The measurable web has come a long way. It used to be that, in a data center far, far away, gigantic website log files were filling up file servers. We had to at first write scripts to parse, arrange, and output to limited customized reports. Then apps like first generation WebTrends and others started to show up giving us a more friendly interface for using web traffic data. During this time however, because we hadn't yet hit the Google search era and were still using sites like Webcrawler, Yahoo, Alta Vista and Lycos to "find" stuff on the "internet" but we had no truly effective way of measuring user behavior on our sites, let alone specific content pieces built into a page like widgets, etc. like we have now. (Here's a great post about the history of search by ZDNet's own Stephen Chapman.)
Back in the early to mid 90's, we knew the potential of the web but we weren't sure how to tap this new glistening artery of consumer behavioral insight with a syringe that comes in the form of a company's mission statement. We were not only clamoring for data, but starving for more comprehensive data and 10 times as much as we were getting at the time. Even though lots of work was still to be done to figure it all out, the fire had been lit inside the bellies of the entrepreneurial young buck fresh out of tech school, and the race for mass quantities of quality data was on.
Fast-Forward to Today
We are in a whole new age when it comes to data. What type of people does a certain person hang out with? No problem. How often do they eat out during the week and where do they go? Easy. On average, what does a doctor of neuroscience, who lives in New York, that has been married for 5.7 years, has a son and a daughter, a history of Alzheimer's Disease in his family, who's favorite ice cream is chocolate……do with his time on Sunday mornings around 10:30 AM? If resources were put behind that research, the answer to that can probably be found, give or a take a 30% margin of error. I think that number is still pretty phenomenal given it's randomness.
The problem now for medium to large size companies and corporate entities is not so much that there isn't enough data available to use social media effectively, it's that there's so much going on, so much data, so many meaty conversations, so many feeds, platforms and tools. How's a company to figure out how to get started, especially one in a complex enterprise environment? Because there's so much data now, we can do a lot more business critical research with less people and more free tools than ever before. The real quality conversations outside of all the RT's on Twitter and duplicate noise via regurgitated blog posts that we all get tired of seeing and complaining about, is right there at our fingertips. The challenge is that as a business who may be struggling to justify pumping money and resources into a social media effort, how can we justify it if we haven't even been able to organize it in a way that makes sense for executives, feeding them effective insight that holds real revenue potential?
Give Your Constituents What They Need, So They Can Calculate Their Next Move
There are many others that could be listed here but for the most part, all strategic social media managers in the corporate world want to accomplish at least these five major things while doing their jobs:
- Advocate the external customer.
- Keep the public perception, conversations and other engagement as positive as possible.
- Empower other business units with the knowledge of how social works and how they can use it to move the needle in their respective areas.
- Provide insight to key decision makers all the way up the flagpole that is relevant, proactive and sometimes even surprising (new market opportunities).
- Increase revenue with minimal investment and a pile of behavioral data.
One of the most important ways to accomplish all of these is having a solid reporting strategy. A calculated social media reporting strategy is powerful enough to have a huge impact on the health of company's circulatory system, eliminating some market segment and product roadmap guesswork, influencing your next marketing move, and surfacing pain points for your customers that are happening with your products, services and overall brand. If your company has a market research department, especially one that existed pre-social media, it's extremely important that you connect with them right away, bolting on key social data and findings to their already existing strategy and reporting mix. Consider having regular discussions and report-outs with them about their findings and becoming familiar with how they get their data as well. You'll probably learn something new from them that may even change your perceptions on what you are finding. The traditional focus group approach still has it's merits but now there is so much more we have available to us that goes far beyond what focus groups can do - organic comfortable conversations with peers whose candor is publicly available for us all to use when constructing a well thought out next business step.