Mining the social data stream for deeper customer insight

Wal-Mart and Target use social intelligence from customers to gain strategic business advantage in the local area and ensure on-going loyalty and retention.
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Social media data is useful to companies that need to understand how to put the data to good use. This data is a gold mine when it is analysed correctly using the correct tools. But it is what these companies do with that data that makes it both valuable and profitable.


Credit: Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest

In the U.S., Wal-Mart, the largest retailer in the world, uses social intelligence from customers to gain strategic business advantage in its local area.  It uses this intelligence to better stock its local stores.

Its initiative ‘My Local Wal-Mart’ intends to increase the relevance to stores with its interaction with customers.

Local social media conversations are monitored to give better intelligence about what the local Wal-Mart should stock, connecting with its customers and facilitating better stock-control for its stores.

This level of customer insight is not only used for stock control. In some cases, the amount of personal information known by the brand is much more than you ever thought you were sharing.

What you share online becomes a social data gold mine to the retailer.

In the U.S., the general merchandise store Target has put customer intelligence to good use when trying to gain customer loyalty at a very specific time in their lives.

According to the New York Times, Target assigns every customer a Guest ID number containing information about their life and shopping habits. But it also tracks much more information than basic shopping patterns.

Tracking your online conversations adds to this rich data set. Target not only tracks information about your shopping habits, it sometimes also knows which political party you support and the types of charity you give to. It even knows when you might be pregnant.

Take this example from the New York Times article: How companies learn your secrets:

A fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, 23, lives in Atlanta and in March she bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s a very high chance that she’s pregnant, and her delivery date is sometime in late August, and Target connects those dots.

You might be bored with your friends talking about what they had for their lunch every day. But this information, scaled to national and global levels, can provide data mining specialists with a social data gold mine.

Millions of people talking about the contents of their sandwiches can highlight nascent new food trends and burgeoning favourites and identify the different types of food that is favoured in certain locations across the region.

Sandwich makers can then move to supply the regional favourites to areas of high sales, reducing the supply in slower moving locations.

Historical data from social sites such as Twitter can now be accessed by companies such as Datasift for use by its customers to uncover business insights and longer term trends.

Real time analysis can make sense of what is happening around the web, so business can function smarter. Social recommendations can be made to you and your friends based on your seemingly casual conversation about what is happening in your day to day life.

Certainly, it's something to think about next time you start to enthuse about the new flavour in your sandwich. You might just be starting the next big trend.

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