CommonSense Blog

The Evolving State of Social and Digital Analytics: The Analyst Point of View (Part 1)

By Chuck Hemann | Oct 09, 2013

Do you remember way back to 2006-2007? What specifically do you remember about those two years? Where were you working and what were you working on? I remember working for a more traditional (I don’t even know what that means anymore) communications agency doing research for our media relations, crisis communications and investor relations teams. The primary focus then was on evaluating the performance of media campaigns and events using metrics like impressions, message resonance and number of mentions in key mainstream media outlets. There was some element of the role that required real-time analysis, but generally speaking we were evaluating those campaigns and events after the fact. It wasn’t bad. It is just what was common practice.

A funny thing happened as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube began to explode: The number of companies that were created to help brands and agencies understand what was happening on those networks also exploded. Companies like Radian6 and Sysomos were the industry leaders, and early pioneers of a new approach to gathering and analyzing stakeholder behavior online. They offered users the ability to track share of voice, keyword trends, volume trends, sentiment and influencers. If you were working in the digital marketing industry then and saw those tools you would have never guessed they would have grown to this point, or achieved the kinds of valuations that they now command. To be fair, both companies helped show us that there was more to learn about our stakeholders behaviors than we analytics pros were getting through the traditional tool set.

Fast forward six or seven years and the tool set has evolved tremendously. There are literally hundreds (probably thousands) of tools out there that companies and agencies can use to gather online data about its key stakeholders. We have evolved beyond relying on a social media listening tool to answer every question, albeit not far enough. There have been great advances in search, content and audience analytics over that time. There have also been great strides toward the integration of traditional market research and digital/social research. As quickly as a new social channel pops up, so too does a new tool that gives analysts the ability to harvest and analyze that data.

Because the industry is moving so quickly, I don’t think we take enough time to document where we want it to go and what we need from the tools. So, beginning today, I am going to document in two parts where I think the industry needs to move and what we need from the tools. Part one, or what you are about to read, offers a point of view from the analyst perspective. Part two, what you will read later this week (I hope), will offer a point of view from the marketers/communicators perspective. Here is where I think we need to go from the analysts perspective:

  • Cleaner data – Anybody who uses a social media monitoring tool can tell you that a lot of the output from these tools is spam. Now, part of that is a function of how much spam there is on the Internet but going through a dataset that is 75%+ spam (and we have seen higher) is a time consuming task. It distracts from the real job of an analyst, which is to interpret the data. It also makes it very difficult to analyze behavioral trends over time because the analyst is constantly wondering if the dataset is clean or it has been biased by the introduction of more spam. What analysts really need is a tool with a smart spam filter system that learns over time as data is collected.
  • Integrating data sources – Social media listening can tell us a lot about how consumers are behaving, but it does not tell us everything. What were to happen if key stakeholders were talking in limited volume? Would you be able to develop insights based on a few hundred conversations in a 12 month period? That is a very likely scenario if you represent a niche B2B brand today. We analysts need to be better at pulling data from all aspects of the data supply chain (content, audience, social media monitoring, search and influencers) to understand the complete picture of how our stakeholders behave online.
  • Truly understanding PESO behaviors – At W2O Group we refer to the integrated media landscape as PESO — paid, earned, shared and owned. What the tool set allows us to do today is understand shared and owned media activities very well. Unfortunately, the integration with paid and earned media analytics platforms is lacking. Point #2 and #3 here are related, and it is something we need the tools to deliver desperately. In the meantime, though, approaching research projects with the mindset of understanding behaviors across PESO is a helpful place to start.
  • Assist colleagues in seeing the value of digital/social data beyond the communications context – Ken Burbary and I originally met in 2008 after we started a Twitter exchange about the value of digital and social data to the entire enterprise. Five years later we wrote a book together, and five years later we are still talking about the need to expand. It is one thing for the analysts among us to deliver insights on key communications questions, but is is another thing entirely to deliver insights that may help product development, customer service, HR or sales. Even if we aren’t asked for it, that is what we need to deliver more consistently.
  • Understanding audience segments at a deeper level – One of the questions analysts are often tasked in answering is understanding how a company’s social community is behaving. When we are asked that question we often approach it from the standpoint of understanding that behavior on the company’s shared and owned properties. That is only one part of the equation. The other part is understanding what ELSE those people care about. You, the analyst, already know that they have liked your page. Do you know what else they care about? At W2O Group we call this forensic analytics, and I think we analysts need to take the next step in understanding consumer behavior at a deeper level.
  • Training the next generation of analysts – Many of the people who work in digital and social analytics today came from the traditional research realm because they saw an opportunity to advance their career in a new, and interesting area. Because analytics has become so hot there are a number of people now entering the industry who don’t have as much context as they will need as their career unfolds. It is on us analysts who have been in the space for several years to develop a rigorous set of standards that can be followed by the next generation.

What else? What else do we analysts need to do to ensure the industry is evolving and keeping up with communicators’ needs? Again, later this week I will offer up a perspective on where the analytics industry needs to go from the marketer/communicator perspective, but in the meantime I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Hey Chuck,

    Great post.
    First off, I’d like to thank you for the Sysomos shout-out. We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do in the space and how we’ve been able to work with and help people like you. We will continue to try and evolve as the market does to remain at the top of the market.
    Which brings me to my second point, it’s posts like this and feedback that we get directly from our customers that help us know where we should be going in the future to help our customers. This piece was exceptionally helpful and as soon as I press publish on this comment I’ll be sending this post over to some people on our team to let them know what a leading social analyst such as yourself is looking for. So, thanks for that too.

    Keep up the awesomeness,
    Sheldon, community manager for Marketwired

  • As a marketer who works for a company that makes analytics tools, this is fantastic to read. When you’re building something and talking about it, it’s easy to get lost in that perspective and not realize what is happening strictly from a user perspective. Looking forward to the next part of this, if it’s not up already!

    -Sarah
    Content Marketing | Union Metrics
    Fine Makers of TweetReach & Union Metrics for Tumblr