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How To Make Social Media Data Work For You

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In business, data is synonymous with answers—evidence, objectivity, hidden insight. This perception of data as the magic key that opens doors holding information to anything we’ve ever wanted to know makes us obsessed with the latest ways to get it: Big Data, data visualization, open-source data, data scientists. But, as marketers, are we doing data right?

While Big Data and data-driven everything have been framed as universal analytics solutions, their effectiveness can be threatened by the same issue that faces all innovative tools: if you haven’t set proper goals you want to achieve using social media data, you risk making a lot of false conclusions.

Whether you or your company are early adopters of social media data, or just looking into better ways of using this information to inform business decisions, to get the most out of the social media data available to your business, you should go back to basics. Use the following 3 questions to evaluate your perception of data and the effectiveness of your data strategies.

What is social media data?

When considering any new tool, it’s important to set your definitions straight in order to ensure that you are exploring these tools to their full potential. Social media data typically describes information created and curated by individual users and collected from public spaces, such as:

  • Social media networks: Tweets, posts, favourites, sentiment
  • Social search: keyword analysis and hashtag tracking
  • Long-form publishing platforms: blogs, wikis, and social opinion sites such as Yelp
  • Public multimedia content-sharing platforms: SlideShare, YouTube, Flickr, etc.

This list may not sound exhaustive, and that’s because it’d be extremely difficult to define all the currently available sources for social media data. An easier way to explain the evolution of social media data is to contrast it with the “Web of the past,” what assistant professor of computer science at Stanford University Jure Leskovec described as “a universal static library,” a place where users search and index resources offered by a comparatively small number of sources; versus a “current awareness medium,” a place where Internet users from all over the world can create and share information in real-time. This creation process is both the biggest advantage and the biggest potential hurdle of social media intelligence—on one hand, it’s instantly accessible genuine information produced in real time by real people; but this also means that in order to reach a meaningful conclusion from this data, you have to set the right parameters for its use.

How can I use social media data for business?

‘Social media data’ and ‘social media intelligence’ are often used interchangeably, but I like to use a natural resources analogy (since the process of gathering social media data is called “mining” after all): social media data is the raw material, and social media intelligence is the finished good you get when you collect data with set goals and criteria in mind. Thus, the first and most important step in turning social media data into social media intelligence is determining the business goals you want to achieve with the help of that information. Some typical goals are the improvement of customer service, instant feedback on products and services through sentiment analysis, target group discovery and modification, and measurement of social media strategy ROI. You can use different metrics to reach different goals, but it’s also possible to conduct a single analysis to inform several of these objectives.

For example, let’s say you want to turn social media data into social media intelligence to find out how your brand’s customer service efforts measure up. In order to do this, it might be helpful to collect social media content containing mentions of your brand. A good place to start would be to conduct a Google search, and set up keyword search streams with mentions of your brand’s Twitter handle, official hashtags, and commonly misspellings of the brand names and products. You can conduct a sentiment analysis for mentions of your brand to see what percentage of mentions consist of complaints, inquiries or positive feedback. You can then record response times of your customer success agents or social media managers, and calculate the average response time to different categories of customer feedback. Thus, social media intelligence on customer interactions can shed light on the general feelings surrounding your brand on social, as well as provide quantifiable results on how your social customer service efforts stack up.

The second crucial skill in social media data use is knowledge of its limitations, which assumes insight into some key user behaviors. For example, you have to account for the social media spiral of silence phenomenon, which shows that the “loudest” opinion on social may not be the most commonly shared one. Another hurdle is that the major demographics by age and gender on certain networks may be largely skewed towards a certain group—such as Pinterest for female users, or Snapchat for Gen Z—which may not be representative of your target audience. Finally, while major social platforms are constantly involved in the process of cleaning out fake accounts—Instagram comes to mind as the most recent drastic example—they can still influence your results for data such as Likes, follower counts, and reach. All these limitations can create gaps in your data, or form a picture that isn’t reflective of the real state of affairs. Before you choose your methods for collecting and sorting through your social media data, consider all the limitations that may get in the way of getting the correct picture.

How can I collect social media data?

Before collecting data, you should establish key performance indicators that will contribute the most information to inform your business goals. Once you have zeroed in on the kind of information you need, it’s easier to find the most accurate and efficient tools to collect and analyze that information. There are many comprehensive analytics tools on the market that provide essential data such as account growth, sentiment, key demographics, and engagement rates on your social media channels. If there is a need to gather a lot of different kinds of social media data with little time to do it, a comprehensive social intelligence tool such as uberVU via Hootsuite can help you minimize time spent on data mining and maximize coverage of all kinds of information from your social media audience.

If you choose to focus on a single KPI and have it inform multiple goals, it would be wise to invest in tools with detailed functions dedicated to mining that kind of data. For example, if you have a need for sentiment analysis, you can use tools that have the natural language processing and text analysis capabilities, or programs that search for sentiment based on cues such as exclamation points or question marks, in order to get the most comprehensive results. If you need to do a quick temperature check on your social accounts, you can use tools such as SocialMention or Sentiment140, which break down sentiment in three main categories—positive, negative, or neutral—for a general overview.

If you’re a fan of a more hands-on approach, you can set up Google Alerts to monitor mentions of your brand’s products or services around the web and have notifications about them sent directly to you. The upside is that you can immediately filter out irrelevant information and avoid many of the risks discussed in the previous section; the tradeoff, of course, is the amount of time it will take to manually sort through all the data, especially if you work in a franchise or a global organization.

Social media data for business: Reading list

While social media data is not a universal solution, there are many surprisingly easy effective data recipes you have probably never considered—whether you have just learned the basics of making social media data work for your business, or re-evaluated the performance of your social media intelligence against your expectations. Check out some of these resources to help you advance your social media data techniques.

One of the most lauded advantages of social media is the sheer volume of information about diverse demographics all over the world that gets shared daily in a public space. This information is public, free, and offers insight into patterns of human behavior that are impossible to observe in a more artificial setting, such as a lab or a focus group. Your task is to learn how to harness and channel social media data to work for you and your customers.

Turn your social media data into social media intelligence with Hootsuite’s analytics.

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