Capturing Meaningful Competitive Intelligence from the Social Media Movement

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1 Capturing Meaningful Competitive Intelligence from the Social Media Movement Social media has evolved from a creative marketing medium and networking resource to a goldmine for robust competitive intelligence (CI) data. Potential social intelligence weaved into corporate and personal profiles includes consumer insights and feedback, brand image insights, as well as company size, capabilities, service area, products, issues with products, and much more. Strategic research and CI professionals are challenged with not only discovering and analyzing data for decision makers, but keeping abreast of new technologies and data mining methods. In the last decade, the social media movement has become an excellent source of rich competitive intelligence insights. Social media has changed the way people connect with each other and conduct business. Social media networks allow corporations to create relatively cost efficient marketing campaigns and reach consumers on a personal level. And in doing so, these networks collect a myriad of resourceful data about customers and competitors. There are a number of useful social media tools to monitor, collect, and analyze this data. Key factors organizations should use to determine which social media tools to implement include the type of industry, information needs, marketing goals, strategy, and budget. However, the sheer amount of information generated by social media posts, daily, coupled with its popularity as a communication method, means it must be incorporated into any thorough CI function. This article outlines the benefits of leveraging social media for CI professionals, including analyzing and monitoring social media, identifying popular social media tools, and defining return on investment (ROI). This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all products available, but rather meant to discuss social media trends affecting CI and strategic research communities. Social Intelligence: Real Insights in Real Time. Social media is an ubiquitous method of communication for people to broadcast opinions, market brands, and network professionally. Businesses cannot afford to ignore the use of social media to reach consumers. Corporations use social media platforms, blogs, and niche networks to humanize their organization and open discussions with targeted audiences. And as long as the information is freely available, strategic research and CI professionals can take advantage of capturing the robust, real-time data. Beyond the wide reach of social media marketing and networking power is the (digital) paper trail that these platforms generate, and this trail is often transparent enough to reveal quality insights. Potential social intelligence woven into corporate and personal profiles includes consumer feedback and brand image insights, as well as company size, capabilities, service area, products, issues with products, and much more. Social media is a great resource to reach out to subject matter experts as well. People who may have information, but would not normally give a direct interview, can often be reached via microblogs. A line of communication may easily be established by following the expert s profiles, sharing their posts, and engaging them in discussions. These online connections may even lead to a meeting.

2 Defining ROI of Social Media Efforts. Defining ROI from social media efforts is not as linear as with traditional research and marketing methods. When it comes to marketing campaigns, companies struggle to connect social media to the bottom line. Reaching customers is almost a certainty, but gauging how efficiently is the missing link. Big business used to just spend more money to out-market the smaller competition. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn with many free services have allowed companies of all sizes to brand themselves and market products relatively inexpensively, reaching a wider audience than with traditional marketing schemes. Current research by the publication Advertising Age reflects that measuring effectiveness and therefore, ROI of social media marketing, comes down to evaluating more quantitative data such as customer engagement and sentiment analytics. The difference between customers simply viewing social media posts, as opposed to interacting with brands by sharing and discussing, impacts the effectiveness of the social media interaction. And furthermore, whether the feedback is positive or negative can also have an impact on generating leads or signing a new client. There are a number of helpful social media measurement tools to assist the strategic research and CI communities with analysis and monitoring. A few important considerations are finding a balance between tools that measure every facet of data for only a few or even one platform, and those that measure only basic data points in one tool, but cover a myriad of platforms. And, bear in mind that the algorithms and metrics used for sentiment analysis are relatively new and kinks are to be expected. The certainty is that social media channels contain real-time insights directly from companies, consumers, and influencers. And, an organization benefits from engaging in and analyzing social media to harness this flow of information. Monitor, Analyze, Visualize, Aggregate, and Curate. Social media tools are designed to sift through the mountains of data floating around the social sphere and attempt to figure out what is mentioned, discussed, shared, or liked, and how often, by how many users, and why. Social media monitoring is relatively young and the ever evolving terrain of tools to evaluate information generated by social media is a bit of a moving target. However, below are some insights into the types of tools that are useful to strategic and CI research. Any successful social media plan needs to gauge how the campaign is being received. Analytics are brilliant for discovering meaningful data patterns. These tools can reveal sources of traffic to social media pages, types of visitors, frequency of visits and time of day, most effective referral sites, and even geographical location of visitors. Google Analytics is a widely used and free option. Sysomos is a pricier, but heartier business intelligence option that aims to provide sentiment analysis, track user engagement, and generates reports with intuitive graphics. Traackr goes beyond basics to collect information about influencers or social media users who are driving the conversation about a particular brand, company, or product. And Topsy provides both social search and analytics and is useful to harvest information about competitors and experts, too. Currently, it works with Twitter and Google +, but it has the ability to search tweets, links, photos, and videos in real time; dates are searchable, and it also ranks influencers. Topsy also has a free option. 2

3 Managing multiple social media accounts can put a drain on productivity. This is where social media aggregators come in handy. These products allow you to pull your social media profiles into one tool to not only streamline your online campaign, but also respond to readers in real time. And many of these tools have the added benefit of collecting some analytics and generating visual reports. Among the top performers in this category are HootSuite and Nimble. Both offer a free version and a sliding scale of paid account options, and both are compatible with an array of popular social media platforms. Seeking out quality content to share with consumers is always a challenge. Social Media curators finely tune the scope of news and data. This is an actual full time job position whether for a standalone site or for a larger organization as part of the quest to wrangle the Wild West that is the Internet. However, there are some tools that can help CI professionals with less time to devote to this single function curate meaningful information. Whether a tool or a person, the role of a curator is to decide what stays and what goes. Curators often have more stringent filters and make organizing information a more efficient process. Many social media platforms are trending towards built-in curators to ensure a more streamlined user experience. TweetDeck, a curator tool for Twitter, allows users to track feeds in real time and capture data such influencers, breaking news, and photos on pertinent topics. Last, but certainly not least, social media visualization tools can aid in the analytic and decision making process by generating graphs, charts, and maps from the multitudes of social intelligence collected. Products like Node XL and Gephi allow users to extract data based on keywords from social media platforms and create graphs to visualize the relationships between users and the discussion about products or keywords. This particular tool includes demographic data about users and includes a number of options to filter the information to find influencers and discussion hubs. Both are open source tools. Gephi offers more intricate graph analysis, manipulation, and exploratory data analysis. These gems are useful for researchers who are more visual and presenting data to decision makers. There are certainly many more tools available than those listed above. And many social media monitoring tools perform multiple functions and therefore, may fall into multiple categories. The Right Tools for the Right Job. Finding the right combination of tools for the right product, company, or industry will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which is budget and man-power. There are a number of dynamic tools for free or reasonable price points. Investing in an analytic tool with a wide array of social media platform integration possibilities, allowing researchers to collect analytics from a single tool, is a good starting point. Employing additional, more platform-specific tools that gather more robust insight on consumer engagement level will be invaluable to turning raw data into actionable information. Whatever the choice, although social media takes less time to maintain than other marketing mediums, the cost of man-power is always a consideration. Genuine competitive insight takes time and expertise to analyze and is often distinguishes an organization from its competitors. 3

4 The Future of Social Media and the Impact on Strategic Research and CI Communities. So where is the social media movement headed and what new tools are on the horizon? Paula Bisacre, Director of Social Media for Cipher Systems, provides some insights. What social media trends do you expect will grow the near future? Going forward, I think we will see a focus on more qualitative social media metrics like engagement and influencer analytics, and a continued upswing for Microblogging. As we have said, social media monitoring is relatively new and in-flux. However, analytic tools are a great start to gathering meaningful CI data from social media. Lately, metrics are moving toward quantifying the qualitative information to determine what and who is driving customer engagement, rather than simply how they post. Engagement can be tricky to measure and will require enterprises to set specific parameters about what constitutes a successful engagement, and strategies for how to respond or adjust based on results. Ideally, engagement means something along the lines of honest feedback, product suggestions, referrals in the form of shares, earned media, etc. from which businesses and researchers can make decisions. Similarly, many social media analytic tools are focusing on influencers within social media platforms, and gathering data about how they boost discussions and engagement. Influences often are useful resources to help get the word out about products and services. Discovering who key influencers are within your industry and how to engage them in your campaign can bolster marketing and help the bottom line. Microblogging is another trend that is here to stay. Sites like Twitter where users post short messages, links, or photos are a testament to our world of seemingly decreasing attention spans. These sites are excellent to get a clear, concise message out quickly. Other, more visual sites like Pinterest and Tumblr, chiefly about sharing images as opposed to text, are on the rise, too. Influencer tracking is particularly relevant for these types of platforms. Microblogging sites are also good candidates for data visualization tools that help illustrate relationship webs to more readily identify information hubs for decision makers. So what does this mean for your CI function? There s no doubt that social media tools are great indicators for baseline data about your social media campaign, and competitors activity. There are certainly some great tools on the market. However dynamic, they cannot take the place of human capital. Organizations that have quality professionals contributing to both social media and CI strategies will stand apart from competitors. The specialized staff at Cipher Systems can assist not only with streamlining social media monitoring efforts, but also overall CI strategy and analysis. 4

5 ABOUT PAULA BISACRE Paula Bisacre is the Social Media Director for Cipher Systems. She is responsible for social media research and analysis that directly supports the competitive intelligence requirements of organizations within the public and private sectors. Paula routinely coordinates with key internal stakeholders, ensuring effectiveness and alignment of all social media analysis efforts. She has managed the implementation of dynamic social media strategies for Cipher s Fortune 500 clients and also works to provide effective solutions for clients seeking to strengthen their positions within specific market verticals. Paula s vast experience in the field of social media includes the creation and execution of social media analysis strategies and social media strategic communications campaigns that work to bolster brand awareness, recognition, and perception. She can be reached at ABOUT KNOWLEDGE.HUB & CIPHER SYSTEMS Cipher Systems LLC has been a leader in competitive intelligence global research and systems software for over 17 years, and continually seeks innovative ways to differentiate our products. Our product Knowledge.Hub offers social media and web news monitoring, document sharing and collaboration features, and an innovative Microsoft Office Plug In for report production. Our team of unique and talented researchers helps business professionals produce actionable corporate intelligence across industries. For more information on how Cipher systems can assist with your CI function: 2661 Riva Road, Building th Floor Annapolis, MD Tel: / Fax:

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