Inspiration for insight driven organisations
logo Dr Jillian Ney Digital Behavioural Scientist
Are social media analytics slowly killing the insights industry?

Are social media analytics slowly killing the insights industry?

I am an advocate for the use of social media as a research tool. When social media research is prepared, analysed and interpreted properly you can generate amazing customer insights. I know you can achieve this because it's something I do every day. I also know there are scepticisms about the approach because many companies are still not receiving the value they want from their social analytics initiatives. I believe that there is a simple reason for this and that it’s slowly killing the insight industry – social analytics tools don’t provide insight, people do!

Reduced Barriers to Entry

It is estimated that the social analytics industry will be worth $5.4 billion by 2020. The tools in this market are positioned to assist businesses to measure, analyse and extract value from social conversations. While insights were traditionally the domain of analysts, researchers, and customer and business intelligence; social tools have reduced the barriers to entry in the insights market forever.

Anyone who is motivated enough can buy a software-as-a-service licence and analyse social media conversations, there are even freemium models to reach the resources of even the smallest business. The dashboards on these tools are user-friendly (for the most part), there is a level of automation, and you don’t need to have a degree in statistics to analyse the data. It’s a vast contrast from conducting and analysing interviews or using statistical packages like SPSS or R.

As I said, there are very few barriers for anyone to pick up these new social tools and conduct some form of social media analysis – and this is where the problems begin.

There isn’t just one issue at play here, it’s a combination of factors, and each of them is eroding what we consider an ‘insight’ to be. It’s no wonder that businesses can be sceptical of the value that social can bring.

Personal Disclaimer

Now, I’m not bashing the social tools or the people who use them, I work with social tools! I’ve built a career out of this work and there is nothing I love better than sitting down and having a play with a new tool to see how it works if it can solve any issues I’m having or there is a bit of functionality that I like better. I could do my analysis another way but the user interfaces on the social tools are so much more easy to use and heavy statistical analysis can hurt my brain – if behavioural economics told us anything it is that we are lazy thinkers.

I’m all bought into the social analytics industry but I think it could be better, and we need to address the burning issue that social tools don’t provide insight, people do!

The Big Issues

Ok, so, I like the fact that insights can be easily sought, on a budget and in a short period of time with social media. What I don’t like is all the bullshit that floats around the industry. I don’t like people trying to pass information off as insight but maybe because the reduced barriers to entry they don’t know any better (I know, I’m an optimist).

It’ an epidemic and we need to start to properly address these issues before we kill insights for good.

Businesses Don’t Know What They Want to Measure

My general feeling from brands and businesses is that there is a lack of confidence in selecting the best tools, knowing what metrics matter and how to approach the interpretation of social data – there is confusion on what is possible.

I’ve found the biggest focus to be the measurement of owned content and audience growth but this revolves around vanity metrics; you know the ones that make you feel good. There is a lack of understanding about what these metrics mean to business performance and it can hold back from unlocking the real power of social media, intelligence gathering.

There is a whole realm of new possibilities that are waiting to be explored but businesses are looking for industry to inform them of what is possible. After all, analysis is only as good as the functionality of the tools. There is also a misconception from businesses that clicking a few buttons on these tools will provide insight, I’m afraid that’s just not true. There must be an end user that can turn this data, this information into insight that can help guide business decision-making, and this is a skilled position. Essentially, understanding is killing insights and the perception of social insights.

Social Tools Are Struggling to Measure Complexity of Behaviour Through Automation

From businesses being unsure of where to start, what metrics are important, and what tools to use, the social tools themselves can also be struggling to know what to measure. I’ve been working with quite a few social tools recently on developing out their dashboard functionality and capabilities. In some instances, we’ve had open dialogue to say that they have all this data and don’t quite know what to do with it yet – they want to work with people to develop the proposition but when businesses don’t know what they want to measure it can be a difficult job.

Let’s take the new Facebook topic data, for instance, in a recent conversation, I was told that even Facebook don’t really know what to do with all that data. The tools being developed around the data are, in some instances, struggling to know how to approach the analysis and determine what value it has to a business.

If we’re honest, social tools have been developed for marketers, and with this in mind, they have been built to reinforce metrics that marketers are comfortable with and understand. So we have share of voice, click through, buzz, and wordclouds but as Jason Falls says:

“The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is that you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable”.


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