Let’s Talk About Social Analytics

I spoke at a Link Humans event last week, and it was all about social analytics and "drawing consumer insights from your social analytics". Instead of picking just a topic, I thought I'd hold a "social analytics intervention", talking about a few things I need marketers and social analysts to be aware of in 2016. Just four points, four slides, in 20 or less minutes.

For anyone who couldn't make it, for anyone who was there but would like a recap, or if you're just interested to know what I had to get off my chest, here's what I talked about.

Get yourself a social analyst, or be ready to be one

You have at least two options:

  • you can either have a dedicated social analyst, whose sole role revolves around social analytics and social intelligence, or
  • have a social professional adapt social analytics to their role, thus having a hybrid role, like a community manager and social analyst, or a marketing manager and social analyst.

Companies that don't have much of a social budget then to go for the second option when it applies and when both roles can fit without overworking resources (remember that you're pretty much squeezing two job roles in one for one person to take over). Most others, however, are just happy going with the first option, having one person fully dedicated to social analytics.

Having been in hybrid roles (e.g. social and web analyst, social media manager and analyst) and in dedicated roles, I can definitely say that both options work as long as you take the right approach towards it.

Whether you're currently hiring for a social analyst, or you already do have resources allocated to this area, see social analytics as an essential part of your social media team, as essential as your IT department is for your company. Just like having an IT department is a no-brainer for most companies, social analytics should be viewed the same for your social media team/department - and ultimately for the whole company too.

Now, if you’re going to have a social analyst, you’re also going to have tools - but not just any.

Get the right social analytics tool(s)

There is no perfect tool. There are great tools, good tools, capable tools, seriously underwhelming tools... The one thing that doesn't exist is the perfect social analytics tool (despite what a few social vendors may tell you).

What does exist, however, is a set of tools that fits perfectly within your social analytics requirements, and thus your business requirements.

Now, be critical of your tools: don’t be afraid to scrutinise tools that you want to procure, whether it’s a social management tool, a social analytics tool, a social listening tool or what have you.

When it's time to look for a tool, the first question you should be asking yourself isn't, "what tool should I go for?", but rather "what are my social requirements and my business requirements?". Only when you have the answer to that question you're safe to shop around for tools.

Do not shop around for tools without that list of requirements - you may get sales reps dictate what your requirements are in a way that favours them more than you. As a representative of your business, you should have the upper hand here. While these vendors' sales managers know more in terms of what works (and what doesn't) for companies today, and the visions of social intelligence that you should aspire to, don't let them dominate the procurement process.

What if you already have a social analytics tool? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you confident that your tools satisfy not only your current requirements, but also your social strategy 6 to 12 months from now?
  • Do your tools give you Social FOMO? Do you feel confident that your vendor will inform you of important social media changes, how that may affect you, and how that may impact the tool? For instance, if you have a social analytics tool, have they told you whether they’re going to integrate with Facebook Reactions? Have they shared their plans with you? Do they have an opinion on how brands can incorporate them in their measurement? While Facebook Reactions rolled out in early March, it was only made available via their API in mid-March, which means that social tools can finally integrate with that feature, if they want to. Do you find yourself having to play catch-up with these features, or do you feel confident that your tool has you covered no matter what change will come tomorrow?
  • Does your tool invest in social as much as you do? Some tools invest a lot in research and development, cooking up features that will be standard years from now. Features like going beyond textual search in social listening and being able to look out for images instead - what if you could spot your company logo in Instagram pictures, even if the caption doesn’t explicitly mention your name? Besides features that may come in handy in the future, think about social investment today too: if you see yourself investing heavily in social, yet your social analytics tool doesn't, thus lagging behind the (social) times, perhaps they're no good for you.

A great set of social analytics tools can help you become socially intelligent, which is linked to being a social brand. Speaking of social brands...

Just because you have a social media team, doesn’t mean that your brand is social.

I repeat: just because you have a social media team, doesn't mean that your brand is social.

Having a social media team is definitely a good start, but that in itself won’t make your brand social. While the two are definitely linked, one doesn’t cause the other.

Now, if you want to know what makes a social brand (or a socially intelligent brand), I do have a post on the Link Humans blog which you can check out in your own time. As it pertains to social analytics there a number of things you should ask yourself, things that are telling of whether your brand is really social or not:

  • Are you ready to invest in social analytics?
  • Are you reporting on insights, or are you just churning out reports?
  • Are you active, reactive, or proactive? If you’re active, you’re early in the social maturity ladder; if you’re reactive, you’re ahead of a lot of brands out there, but not quite at the top; if you’re proactive then well done, you’re quite far high on the scale.
  • Do you think in silos? I don't mean that as a buzzword, but do you have a singular view on everything you do? Look at your tools: are they entirely separate from each other with no chance of having them communicate with each other even if you wanted to? What about your reports: as an analyst, do you think about who else may benefit from your reports, or do you only see reports as individual solutions? Basically, do you report one-to-one or one-to-many?
  • Do you think about social as a primary concern, pretty much second nature, or is it alway an after-thought, a burdensome tick on a checklist?
  • Are your reports stuck in the past, or do you rely on actual insight from analysis?
  • Does the business understand the role of social analytics and what the social analyst does, or is it just seen as a report-churning resource?

Rethink how you report

Stop being stuck in the past. It’s easy for social analysts to keep reporting on what happened in the past, without thinking about what lies ahead, what’s going to happen in the future, what you’d like to do in the future, what you envision will happen 6 to 12 months from now...

Now, it’s important that we all understand what reporting actually is, and how it differs from analysis.

Reporting says what happened, while analysis says why it happened.

Reporting is overall descriptive, while analysis is prescriptive.

Reporting usually provides a very specific scope which is mostly backward-looking. Analysis should recommend what you can or should do to generate more or less of the same.

Reporting tells you what happened in the past, providing a great baseline from which to observe changes and trends. However, it is a backward view of the world. Being data-driven involves going beyond that - being forward-looking. To be forward-looking and engage in analysis, dig in, find out why the numbers are changing, and where appropriate make testable predictions or run experiments to gather more data.

Understand what social analysts do

During the event, I asked for all social analysts to raise their hands up. I did first. After waiting a good 5-10 seconds I realised that I was the only social analyst there. While sad, I was not totally surprised, and it kinda proved my point: social analysts are the unicorns of social marketing.

Social analysts are hard to find, and when you do find them you’ll often find them being the only one doing what they do where they work. In fact, it's not unusual to find only one social analyst working for the whole company.

That can be exciting, being so indispensable that everyone will come to you for insights, being the "gatekeeper of social analytics", being the Gandalf of social data - that's absolutely great.

However, here’s one thing that both analysts and their managers need to understand: analysts are decision-influencers, not decision-makers. That’s whether you’re a social analyst, a data analyst, a business analyst, a data scientist, or any other analytics role - you’re the decision-influencer, not the decision maker.

Which is to say, your role is to provide a user interface between the data and the decision maker, because out of everyone in the company, the social analyst is the closest one to that social data.

When I say "user interface" I mean a medium that your stakeholder can use to understand that raw social data. That can be in the form of a report in PowerPoint, or an Excel spreadsheet, or a dashboard in Tablo or in Power BI, or a dashboard in your social listening tool - as a social analyst, you decide the best medium on a case by case basis.

A good social analyst isn’t judged by how many reports they generate every week, but by how well they provide this interface - because any machine can churn out reports, any social tool can do it nowadays, but only an analyst can create that interface between social data and the decision maker.

Now, If analysts put out analyses but no one takes notice, did it really happen?

If you’re a decision maker and you hire an analyst to help influence your decisions based on data and strategic insights, yet you continue making decision based on gut, opinion and tradition ("this is how we’ve also done it, so this is how we’ll keep doing it"), your team is not data driven, and if that behaviour propagates across the whole company, your brand is definitely not data driven.

Change needs to happen before you can go past that hurdle. What drives that change? Culture. (Ultimately it’s behaviour, but behaviour feeds right into culture, so the answer here is culture.)

It’s the internal culture that sets the mindset and processes to take notice of those findings, trust them, and act upon them.

Now, once you’ve got the right culture in place, you do need a social analytics framework, a workflow that helps social analytics get from end to end - from social data getting into the analysts’ hands, to social insights driving business decisions.

While everyone can approach it differently, a social analytics framework involves the following 10 steps (feel free to remix them as you wish):

  1. the social analyst collects the social data;
  2. the social data feeds into the analyst's report;
  3. the report sparks interest for deeper analysis;
  4. the social analyst is there for that deeper analysis;
  5. from that analysis, the social analyst surfaces insights - valuable recommendations that you can actually act upon, based on knowledge, experience and hindsight;
  6. the analyst provides the decision maker with those insights;
  7. the decision maker sees it, trusts it, and uses it for their own decision making (be it a business decision, a social strategy decision, or what have you);
  8. the social insights influence the decision making, thus the direction that the company takes;
  9. the company then takes a social data-driven step;
  10. as a result, the business gets value and impact, and you - the social analyst - have just provided value and impact.

And that is what social analytics is all about.

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