How Social Media Data Becomes Marketing Intelligence

Many marketers are hesitant to use social media data, and with good reason. While the data are large scale, timely, and inexpensive, they also present a host of challenges, including differences across social media platforms and selection bias. 

It might be tempting to conclude that firms can’t use social media for marketing research, but that would be a mistake, says Emory Prof. David Schweidel. “The data available on social media have ushered in a new wave of what’s possible for marketers. Social media intelligence can help firms track brand health and market structure and can even provide a leading indicator of shifts in consumer sentiment.”

Co-Director of Emory’s Marketing Analytics Center, Schweidel is among top researchers developing methods and models to close the gap between social media data and marketing intelligence.  At MSI’s July conference, “Marketing Analytics in a Data-Rich Environment,” he will discuss “Social Media’s Role in Data Driven Marketing.”

There is legitimate cause for marketers’ concern about using social media data, he says. “We see differences in social media posting behavior across products and topics, across social media venues, and over time as a result of social dynamics.”  The key is to account for these biases.  “If we explicitly accommodate these differences in our analyses, we can obtain reliable metrics.”

In a study described in an award-winning paper and the newly-released book Social Media Intelligence, Schweidel and coauthor Wendy Moe developed a statistical model that controlled for a number of documented biases. The resulting metrics mirrored the results of offline brand tracking surveys.

Further, by extracting separate effects, their model captured general brand sentiments that actually led offline surveys. “That is, shifts in brand sentiment—perhaps due to a recent news event or announcement—may appear in social media metrics before survey-based metrics,” Schweidel notes.

At the same time, “social media users comment on what they want to comment on—not what the brands need to know to diagnose or remedy a concern.” For those insights, marketers would turn to tried-and-true methods like customer satisfaction surveys.

The real value of social media intelligence occurs when social media data are linked with other firm data in this way. An ideal metrics dashboard would include three sources: social media intelligence, traditional marketing research, and customer touch points (CRM and sales metrics such as units sold and market share), says Schweidel.

“Marketing is about the same thing it’s always been about: right customer, right message, right time,” he says. Social media platforms can sharpen marketers’ abilities to achieve that goal. “We can more readily observe the products and features that consumers want.  We can identify the pivotal players who may help disseminate a message. We can see what types of messages are most appealing. And we can track what kind of impact these social activities have on our strategic objectives.”

Related links

MSI Paper on Social Media Intelligence Wins Two Awards (2014) [Article]

2014-16 Research Priorities: Developing Marketing Analytics for a Data-Rich Environment



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