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How can you acquire social media smarts with Big Data insights?

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22nd Jan 2014
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Social media has transformed the way businesses communicate with their customers. Companies in industries ranging from retail to pharmaceutical and banking are using social media as a tool to improve their relationships with customers. They are doing this by analysing valuable customer data from vast data pools, extracted from interaction on social channels.

However, while using the insights from this data can be extremely beneficial for businesses, the sheer volume of data created by social media conversations is vast and analysing it can be overwhelming, so businesses need the right tools and people in place to harness the opportunity on offer. In addition, monitoring customer data raises various security issues so businesses must adhere to specific rules in order to reap the benefits of these insights while at the same time protecting their customers’ right to privacy.

Explaining Big Data

Big Data can be understood as a solution ecosystem that integrates and analyses vast quantities of aggregated data from a variety of both structured (e.g. point of sale transactions) and dynamically structured (e.g. social media, text message conversations, geo-location) data.

The explosion in digital data caused by the increasing number of social and mobile platforms means that businesses have access to enormously valuable resources that bring to light specific information about their customers’ behaviour and preferences. It promises businesses a better understanding of how customers behave to help improve relationships and better serve their clients.

Transforming the marketing industry

The marketing opportunities offered by social media Big Data insights are numerous. For example, they allow businesses to personalise marketing campaigns by analysing aggregated data collected through customer preferences expressed on various social channels.

In addition, understanding customers’ preferences, products used and competitors mentioned via social media helps businesses better understand how to improve their services to target audiences and respond to customer complaints instantly. It increases customer lifetime value, creates a direct communication channel to build stronger relationships, creates customer stickiness and provides an opportunity to serve their customers in an immediate and more personal way.

In the social sphere, the marketing message needs to be delivered via a trusted contact, rather than the brand itself. The marketing principle here is to increase the attractiveness of a product by virtue of who likes it, or consumes it, rather than how the brand itself communicates. It is the difference between praising yourself and somebody else praising you.

Big data insights

Social media provides the opportunity for customers to convey their dissatisfaction, particularly for those who would be reluctant to complain in person. People are increasingly turning to Twitter to vent their frustrations about unsatisfactory experiences, for example, poor customer service or an item being out of stock on a retail website. While dealing with dissatisfied customers is always challenging, any business that ignores or is late responding to complaints made on social channels will lose out to the competition. Businesses should regard the real-time nature and honesty of customer responses on social media as an opportunity to enhance their service – and show they are listening.

When combined with other types of data – sales transactions, weather, traffic, demographic – social media adds the “human” variables creating the opportunity to develop analytic models that were impossible five to seven years ago. 

For example, financial services can use social media analytics to offer early-warning fraud detection and identity threat management systems, giving customers peace of mind. One area that has reaped particular advantages is the pharmaceutical industry. As a new drug becomes available, pharmaceutical companies create an interactive online presence for doctors and patients. This is coupled with a call centre to answer questions about treatment, dosage, side effects and they provide education and information to healthcare providers and patients. Using the drug’s website, the call centre data and social media feeds, one can better understand what is being said about the drug, how the drug is being used and its efficacy. Further, this combination of traditional and social media data is used to initiate root cause analysis when problems or concerns are detected via social media or directly through the call centre.

For example, Google uses social media data and search results to predict the spread of the flu virus with surprising accuracy when compared to the US Center for Disease Control’s public health warning system. 

Obstacles to success

Privacy issues are the biggest challenges to overcome. Personal data collected including the consumers’ behaviour, preferences and opinions in the social media world is very useful in providing personalised solutions or offers to the consumers. However, consumers are very particular and sensitive in how this very same data is shared and used and expect that their individual privacy is absolutely maintained. In addition, the effect of a security breach allowing a malicious person to hack into this information and misuse it can be devastating to the individual.

Formulating appropriate policies that govern the security and privacy of the data is an absolute must. Not taking care of these constraints significantly increase liability risk for the implementers apart from jeopardising the very same consumers they are trying to serve.

In addition, Big Data is a relatively new concern and there is strong demand for talented professionals who can implement the solutions as well as derive powerful insights from it. This demand can only be expected to grow exponentially and the shortage of skilled resources could inhibit solution implementations. Organisations need to invest in acquiring fresh talent as well as in cross training their current talent to keep up with the demand.

Finally, the balancing of effort/ investment and usable output is an important one. The ability to get business stakeholders involved is critical, rather than produce lots of analysis by way of solutions seeking a problem. Ensuring we don’t forget the human element is also critical – we call this “adding love to data” as no customer wants to feel ‘analysed’ – they want to feel understood and loved.

Big Data success

There is no doubt that businesses that shy away from using social media will get left behind by the competition. As long as they are aware of all policies that govern the security and privacy of the data and have the right mix of employees who are capable of successfully harvesting valuable insights offered by social media data pools, then the opportunities created by Big Data are many. Such insights not only help businesses run better by enhancing the customer experience, but also run differently by allowing them to think of ways to become more innovative and beat the competition. Businesses that embrace social media will enhance customer relations and ultimately boost their bottom line. 

Ved Sen is head of mobile & social solutions for UK & Europe at Cognizant.

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