Data and Social Media: Information Overload or Strategic Insight?

It’s an understatement to say that social media generates a wealth of insight for marketers, business leaders, and strategic analysts. The problem is that there is just so much of it. Without the right business strategy and analytical frameworks, market intelligence can quickly become a case of information overload.

“With too much information you easily get analysis paralysis,” explains Michael Ambjom, board director of the International Association of Business Communications. “Think about it: Information without a purpose is pointless. You’re not looking at data to be entertained. You’re looking at it so that you can take action, and better action at that.”

The age of Big Data means that business leaders are entrenched in numbers. Clarity is more important than ever, but don’t expect insights to just come to you. You need to be active in the hunt for information by clearly understanding your goals.

“Be clear about what you are trying to achieve,” says Ambjom. “Focus on one or two core metrics: the outcome you want and what you’re doing to accelerate it. If you’re a bookseller, focus on how many books you sold and how the sales came about. Then look at how you can influence that number.”

Prioritize revenue

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Every marketing initiative should be tied to company growth, including social media. Sometimes the process is direct through campaign tracking, attribution, and analytics. More often the process will be indirect, and your team will need to monitor trends over time as a proxy for word-of-mouth. In either case, the key outcome to track is lead generation.

“The ideal number of metrics is whatever makes your business grow,” explains Christopher Penn, vice president of marketing technology at Shift Communications. “For some, that will be dozens of KPIs. For others, it’ll be sales at the cash register or butts in seats. It’s highly variable. The general guide, however, is that a metric you deem core must be measurable, consistent, and have a direct line of sight to revenue.”

Shift Communications focuses on one core metric as critical to the company’s sales initiatives.

“The core metric we prioritize and prize is lead generation,” he explains. “We’re a B2B business, so if our lead pipeline isn’t full, we can’t grow. When it comes to social media feedback and data, we look specifically at lead generation by channel, including social media channels, to see what’s working best for us.”

Be people-centric

Your success metrics should tell a clear story about your users. Stop thinking of success in terms of traffic generation. Focus on audience engagement instead.

“Social media measurement tells me what content people like,” says marketing and social media strategist Brad Hines. “It helps me understand what I can better monetize.”

Monitoring trends in content performance will help you understand how to inspire and build stronger connections with your users.

“By measuring our social media success based on engagement and interaction, we can cross-reference our results with the type of content we push out in order to fine tune our social media strategy and maximize resources,” explains Dan Toth, public relations manager at Beeby Clark+Meyler.

Challenge the status quo

If you pursue a one-size-fits-all approach to data analysis and marketing strategy, you may miss out on hidden opportunities.

“Forget the social media ninjas, gurus, sherpas, and experts. Forget what you’ve read. Ignore almost everything on the Internet,” advises Courtney Seiter, community manager at Raven Tools. “Just find your goal and figure out how to measure it.”

Do your due diligence to associate success to your unique needs.

“When I first started out, I went to all the usual-suspect social media platforms to promote our content, like Facebook and Twitter,” explains Seiter. “But paying attention to conversion rates shows me that smaller, less-obsessed-over social networks like Quora and Reddit convert well for us, too. That insight allows me to adapt my strategy to new platforms where users are looking for a marketing solution like ours.”

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