Social market analytics: the dark side?

A new report talks a great deal about tapping into those who are strong supporters of a brand. But what happens when those advocates turn on it?
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Credit should go to Altimeter and Web Analytics Demystified for co-creating Social Marketing Analytics. It is a valuable contribution to social computing related ROI debates.

Altimeter Report: Social Marketing Analytics
View more documents from Jeremiah Owyang.
As I read the report though I could not help but think about the impact of 'advocates' on business direction and product or service design. The report talks a great deal about tapping into those who are strong supporters of the brand, engaging in conversation and the like. There is much to commend that way of looking at the world. Who wouldn't wish to tap into and understand the positive? But what happens when those advocates turn on the brand? 'Turn' is perhaps a strong expression but it is often the way that companies will look upon those who, while passionate, appear to be critical.
When a company faces criticism it is hard to adjust as Nestle found when the palm oil issue suddenly became the focus for a Facebook flashmob. I was always of the view that Nestle wasn't really looking at passion for the company but ire against a perceived social ill. Imagine what it must be like when passionate supporters appear to take a very different tack to the desired corporate line?
Yesterday, Larry Dignan reported on the efforts of the so-called Certification Five (I'm one of the Five so watch for self-interest!) in moving the SAP certification needle. Each of us who contributed to the certification paper is an SAP Mentor chosen by SAP for their commitment to and understanding of SAP and its technology.
As background, Mentors not only have to earn their place but they have to continue earning it. They do that through a variety of activities like curating SAP community wiki content, answering technical questions and offering new thinking about SAP technology, implementations and solutions. One view might easily be that some aspects of Mentor activity are an extension of SAP marketing. In that sense, they are 'advocates' of the kind Altimeter describes.
Speaking as someone on the 'inside' there are some interesting observations to be made about the way advocates behave and the impact they can have:

  • There is no doubt they are passionate. That may seem almost insane when thinking about SAP and ERP. It can be spotted in the way (for example) Porsche or Mini owners demonstrate what to others might seem an unhealthy 'nerdiness' around cars.
  • Passion is difficult to rationalize. Advocates who are passionate sometimes behave in what appears to be an irrational manner they have difficulty in articulating.
  • Advocates often express knowledge of products and services about which companies are unaware.
  • With passion and advocacy come strong and considered opinion, both positive and negative.
  • Advocates are able to form disproportionately powerful groups around issues of common interest.
  • Advocacy brings forward otherwise hidden issues, encouraging other voices to join conversations.

Passionate advocates can represent a double edged sword. In this case, the Certification Five took a particular line of thinking that can be viewed as sharply critical of SAP. But what is easy to miss is the offering of solid suggestions to change the situation for the better. In other words, advocacy can exhibit a quality of balance that inspires further conversation and elicits nuances to the topic under discussion.
As Altimeter and its partners continue to develop their thinking around analytics, it will be interesting to see what they make of behavioral impacts of the kind implied above. A combination of quantitative and qualitative measures will be required if companies are to understand how to tap into win-win-win value. Concentrating solely on positive outcomes will miss important opportunities.

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