Social Media Insights - Pitfalls and Benefits
June 30, 2014
I have been working as a social media analyst for the last 3 years with a number of international clients of varying size. These experiences have brought a plethora of issues and questions, from what social media insights actually are, a lack of understanding of what it can deliver, how the data is representative of the real life audience and how to ultimately execute a social media insight initiative.
In order to shed some light on these subjects, I will focus on the following issues:
- What are social media insights?
- Pitfalls of social media insights
- Benefits of social media insights
What Are Social Media Insights?
I would define social media insights as the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of how social media activity can create business value. It can be a very useful tool if you understand how to use it and apply the resulting output.
Your business’ outward facing digital assets, such as websites, are a part of a wider digital ecosystem in which social media is a component.
Let us look at its importance with a couple of statistics:
- According to eMarketer, social networking reaches nearly one in four people around the world.
- The PewResearch Social Networking Fact Sheet states that 73% of online adults in the US use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, excluding the use of forums and blogs.
In terms of what to consider as social media, the best practise is inclusion of microblogging platforms such as Twitter, classical social media platforms such as Google+ and Facebook, blogs and forums.
In other words, if your company is operating in an area of the world with high internet penetration, there is a high chance that all your stakeholder groups are out there. Therefore, it is not a question of whether social media can benefit your business or if your target audience is there, but how to best utilise social media in a cost effective manner.
Pitfalls of Social Media Insights
The typical hurdle in executing a social media insight initiative is using an extensive amount of time searching for information that does not have a clear purpose. This hurdle goes hand in hand with John Rampton’s arguments in the Forbes article Why Most Social Media Strategies Fail, and Dan Matthews’ Three ways to waste your marketing budget. When applied to social media insights, these problems can be summed up as:
- An illusion that all information is available.
- Internal organisational misalignment.
- Wrong measurement strategy.
- Working of untested hypothesis (bias).
The illusion that all information available will cost you dearly in terms of getting tangible business results. It is extremely important that you determine beforehand that your particular stakeholder group is indeed present on social media and that there is information available on them. If not, you end up collecting irrelevant information from people outside your key stakeholder group.
Internal misalignment occurs when your social media insight goals are not aligned and are alternatively coordinated with internal stakeholders and the project plan is not communicated in a way that allows for changes. This means that the initiative is isolated from the rest of the organisation. Results can vary depending whether the organisation wastes valuable time gaining information it already had internally or if it collects contradictory unverified information leading to failure.
A wrong measurement strategy is a reliance on a set of metrics that reveals an incorrect picture. The result is an irrelevant set of data that will have negative consequences for your action plan.
Bias refers to the act of predetermining the goals and output of social media insights. In this case, you run the risk of ignoring data that is in contradiction to set expectations, and it beats the purpose of any meaningful research. This can result in the wrong engagement strategy and ultimate failure of the project.
Benefits of Social Media Insights
A key aspect of social media is that it enables two-way digital communication. This gives an opportunity to build close and personal relations with your key stakeholders. To create such relationships, you need to identify the key stakeholders you wish to attract and create value for all participants. This principle applies to any classical B2B, B2C and B2G business.
In addition, key stakeholder groups operating in your digital ecosystem transit between different platforms. You want your digital assets to drive real life action, such as getting customers to check out a potential partner, to contact you and start negotiating etc. However, to induce action from your stakeholders you need to get information on how, where, when and why they would do any of these most desired actions. This is where social media insights can be applied.
Social media insights, however, are not a silver bullet. It is one piece of the puzzle you can use to get information about what your target group is doing. The other pieces of the puzzle are tied to web analytics and SEO, as well as traditional market research techniques. From this aspect, social media insights can deliver complementary bits of information, enabling you to get a comprehensive picture of your digital ecosystem and where the true business value lies. Ignore this component and you are missing a good opportunity to shape relations with your stakeholders; misuse it and you will face an investment loss.