Improved Analytics Are The Key To Understanding The Social Web

I am fascinated by the parallels between the early days of email and the current social network landscape. Back in 1999, I was part of a team that defined email best practices, developed creative templates, and interviewed major email providers. The findings were then rolled out to our clients – who were very eager to hop on the email bandwagon. The process was a mix of good research, bread and butter testing, and a few leaps of faith. In the end we got it mostly right.

Jump to today and we see the same thing occur with social networks. There is a lot of discussion about how to understand and use social networks, which vendors are leaders in the field, and which benchmarks to use to define success. There is also a lot of talk wrapped around the idea of “monetizing” an organizations social network. But there are no hard and fast rules yet.

The truth is we are still at a point where learning and ROI are inferred more than actually known in social networks. Tools such as Rapleaf provide a good snapshot of social network activity but not a living view that tracks interactions. Digging into networks and identifying key influencers is a manual, time consuming, and possible inaccurate process.

Over the next 12 to 18 months we will see increased consolidation among the listening tools as standardization begins to take shape regarding how and when to listen. Every analytic package will have a social network listening module – most of which will have been purchased from a previous start-up – and every organization will have someone managing the interactions on their social network platforms.

However, the learning derived from these tools will not have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line until 3 things occur;

1) Documentation of what is working and what is not is studied. It’s the wild-wild west out there and we are all in a learning phase. The more we learn now the better we’ll be tomorrow.
2) Social Networks are viewed from an integrated and not silo approach. This was a common problem when email was new – a lack of integration with overall communications planning.
3) Analytic tools not only identify influencers but also score and predict how customers and prospects will behave to an organizations message – eliminating a large portion of the time required to manually find key influencers.

This last item will be difficult because analytics tool such as those used for search and display advertising look at responders to a marketing event and optimizes in real time. Analytic social network tools will have to resemble customer acquisition models that identifies who is likely to respond to a marketing event. This will be complicated because a typical acquisition model relies on a relatively stable set of data. The number of social networks changes daily and the activity level on even leading sites can be variable. The provider that figures this out first wins in the space and puts actual campaign development in the hands of the marketer.

One last thought, the inclination of many marketers is to think of social networks, email, even the phone as tactics, our customers use these as communication channels. We need to be respectful of this both in our outreach as well as understanding that not everyone is going to have a Facebook page or tweet about a sale down the road. It’s the customer who decides which channel they use. Not us.

Happy Marketing

Jon the Marketing Guy
BTW: I am wrapping up an assignment and am seeking a new full-time engagement in 2010. If your organization is seeking a marketing services expert (data, analysis, vendors, and strategy), I’d like to help you. Check me out on LinkedIn, or reply to this post.


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