Over the past five years, I have had the privilege to be involved with social media. And not from a standpoint of creating it. No, my claim to fame has been applying it and using it for business. Over the past five years, I have come to trust the validity of social media data and the concept of netnography because I have seen it work.
And while I recently wrote in my introduction to Pipeline 2011 about getting over the fear, I figured I would spend a little time discussing at a high level how to think about applying social media to your business. At NetBase for whom I champion the social media cause, we have indexed the web and using natural language processing have given people the ability to quickly capture the relevant social media data they are looking for (say a brand like Tide) and allow them to UNDERSTAND the emotion being expressed in the data. Our natural language processing (something I am not an expert at understanding) enables us very accurately (clocked at 80-90% using independent people measuring its accuracy) extract the emotion in sentences. This huge index + accurate understanding of sentiment makes one giant database for capturing and observing consumer behavior in their natural habitat. My good friend Dr. Rob Kozinets calls it Netnography. This way of doing consumer research is very powerful because you can access this data and observe your consumer from anywhere anytime on any topic from your desk. Secondly, consumers in this natural habitat usually discuss things in a state free from bias because they don't know they are being observed (we only use the public web by the way...no private content). And lastly, because we have great natural language processing AND have indexed the web the data set is built the same way each and every search so all application work is not dependent on random data collection by people. It is an apples to apples collection of data that gives you a starting point to work from.
Enough about NetBase...the point of discussing this way of collecting social media data is to share how I collect my data when thinking about applying social media to real business problems. How do I begin to dimensionalize using social media everyday... I like to think about the following relationships.
TIME vs. RESOURCES vs. INFORMATION
This relationship is very critical to successfully beginning to think about the application of social media beyond counting sound bites. Let's think about it a bit more.
TIME vs. INFORMATION: In this case social media is a godsend. When you want to understand consumer behavior and you simply don't have the time to get the information where else can you go? There are many times when this happens. A great example is during what I call an "event". What is an event? It's a major issue your brand is facing because of something that suddenly occurs on the marketplace. This could be a celebrity making a verbal gaffe or a company's products making people sick. Either way, your ability to not only properly react but understand the data at hand is extremely limited. Normal methods requires days to prep and days to execute. Social brand trackers don't show real results for weeks after you need them. How will you have the time to get the information. Enter social media. I have had the opportunity to work on a number of "events" in recent weeks and to effectively do this you need some key measures to make it work. Fortunately, I have such measure at my disposal. Buzz or how much general comments are being made on a topic. Then there is sentiment. Sentiment is the positive or negative emotions being expressed about a topic. And lastly, there is passion or intensity. This is a special metric because not all sentiment is created equal. In fact, only with our natural language processing can we get at the passion count. Simply tracking the changes in these can be a powerful way for brand to understand a crisis. In fact, I spend much of my time these days playing with these three metrics to create novel social media business applications. Things like advertising effectiveness, event management, and innovation insight generation.
RESOURCES vs. TIME: This relationship is an interesting one. In the case of social media it about granularity. This is a case where you wouldn't take the time to spend the resources. There are many questions that a brand has that it might never answer because it just isn't worth the effort. I came across a great example a while back. At my previous company they had a brand that could be referred in two ways. One way was unique to our company the other was more generic. This piece of information was a debate for many years. In about 5 minutes we were able to unlock the secret from social media. When we checked the more generic way of labelling the product there 437 mentions. When we checked it our way it was 40. A 10:1 difference in buzz. The marketer I was working with at the time looked at me and said we would never spend to find that out but boy does everyone want to know the answer to that question. The speed and breadth of information that is available makes it possible to now learn what people are saying when it wasn't worth it before. My good friend Andrew used to look at me when I asked a stupid question and say, "you couldn't possibly care". I used to laugh and say he was right, I didn't. Now however, when someone says that about a brand question that is hard to fathom you can possibly care.
RESOURCES vs. INFORMATION: The most important thing to talk about in social media application. This is the game changer. Why? With our offering, a company can for the cost of about 5 focus groups have one analyst looking at any brand or topic at any time in any way. Why is this important? Because a company who could compete in the past because market research is too expensive has just become empowered to do as much market research as they want for about 10% the cost. This is how big companies will be taken down in the new market research data set that is emerging. If a small company can develop processes and methods for tapping all the data that is already out there...the game changes. In the past, these smaller companies didn't have the resources to get that information, but now they can. If they are hungry and not risk adverse they can now understand consumers with a SAS solution.
This is just one way to think about social media application but as I am very into rules of thumb and concepts like this, it makes a great way to begin to place your application methods in a particular box. I have no doubt after 5 years of applying social media that its power is only just being realized by companies. The ones that aren't afraid to try something new will win...those who stall will become dust.
An analogy I like to use regarding social media is this...
When I started applying social media to the business in 2006 it was midnight. It was dark and you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. In fact, I was often laughed at for suggesting this idea, but some people believed. Those who did started to be converted. I will never forget the time I was applying social media to acquisition work for one of my previous companies. During one cycle, we had generated a report on the pros and cons of the product from both a consumer and professional products perspective. We gave the report to the acquisition team (a great application of time versus information). They went to a report out meeting with the target. They had our findings with them. When one of the VP's got back I asked him how it went. I will never forget this social media moment...it was my magic moment. With wide open eyes he looked back at me and said quietly, "it was absolutely amazing, when they presented the pros and cons of the business I already had everything in my hand."
Well today it is only dawn. Most companies know they need social media but are still bewildered about where to spend or if they can even trust the data. I have worked across the corporate landscape in this respect having worked with visionaries who are forcing the change from those who know it is important, but are moving yet. Social media is a Ferrari bus with full tank of gas and a nitrous switch. If the bus leaves the station, it is going to move real fast.
The question remains when is NOON coming. The moment when the sun is high in the sky and brightness of the day shines on social media.
My prediction...we are nearly there...the Ferrari bus is revving and the driver has his foot on the gas.