I’ve been reading quite a few articles on “the state of social media” recently. They’re interesting, I can’t help but notice how a lot of these articles seem to ignore analytics, which is a shame considering how great the last 6 months have been for social analytics.

If the first 6 months were busy with changes from social platforms, acquisitions (e.g. Sprinklr, Clarabridge), new platforms coming up (e.g. Meerkat, Periscope), old platforms going through major makeovers (e.g. Pinterest, Google+), new data being made available (e.g. Facebook and Datasift), I can only imagine what’s in store for the next 6 months ahead of us.

Here are a few examples:

  • Facebook: Facebook opened up a firehose of data to Datasift earlier this year, unleashing a whole new potential that was previously untapped. Unlike with the previous Graph API (v 1.0), this new partnership allows the aggregation of non-public posts (status updates) as well as public posts, likes and comments. You can get richer demographics based on audiences engaging on a specific topic, in real time too if you fancy. While you can’t directly use that information to target ads on Facebook (there’s no integration between DataSift and Facebook’s advertising platform…yet), nothing stops you from using that topic data analysis as a basis for your marketing content, advertising, and reporting too, to better understand who your Facebook audience is. Just think of the many ways analysts and marketers can repurpose that data. Pulsar, a UK-based social monitoring platform, has already partnered with Datasift to get to that data, and it’s only a matter of time until you start hearing of other big social companies and agencies following suit.
  • Twitter: despite cutting off the Twitter firehose away from resellers, Twitter is being more open with its data as it brings its access fully in-house. That’s especially the case when it comes to advertising (e.g. app data) and analytics, much more than before: look at the regular updates to their analytics dashboard, look at the new Twitter Curator tool, which is basically a social listening tool for publishers; look at the most recent additions to their analytics platform, such as the Audience Insights tool, giving marketers and advertisers a deeper understanding of their audience: that is just one step away from adding psychographics to not only understand gender and location, but also interests, real-time intent to purchase, behaviour and propensity to become a customer or churn.
  • Sentiment analysis: with sentiment analysis being a huge passion of mine it comes as no surprise that I’m really excited to see more investment going towards text analysis. Look around and you’ll see a questionable lack in text analytics unicorns (more on this here). While my bets have always been on Clarabridge being acquired, it was interesting to see them acquiring Engagor just recently, in a sudden twist of events. Sentiment analysis hasn’t seen much innovation in a long time, and a lot of social analytics tools (social listening included) have been resting on their laurels when it comes to it. Some social listening tools exclude it completely from their platform, citing “linguistic inaccuracies” as their primary reason. However, with this investment in text analytics not only will we see smarter algorithms towards a better accuracy and understanding of linguistic nuances, but vendors can also start seeing that social content goes beyond the linguistic constructs that we’re used to. So far most tools have been taking sentiment as a binary measure (positive vs. negative), but what about the underlining tone? What about the underlining emotion (positive as in happy, satisfied, content or excited? Negative as in angry, disappointed, frustrated or indifferent?) What about the strength of the sentiment (“being tired of something” and “being livid” are both negative, yet they’re not close on the sentiment scale)?
  • Social media and linguistics: closely related to the previous point, it’s great to see more researches on linguistic nuances on social media, and as a linguistic aficionado I’m thrilled to see more linguists, data scientists and vendors coming together to look into all this language data available on social media. And why not, let’s throw in analyses on picture-based content (identifying your brand logo or your products on an Instagram picture, for example) and analyses on emoji use too (while they won’t replace language as we know it, they’re an undeniable part of our culture now). Let’s throw in analyses on “Twitter dialects” (or in general “social media dialects”), leading us into sociophonetics. While we’re at it, let’s have a look atthe morphology of reaction gifs. As crazy as these may sound right now, pause for a second and think about it: these may easily become default features in your social listening tool 5 years from now. (On a side note, kudos to all the social listening vendors that have a team of linguists in-house: they’re the ones who are most likely to be at the frontier of social intelligence innovation.)
  • Social innovation: 3 words – Big Boulder Initiative (BBI). Founded back in June 2013, BBI is an industry association “wholly dedicated to the advancement of social data in businesses and organisations of all kinds”. That’s in their own words. Personally, I think of them as the “Social Data Avengers”. Think about it: this is an organisation that takes the lead on initiatives regarding social data, such as setting a code of ethics and standards of using social data, finding standards to measure data value and make social data easily accessible without compromising on privacy etc. They go beyond that too with their yearly event, which isn’t the usual buzzword-filled event with fluff and zero substance (just look at their agenda and the speakers as an example). The reason why I’ve singled them out in this point on “social innovation” is pretty simple: initiatives like BBI make me hopeful for social analytics companies, hopeful that vendors won’t be blinded by IPOs and acquisition-sprees, but that they’re actually going to invest in the future of social data. Hopefully more vendors will follow suit. (You can read more about it here, their event here, and of course their site here.)

Social Analytics in 2015 – Q3 and Q4

More and more companies have started taking social media seriously, and now a lot of them are starting to see the benefits of social analytics too, resulting in bigger investments in social intelligence (it usually starts with social listening and then moves across to the other subcategories of social intelligence); you also have more creative ways of using data from social platforms to feed into intelligent targeting, thus moving away from the ‘big data” paradigm and shifting to smart data – honestly, there’s so much that can be done with all this social data, and so much left to do.

I’m also worried for the companies that aren’t taking enough (or any) chances to embrace social analytics, but overall I’m excited for the future of social analytics, and I’m excited for what’s to come this year. In a day and age where everything around us is now drenched in social data, it would be foolish to ignore that and let it pass by.