Exploiting social media: The next step in business analytics

ORLANDO — Data is becoming Big Data, but a lot of companies are still struggling to deal with it.

At the SAS Premier Business Leadership Series being held here this week, SAS released findings from a new global survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which found that growing data volumes threaten to overwhelm organizations lacking a broad data management plan.

Forty-five per cent of respondents said the biggest barriers to exploiting Big Data are too much data and too few resources, and only 18 per cent said their organizations are committed to collection and analyzing data through a well-defined data management plan. But 53 per cent of those with a plan said their financial results bested those of the competitors.

Marketers used to simply broadcast a message. “Now we have to be good listeners,” said Jim Davis, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer with SAS Institute Inc. And this includes acknowledging and respecting what’s going on in social media.

“We can’t look at it in isolation; it has to be integrated into the traditional marketing environment,” he said. “A lot of organizations haven’t realized that.” They’re using social media apps to look in the mirror — to see what people think of them — but they haven’t gotten to the point of doing anything about it, whether that’s measuring their brand or their executives.

But the nature of social communication is real time, so how do you take sentiment analysis around social media and make it a real-time activity? Banks and online retailers, for example, are developing conversation centres to monitor tweets and identify key individuals in groups. If there’s an issue, they can contact them immediately, take the conversation offline and not let the problem fester.

At the conference, SAS announced upgrades to SAS Conversation Center, part of SAS Social Media Analytics, which captures “significant” tweets in real time, analyzing them and routing them to the right department. New features include a new communication portal, automatic case closure and shared common message content, as well as the ability to manually adjust sentiment.

For Michaels Stores, an arts and crafts retailer in Canada and the U.S., social media is not the enemy. “We’re turning that into social content,” said Paula Puleo, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer with Michaels Stores Inc.
“Every morning I get a pulse of what’s going on in our 1,100 stores. We’re really trying to overlay the content that we get through contests on Facebook or video we’re doing or events at stores and embedding that into the next conversation, such as our virtual craft hosted on our website.”

The holy grail is to tie social media activity to a return on investment. For Michaels Stores, they’re starting to see an ROI: sales are on the rise, valuable customers are coming into stores more often, and the profit margin on those customers is increasing. In one instance, they reorganized the paint section in their stores to make them more customer-friendly, driven by social content.

“I’m not saying it’s easy and we’re only in the beginning [stages], but we’re starting to see changes,” said Puleo.

The company has a Facebook and Twitter calendar, and they post questions or videos that align with what’s going on in stores. They’ve also identified about a dozen social media “influencers” that have thousands upon thousands of followers. But they want to “keep it real,” said Puleo, so they don’t pay those influencers or compensate them in any way. Instead, it’s about building relationships and getting their perspective on strategies and initiatives.

“If you don’t understand what’s working, you’re kind of screwed,” she said.

“We’re in a different environment and the consumer is really in control of how they want to interact with us,” said Scott Hudgins, vice-president of customer managed relationships with Walt Disney Co. “We’re increasingly trying to make sure we’re creating a relationship and making sure as data becomes more prevalent we have more ability to use that data across interactions.”

And social data is certainly a part of it, he adds. With millions of Facebook fans, Disney is taking the next step into “listening,” to make sure they’re learning from consumers. But with millions of Facebook fans, how do you listen to every one of them or boil all that content down in order to act on it?

“We’re formalizing our focus around it,” said Hudgins. “Being able to respond in real time is really the next piece.” Disney is working with its sales teams and call centres to understand the nature of incentives, for example, to take the idea of a relationship and make it a core part of the business — as opposed to just part of the marketing function.

“Historically a lot of time was spent on optimizing the business,” said Hudgins. “Now we’re trying to optimize the guest experience.” This means applying the same analytics horsepower to guests as they do to the business.

For Puleo, tying social data with analytics has been a game-changer for the company, helping them understand from a sales and margin perspective what’s really working — and to plan for the next generation of business, with customer input. “These are conversations we haven’t had before,” she said.


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