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Social media: bringing it all together

This article appears in the issue June 2015 [Volume 24, Issue 6]
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Social media has become pervasive, playing important roles in such diverse activities as monitoring brand perceptions, detecting important trends in the economy and supporting marketing initiatives. Few business leaders, whether in customer service, HR or product development, are taking the risk of ignoring social media. And although the initial steps in many cases have been limited, businesses have steadily become more proficient in adapting it to their needs. In each scenario, the best results will be obtained if a healthy dose of human involvement is provided.

Enterprises are benefitting more from social media now because their use of it has become more sophisticated, according to Susan Ganeshan, chief marketing officer of Clarabridge, which produces a customer intelligence platform. “In the last three years, companies have made tremendous strides,” she says. “They are not just looking at counts now—how many times they were mentioned—but analyzing data at a more granular level. What is the sentiment and what does it mean for particular areas such as product development for services?”

Often, a survey or some other quantitative measure will indicate a problem, and social media data will explain it. “The value proposition is that social data is much more powerful when paired with other data,” Ganeshan explains. One midrange hotel started out using surveys on the Clarabridge platform and found its ratings were low. Analysis of comments posted on Facebook or received in the call center helped the hotel discover that its customers were detecting the smell of smoke, even though the hotel had become a non-smoking facility. The hotel traced it to the air conditioning filters and was able to remedy the situation.

Customers are now aligning social data with other channels, including call centers, surveys and online chat. Each channel has a different tone—people on discussion boards have a different perspective from those responding to surveys. Social listening takes in a broad range of social media channels to take the pulse of consumers, looking for indicators of sentiment toward brands and specific issues that could be of concern. “A reference to Nike might be made in a Tweet but if it does not impact the brand, the focus should shift to the comments that do,” Ganeshan says.

One area in which social media can be powerful on its own is in competitive analysis. “If you want to know what consumers think about your beverage versus others, a social media channel can be very useful,” Ganeshan says. “Social feedback from a competitor provides good indicators of which products are popular with customers, which can enable a company to improve its offerings.” Clarabridge’s software is also used with customer experience management (CEM) products such as Cognizant to identify industry trends and follow viral conversations.

Spotting trends

Interactive Data provides a wide range of financial products and services for investment managers and traders. “We provide data that helps people make critical business decisions in a time-sensitive manner,” says Emmanuel Doe, president of the Trading Solutions Group at Interactive Data. “This includes data from the stock exchange, OTC data, commodities and other sectors.”

The information is offered on a platform that provides analytics to Trading Solutions’ customers and has the ability to aggregate structured and unstructured data. “We wanted to offer to bring in data from essentially any source, from newsfeeds to Twitter,” Doe explains. “Our clientele wants to make informed decisions on how to trade in the market or react to events that might affect financial opportunities, risk, compliance and many other relevant aspects of running their business.”

Interactive Data was looking for a platform that could help it aggregate and integrate content, including social media content. “We needed effective visualization so our customer could quickly see what was trending,” Doe says. “For example, if there is a massive flood in India and the price of soy beans is affected, our customers want to see all the information they can as soon as possible.” The company identified FirstRain as a candidate through talking with others who have used a variety of analytical engines and found it was the best match to its needs.

The relevant bits

Although Interactive Data subscribed to numerous data sources such as newsfeeds, it did not have the analytics in place to maximize their value or to tap into social media content. “We rely on FirstRain to be able to filter through all the social media such as Twitter,” continues Doe. “Our clients need to be able to cut to the core of the issue, and First-Rain allows us to do that through its analytics.”

In contrast to social listening, which aims to cast a wide net and bring in as much content as possible, the intent of Interactive Data’s use of FirstRain is to distinguish the few relevant bits of data from a large amount of noise. “We are solving the information overload problem,” says Penny Herscher, president and CEO of FirstRain. Its customers are often sales or marketing, and are trying to stay on top of events related to major customers and competition. “In social media, the volume of noise is so high it is important to zero in on critical content,” Herscher adds.

After asking a few key questions to identify the user’s role and primary areas of interest, FirstRain’s natural language process (NLP) analytics hones in on the most critical content for each customer. “The platform is very personalized,” Herscher says. “It understands each person’s role, whether in sales, marketing or the supply chain, and it also learns from experience.” As the user interacts with the software, FirstRain identifies focal areas of interest and modifies its search strategies.

Mergent, another financial data provider, announced in April that it would be incorporating FirstRain into its Intellect platform. The results of the analytics carried out by its platform will be sold to Mergent customers to help them understand key business markets. In addition to the analytics provided by FirstRain, its visualizations allow interpretation of large and complex inputs of both structured and unstructured data. The ability to incorporate social media into this type of analysis is likely to become increasingly valuable, although interpretation will still be a human endeavor.

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