With more than three quarters of a billion people on Facebook, companies know that social media is important. But just because companies know the power of social media, it doesn’t mean they’re getting the most from it. Today, most companies are starting with monitoring: testing the waters before dipping a toe in, understanding the framework before building and listening before talking. Once engaged in social media, most companies know they must still listen. They monitor online conversations for brand mentions, count the number of Facebook fans, or track a competitor’s Twitter handle.

Unfortunately, this isn’t enough -- companies are wasting their time monitoring social media because the data collected isn’t being used effectively. They’re also falling prey to a common problem: Listening to social media only tells you about social media. To maximize the return of monitoring efforts, companies must get social data out of its silo and integrate it with business data.

Social Media Information Is Only One Piece of Data and Can’t Stand Alone

Why is integrating social and business data important? Because connecting multiple forms of data gives companies:

  • Holistic measurement. Collecting social data – the number of Tweets about a product or number of Facebook fans – to understand a brand’s performance only shows part of the measurement picture. Companies must integrate social data into their measurement practices – like Web traffic, sales or offline research – for a complete view of brand performance.
  • Deeper research insights. Integrating social data with customer research provides businesses with solicited opinions from customers and unsolicited insights from online conversations. But just monitoring social media for customer opinions can quickly steer you wrong with one-off angry customers. To get a full picture of public opinion, companies must connect and reconcile online opinions with their survey data and other existing research.
  • Informed customer relationships. Businesses understand that the more information they have on their customers, the more effectively they can connect with them. Putting customer data in the right hands allows for improved direct marketing, scalable influence marketing and tiered customer support. But today, most companies fail to tie these practices to social media. By connecting social data to customer data, businesses can build stronger customer relationships across various touchpoints.

The Roadmap to Integrating Social and Business Data

Crawl with social media monitoring. Most companies crawl today by tracking Twitter for their brand mentions or checking up on their Facebook page for trouble. This protective mentality is fine for corporate communications teams looking to spot crises before they spread, but it will provide little value to the rest of the organization. Other business lines – such as marketing or research and development – need social data to proactively improve their ongoing customer strategies. And to do this, they need to tie the data they collect to their broader initiatives and broader enterprise data.

Walk with social listening. The evolution from monitoring brand mentions to listening to conversations implies there is some level of analysis and learning. But to really listen and learn from social media requires connecting the data to other data points to understand social media’s effect on the business and the business’s effect on social media. Successful listening means looking at social data in parallel with business metrics – such as watching spikes in the volume of Tweets around your products and seeing how that impacts website traffic. Whether inspiring insights with social data or validating concepts using social media, when listening, social media always connects to other metrics.

Run with integrating data points. Once companies understand how social and business metrics relate, they can drive quicker and deeper intelligence through integrated data. By automatically piping in both sets of data to dashboards, scorecards or custom metrics, organizations will finally get out in front of social media and be able to learn and act in real time. This kind of intelligence puts social media into existing data practices, giving teams the ability to capture, manage, analyze and apply the insights from all data points across the organization.

Fly with an integrated database. The deepest level of social data integration happens in the customer database. By tying online conversations to existing records and connecting social profile information to the right customers, companies can build stronger customer relationship strategies. But this kind of integration isn’t easy. Today, there are three ways to connect social media with the customer database. First, companies can use their listening data – pulling out discussions with personal identifying information that matches a record in the database. Second, companies can add social data to their customer databases with social append services, similar to buying data from a third party. Lastly, companies can collect the customers’ social data through opt-in forms or social applications.

In the future, social media will be just another form of data that companies work with regularly, automatically integrating the data where applicable. But most businesses have a long road ahead. They can’t skip steps and must first learn to monitor social media before they grow into listening. But through more experience with social data, companies will start to build intelligent enterprises rich with integrated social data.

Copyright 2011 – Not for reuse without express permission from Information Management.

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