Social analytics refers to the fast-growing field of monitoring, measuring, analyzing and interpreting social media conversations -- often in real time. The goal of most social media analytics is to learn in order to help an individual or company communicate more effectively via various social media channels.
Increasingly, the ability to make sense of the social media conversational stream on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet plays a crucial role in business. Effective social analytics can help companies communicate and interact more effectively with their customers, business partners and even employees.
Definitions of social media analytics vary widely. Some experts focus on the quality and context of specific media behaviors, while others look more at the tools for measuring and quantifying those behaviors. Most effective strategies, however, do both by combining qualitative and quantitative approaches.
Qualitative analysis of social media is widely regarded to matter the most, but quantitative analysis seems to be gaining a great deal of attention now, too, especially with the rise of new social metrics tools. The exploding popularity of social media has occasioned a virtual tsunami of data about people's online behavior, prompting software vendors to rush in and create new tools to help businesses and individuals measure various data points. The ultimate goal, of course, is to make sense of the data; hence the ability to perform qualitative analysis is crucial in implementing social media.
Collecting Social Media Analytics Data
The first step in social media analytics is to figure out how to monitor what's happening in social media by collecting data generated in the social media channels. But what data should be collected? Should companies track every "mention" of their brands on Twitter and Facebook? Should they go further and attempt to classify all those "mentions" as either "positive" or "negative" through some kind of "sentiment" analysis?
The answers to those and related questions vary greatly depending on the business objectives a company is seeking. Some companies might be using social media primarily to market their products and services, while others may use social networks mainly to serve their existing customers. Still others may want to simply monitor competitors and trends in their industry.
Rise of Social Analytics Tools
There's no shortage of social media monitoring and measuring tools on the market today to accomplish all of these goals.
Popular software programs that allow people and companies to listen to and analyze content in social networks include Sysomos, Sprout Social, and Salesforce-owned Radian6. Other popular tools include SocialMention and Hearsay Social. There are hundreds of other tools, including many that are being combined into unified software suites to simplify the work.
Social Analytics Vendors Consolidate
In 2011 and 2012 in particular, big software and Internet companies have been showing more interesting in buying or partnering with social monitoring and measurement startups.
The wave started in 2011 when online business software company Salesforce bought one of the leading firms in this field, Radian6.
In mid-2012, Oracle bought three social metrics-oriented firms--Involver, Collective Intent and Vitrue--and disclosed plans to integrate them into a "unified social platform" that would allow businesses to analyze behavior and content across many social networks from a single interface.
Google bought Wildfire, a social marketing and advertising service, in July 2012. A month later, Facebook announced it was buying Threadsy, the creator of a social media influence measurement tool called Swaylo.
Choosing Tools by Function
A plethora of other tools exist to help with social analytics. The choices of which to use are typically governed by the business (or other) goals someone wants to achieve, along with the size and budget of the organization.
Enterprise software giants such as Oracle and SAP offer more expensive, but also powerful tools for monitoring, measuring, analyzing and engaging on social media. Increasingly, these activities are being unified into integrated software suites to make data handoff easier and to simplify social media management for those doing it.
These large, integrated enterprise software suites tend to be so expensive that they're cost prohibitive for many individuals, sole proprietors and small businesses. But there are plenty of less expensive -- even free options --available.
It's best to start by defining your goals and then consider how each of the different types of analytical tools might help achieve them. Tools often are classified by their function, including:
- Social media monitoring -- These scour conversations occurring in social media and typically look for the keywords and phrases you're interested in the most. For that reason, they're called "listening" tools. Businesses use them to track how often their products, services and company names are mentioned, along with those of their competitors. Another common use is simply to track trends in a particular field or industry.
An important part of the monitoring process is thinking smartly about what you're hearing and seeing so you can identify what to measure and how to engage, which are the next steps. Focus on identifying keywords that people are using in conversations (beyond obvious ones such as a company's brands and CEO and so forth) that seem relevant to particular business goals.
- Social media measurement -- These tools also do monitoring but add the capability of measuring and refining the data-crunching based on filters and parameters. Many of these social metrics apps are specific to a type of social media, such as Twitter or Facebook. Social media measurement is often more effective if it's done strategically and incorporates lessons learned or insights gleaned from the listening phase. That way, insights learned can be applied to target measurement efforts wisely. Knowing what to measure can be tricky and involve anything from simple mentions to more complex social media influence tracking. Learn more about social metrics.
- Social media engagement -- Tools that allow or help automate communication across various social media platforms often are called "engagement tools," "social media management" tools, or simply "social media dashboards." The key function of "engagement" tools is communication, meaning that they allow someone to log into a single software program and then post updates or comments to various social platforms, along with photos and videos. Read about the top 8 social media management tools.
Enterprise Class Social Analytics
The most powerful social analytics platforms combine all three steps of engagement, monitoring and measurement into a single app.
- Salesforce integrated two social media monitoring tools, Radian6 and Buddy Media, into a solution it calls the Salesforce Marketing Cloud .
- Oracle is integrating the three software services it bought--Involver, Collective Intent and Vitrue-into a single social analytics platform.
- SAP has partnered with a leading social media database warehouser, NetBase, to sell NetBase's social media analytics services and integrate them with SAP's enterprise business intelligence apps. NetBase is known for its massive data warehouse that contains a rolling archive of social media conversations from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the blogosphere, along with a gazillion other social media sources.