Socialytics reaps business benefits

Improved customer service and decision-making impact businesses' bottom line, hence justifying efforts to monitor and mine social data, say industry watchers.

As organizations are increasingly inundated with customer-generated social data, they have more to lose than gain if they scrimp on social analytic investment and the effort to monitor and mine the data, say industry watchers. This is because intelligence from social media can drive better customer service and faster decision-making, which ultimately impact bottom lines.

Social media analytics, or "socialytics" is "key" for enterprises, considering that the "deluge" of chatter and information generated by customers on multiples sources, such as social networks, microblogs and wikis, is "rising by the second", said Daniel-Zoe Jimenez, program manager for enterprise applications and information management software at IDC Asia-Pacific's practice group.

He told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview that organizations today are more aware of the importance of understanding which relevant data are "superbly rich mines" to be tapped, analyzed and utilized in order to gain "true insight" to support effective and quicker decision-making.

Daniel Yuen, research director for analytics, business intelligence (BI) and performance management at Gartner, also noted that social analytics is "critical" in organizations.

Traditional business analytic tools are, by themselves, "insufficient" to effectively analyze social chatter which comprises "unstructured" data including emoticons, such that organizations can glean business insight from it.

Benjamin Lim, principal of customer intelligence at SAS Singapore, added that the proliferation of the Web, increasing broadband penetration, and the rise of digital natives have all led to more customers going online to discuss and share views on brands they use or come across. Therefore, the biggest gain businesses have with socialytics is a "better understanding of customer behavior and opinions", he said in an e-mail.

Lim explained that socialytic tools allow businesses to sieve out "competitive feedback" on their products and services from the unstructured data, helping them improve their offerings, optimize their social media campaigns and accelerate responses to shifts in the marketplace.

Asked if the benefits also translate to better returns or cost savings, Lim replied that companies which invest in socialytics will be "ahead of the curve" and prepared to "compete successfully" in a marketplace increasingly reliant on social media feedback, since they understand the underlying sentiment of social conversations and can take action on these insights.

Gartner's Yuen advised organizations that are considering an investment in social analytics, to ask themselves how best to conduct analyses to gain business benefits that matter to them.

By "enriching business metrics with social data", the organization will have the opportunity to discover indication and warning signs earlier, resulting in quicker decisions and responses to threats and opportunities, which lead to a competitive advantage over rivals, he explained.

Boost to customer service
Budget carrier Jetstar is one organization that has invested in both social media and social analytics. Its social media manager Andrew Mathwin said these initiatives have enabled the company to monitor and respond to customer queries in real time, engage in conversations with customers and continually improve its service offering based on customer feedback.

Using social media analytics and intelligence software allows the company to be "efficient and cost-effective in how we respond to customers" and actually helps "reduce the time and investment required" to do so, he pointed out.

According to Mathwin, Jetstar currently receives over 12,000 queries and comments yearly relating to flight schedules, bookings and policies, via various social channels such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs. Without social analytics to consolidate the "large volume [of] dispersed online chatter" into one source, the company would have to monitor each and every source individually, which would impact "how efficiently and quickly we can respond to our customers" as well as the airline's service costs, he explained.

For example, social media monitoring alerted Jetstar to incorrect information being spread online about fare adjustments during the floods in Queensland, Australia, in January, said Mathwin.

"We were able respond to this misinformation in real time--that we were offering full refunds and flight schedule changes at no charge--with greater speed and ease, than if we just relied on our Web site and call center channels," he noted.

In addition, social analytics offers "comprehensive time data at our fingertips for ongoing business improvement", such as tracking key business and industry trends, customers' perception and the reach of promotional messages, Mathwin said.

The Jetstar executive added that as the management of social media channels is integrated as part of the company's customer service toward achieving determined business outcomes and objectives, its "specific" impact on cost margins and profitability are "largely unquantifiable".

However, he said the carrier's business metrics "in terms of increasing online brand awareness and sentiment continue to highlight strong returns" for investments in social media, adding that Jetstar has built up a "loyal following" with 40,000 Twitter followers and 75,000 Facebook fans across Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

Furthermore, it is "important to be where our customers are" in order to engage and grow relationships with them, which justifies the investment of time, money and "dedicated resources" in the monitoring and data mining of social media channels, he noted.

Demand for socialytics to grow
Socialytics, according to IDC's Jimenez, has shown that "it can improve decision making and drive revenue growth". The analyst observed that interest around socialytics is increasing, as organizations recognize that their "success or failure depends on making optimal decisions at the right time", based on insight derived from customer chatter.

Yuen of Gartner noted that improving decision-making has by far been the "No. 1 driver of BI investment". So, as organizations start to more proactively manage, capture and optimize decision processes and outcomes to improve performance, these collaborative efforts will drive investment in new social BI and analytic applications.

Lim from SAS concurred, saying that more businesses are turning to analytics for better decision making and customer engagement.

The "current explosion" of social data available for analysis provides "insights never before possible", he noted, adding that the "predictive power of analytics" also makes a difference by allowing firms to see further to make adjustments faster and with more confidence".


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