Jan 29, 2013 (08:01 AM EST)
Are Universal Social Engagement Standards Possible?
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
What if you could look across all of social media and truly understand what's taking place -- particularly those things that are relevant and impactful to your organization? Many companies now realize the opportunities inherent in being able to see the global conversations that take place about their products and services online every day. But, for varied reasons, many also are uncertain how best to access these opportunities.
This column continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.
More Social Business By Design columns
As a strategic business practice, there's no longer any question of whether there's business value in measuring the way customers socially engage with us. It's now reality, as growing numbers of firms are prepared to acquire the necessary skills and put them to good use. Yet, despite significant early success stories, there are also real challenges along the way.
Consider a compelling recent example of social analytics: Experiencing fierce competition, mobile communications giant T-Mobile USA discovered last year that it could correlate social media activity with its CRM database. By analyzing links between the two, and what was being said, they found they could identify when customers were unhappy and planning to defect to another carrier. By then building an operational process to reach out to and address the issues before the customer abandoned the company, the mobile communications giant was able to dramatically reduce defections -- cutting them in just one quarter, according to the Financial Times.
Clearly, this is a very substantial result, and it comes from having the ability to turn analyses of social media engagement into actionable business intelligence, something that many contend is still more art than science, given the inherently slippery nature of unstructured human conversation in the online world. However, this is becoming an increasingly solved problem and hasn't prevented steady progress in a certain industries as they learn how to combine the technologies and approaches of big data with social media to produce often hard-hitting results.
Big Data: Key To Unlocking Social Analytics?
The tech industry's current fascination with using big data to facilitate much better access to corporate information has led to a whole raft of innovative new products and services in just the last year alone. Enterprises can use these tools to make sense of their rapidly growing piles of digital information. While social media is just part of the big data story, it's a particularly important and largely untapped data source for many organizations.
Looking at it this way, it's clear we now have two critical parts of the equation needed to better tap into global customer insights: 1) Powerful new analytic tools with reach into and understanding of social media, and 2) visible global online conversation, i.e. the real-time flow of information from the billion plus individuals engaged around in the world in social media today.
In fact, it can be argued that the only thing missing at this point for achieving results is the necessary imagination and willpower to apply social analytics to our businesses.
Given examples like T-Mobile's and others, enterprises can now take social media, combined with functional big data analysis, and aim directly for data-driven improvements in their daily operations. With appropriate integration with our business processes, we should be able to use ground truth from millions of real-time and real-world data points to improve customer acquisition, satisfaction and retention, boost sales and use our connection with the social world to co-create better products and services with the marketplace. Or so both theory and early practice suggests.
There are, however, at least a couple of significant flies in the ointment when it comes to social measurement and analytics as the next breakthrough in business intelligence.
[ Ready to do big things? Read: Why Big Data Will Deliver ROI For Social Business. ]
First, while subjective and business-specific measures of engagement are quite achievable for a specific organization in a specific social channel, the process becomes much more challenging when looking at in the context of the entire social universe. The question quickly becomes whether a Facebook "like" is equivalent to a retweet? How about a comment on a customer community vs. conversations between blogs? The organizations seeking to baseline and analyze social media activity quickly discover that there's no universal standard for social engagement. Without that, there's no easy or accepted way to objectively determine what's connected, contextually relevant and significant for the business.
In other words, the conversations that take place in one social network or social media site can't be compared to another site or the rest of the social media world because the social gestures, modes of participation and the way they impact the local community are structurally and semantically different. Any comparison is also affected by numerous related factors including the community's size, type, dynamics, reach and levels of influence.
This means it's not just challenging but often impossible to look at the conversations in global social media and measure overall sentiment or effectiveness of a new social engagement process. In short, most companies must currently guess the weighting or emphasis in their social media measurement formulas. And this is likely to lead to feedback loops which don't accurately direct the company towards the outcomes they seek.
Second, while we've gotten better as an industry in establishing basic standards for social networks, such as identity, social graphs and activity streams, we're still in the early days of standardized access to large-scale social data streams from places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I've posited that the parochial control that the big social networks have imposed on social data in order to bolster their business models is leading to a potentially dangerous monoculture. But I believe this will largely take care of itself, as lack of open access will generally hamper many of those same business models.
[ Related: Enterprise Social Networks Need Open Standards. ]
Instead, I believe the real issue with social networking standards, when it comes to fully enabling social analytics, is that there is no commonly recognized universal metric for social engagement. Despite the fact that there is one online universe, we only have recognized standards for low-level social information, such as who we are, who we know and what we post -- but not a fundamental unit for engagement. The hard part (which may indeed may be very difficult to overcome) will be to establish a meaningful standard of engagement across our workers, customers, trading partners and the market as a whole.
Yet, many of the most interesting scenarios in social business require that we bound precisely this problem. Without a useful common measure of engagement, it rapidly becomes a quagmire to look at the thousands of social venues our companies must listen to, measure and analyze, and determine what's really important and what isn't, and whether our efforts in social media are having an impact or not.
That's not stopped the industry from trying however. The widely used and often-derided NetPromoter score was an early attempt at doing this. But as a single number for your company, its focus is on the wrong end of the point of measurement. It should be on the social networks themselves that we have standardized scores that we can roll up and accurately feed into NetPromoter and other interesting measures, set by our industry or ourselves.
I've been a proponent of social networking standards and technology standards for many years. While complex and theoretical technical standards usually have only minor impact, useful and pragmatic open standards can greatly accelerate what's possible. They can also bridge consensus in a way that creates opportunity, flexibility, interoperability, economies of scale and greater economic value. It now seems apparent we are in a place where open standards for social business in the areas of social engagement, behavior and business metrics would greatly benefit the industry. The tricky part will be doing this well and broadly, but the outcome is easy enough to see: A much more effective way to get practical business results from our social engagement with the world.
This is the industry debate that urgently needs to happen in my opinion: Are the low-level social networking standards we have today adequate? Or are we lacking in the standards that support what our businesses really need to work effectively in the social world?
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