I have been thinking more and more about the various strands to Social Business Intelligence, which is a major area of focus for us here at Dachis Group in 2011. At our London summit earlier this year, I spoke about the way open data inside and outside organisations can uncover new sources of value and help drive performance improvement. Yesterday, at the lovely Social Media Influence Conference, I spoke about how the field of Social Media Monitoring will become more real-time, operational and valuable as it moves towards Social Business Intelligence.
In summary, I think social media monitoring will evolve towards real-time data-driven business improvement based on socialising customer insight within the firm as a whole, not just within marketing and outbound communications.
Here are the slides, and a longer summary follows below for those of you who were not there.
Listening grows up; becomes more business-focused
We have all been to events where people (sometimes me!) reference the Cluetrain manifesto and say that markets are conversations, and therefore we need to get better at listening before we engage. But in reality, the fact that ‘listening’ is still seen as a new and novel activity just goes to show how alien this has been to the culture of large companies and brands for so long.
But, looking at Altimeter’s survey of social strategists, it seems that listening, customer dialogue and word of mouth are now high on most organisation’s spending priorities for 2011. This is a good sign. Listening tools and techniques have evolved rapidly in the past year or so, and the purchase of the market-leading Radian 6 by Salesforce suggests that listening platforms are now regarded as a key piece of the wider social business infrastructure.
However, current practice is still largely dominated by the ideas of brand monitoring and buzz – in other words, it is still more about the company or brand than the individual and their needs or interests. Brand monitoring is a slightly narcissistic way of engaging – ‘they love me … they love me not’ – and often tend to look at aggregate measures of sentiment (which is, by the way, extremely unreliable) and reach, rather than specific issues. But there are plenty of other ways to use listening platforms to get a better idea of customer needs, opportunities, etc. We are working on some quite specific listening campaigns to help refine clients’ service offerings, and this requires far more linguistic gymnastics than asking “does my brand look big in this?”
Brand perception is obviously important, but I think utility matters more to customers most of the time. This is why I love the way companies like Southwest Airlines and others use Twitter in a very down-to-earth way, responding honestly and openly to complaints, questions and issues.
A fun little story that I think exemplifies the way utility trumps “official” brand communications, and also illustrates the need to listen and engage rather than jump feet first into social media, is the tale of woe surrounding Tom Armitage’s Tower Bridge twitterbot.
I am sure our favourite bridge needs no introduction. We love it and watch it every day (as some of you will know, often from the window of our favourite local eaterie). It’s only downside is that when the bridge raises, we sometimes get stuck in traffic for 10 minutes or so on the way to meetings in the city. Luckily, whilst he worked here, the lovely Tom Armitage created a twitterbot for the bridge that would diligently tweet bridge openings and closings, and even tell you the name of the boat sailing through, all based on public data. Beyond its practical utility, the twitterbot gave the bridge a personality in the social web, and inspired other inanimate objects to do the same (incidentally, the SF writer Bruce Sterling coined the term spimes in 2004 for this very purpose).
At some point, the marketing people at the corporation of London, who run the Tower Bridge Exhibition, decided they had the right to the “official” twitter handle @towerbridge and applied to Twitter to have it handed over to them. After trying and failing to contact Tom, Twitter sadly complied with this request and what began as a public utility (that also did a great job of promoting the bridge) turned into a dull, series of weak marketing messages for the exhibition. Perhaps the Corporation of London thought it had ‘followed a process’ and so everything was ok.
To cut a long story short, a minor twitter storm ensued with over 1,250 tweets mentioning @towerbridge in just a few days (approx. 50% of the 3 year total), almost all of which were very critical of the Corporation of London’s disregard for both Tom, the Twittersphere and the users of the bridge. I would hate to be the one trawling through the sentiment analysis for their newly minted Twitter account. Finally, realising their mistake, and to their credit, the people involved contacted Tom and the bridge now tweets at the rather unmemorable @twrbrdg_itself, presumably to “protect” the brand equity of the exhibition.
Listening and analytics cannot, of course, undo stupidity like this, but there are many other situations in which earlier action in response to product or service problems or user issues could be possible thanks to real-time data.
Some pointers for data-driven business
There are several areas in which I think listening and analytics will grow up to become more business relevant, and if they do, then I think they can play a major role in helping businesses evolve in a more customer-centric way:
- Instead of studying a microcosm of online social activity, we should try to immerse ourselves in the ecosystem and be closer to the context of what is being said and shared.
- In addition to listening to opinion, it also makes sense to gather and connect behavioural data so that future social marketing efforts can build up a rounded picture of customers and their needs.
- Don’t just listen to external conversations – also point analytics at internal conversations and see if there are common themes or correlations between them (e.g. someone in product teams suggesting feature X might be buggy should ideally be picked up before customers begin complaining).
- Share streams of listening data internally as widely as possible to bring everybody closer to customers, and involve the whole company (not just marcomms) in making sense of the data and what actions it suggests.
- Think carefully about who should ideally action customer insight, and bring them into the listening loop. For example, efforts by Gatorade, Dell and others around social media command centres have shown great promise in immersing C-suite execs in the flow of customer insight, and that helps them understand what social media teams are trying to do and why.
- Move beyond reports and dashboards and find new ways to share real-time data ‘in the flow’ of peoples’ work. Reports have never been a particularly effective way of changing behaviour, but in this case their limited distribution and the time lag effect both limit their usefulness.
The “who owns social” question
In order to action some of the points above, the perennial question of how to organise for social cannot be ignored. Who “owns” social (if anybody)? How do different business functions come together to make it work? These are not easy questions to answer after decades of increasing specialisation and silo-building, but without at least an interim answer to this question (even if it is as simple as a co-ordination committee), there may be problems ahead.
Ideally, we would recommend the kind of podular structure that my colleague Dave Gray has written about recently. It is interesting to note how Amazon – a very data-driven business – uses small teams or pods to drive tiny features on each Amazon web page, and how they use he vast amount of behavioural data generated by the site to tweak, improve or remove these features in an approach dubbed ‘Data Darwinism.’
Actions speak louder than algorithms
Why do we listen? We listen to learn and inform action. But how do we act? This is the key question that can help us close the loop between insight and results. All the data in the world will not help if we do nothing with it. Right now, one of the problems we see with listening campaigns is that the insights go no further than the marketing department, but they are not able to pull the right levers within the company to act on them. This was one of the take-aways from Jaimie Punishill’s entertaining talk at the 2010 Social Business Summit in Austin, and from what I understand, it came up in his 2011 SXSW panel on the challenges of doing customer engagement using social media as well.
So how can we both improve the way we make sense of customer insight whilst also encouraging people to take ownership of the issues identified?
We are working on the application of social analytics to this problem for clients that want to take the next step beyond passive listening. The basic idea is this: start by surfacing a stream of potentially actionable events or insights within a social environment inside a client’s organisation, and give people the opportunity to easily flag items as actionable / non-actionable or to claim them as actions. Claiming actions in the open, we believe, encourages a culture of ownership but also helps others learn what sort of actions and resolutions work best. The logical next step is to reward those who are best at filtering, sharing, escalating or claiming actions, perhaps through simple game mechanics or visible rewards.
We believe that open data can encourage greater self-management from staff by giving them the real-time feedback on how their efforts are playing out in terms of results. This can play a vital role in creating the conditions for evolutionary improvement in companies interested in harnessing customer insight to drive performance.