelligence field because they point towards the field achieving maturity in a three to four year period. The air is now clearing, strong use cases and technology solutions that add business value to customers have emerged and most importantly, customers are asking the right question: how soon will my investment pay off and what will be the ROI?
About the Author: Dr. Ranjit Nair is the CEO and Co-founder of Germin8. Ranjit is PhD in Computer Science from University of Southern California and is passionate about Artificial Intelligence, Analytics and Product Development. Germin8’s Social Intelligence tool suite helps companies become more customer centric in terms of their offerings and communication and comprised of tools for social media listening, measurement, customer care, social media profiling and most recently social command centre software. Germin8’s technology has been successfully deployed at some of the largest banks, telecom companies and CPG companies in India.