More organizations are monitoring social media for mentions about the organization, its brands, competitors and industry issues, but many remain unsure how to achieve the full benefits of social media listening.

According to a new research from eMarketer, 49% of marketing executives use social media monitoring to better understand customers, prospects and markets. The survey revealed that executives’ favorite data sources were corporate website analytics named by 74%, followed by sales data and CRM-based customer records (68%), customer satisfaction surveys (57%), and corporate managed social media feeds (53%).

Social Media Data for Decisions

According to a report by Altimeter Group, almost half of social media professionals worldwide use social insights to reach decisions about products, employees and customers. Almost two-thirds of marketers now aggregate social media data for marketing purposes, says a study by Demand Metric. A survey by Reseachscape on behalf of Skyword reported that a little more than half of U.S. marketers use social media monitoring technology.

Although social media monitoring is common, research indicates that many marketers are unsure how to put social media data and analytics into effective use and obtain actionable information.

A survey by Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network last year showed that only 29% of business and technology managers thought social media data offered a competitive advantage. A Marketing Executives Network Group study found that 39.2% of marketing executives believe most data obtained through social media monitoring is not actionable.

A proactive approach is required in order to gain actionable data through social media listening. Brands must understand how to identify appropriate conversations, and analyze and interpret the vast of amount of data social media monitoring gathers. Experts offer the following guidance for identifying actionable insights.

Putting Data to Good Use

Select meaningful metrics. Marketers may feel swamped by the enormous amount of information from a service like CyberAlert Buzz that covers multiple social media networks and offers dozens of potential metrics. The solution is to decide what social media content to monitor and what data to analyze. Brands can narrow their focus if they analyze a small number of meaningful metrics such as referrals and conversion rates as opposed to vanity metrics such as number of followers or likes that are tempting to report but offer little real marketing insight.

View a single dashboard. View metrics through a single dashboard that includes news, social media and website analytics rather than trying to track metrics through different sources. An integrated dashboard of results saves time, provides real-time access, displays a comprehensive view of performance, and makes it easier to analyze and interpret data. Most importantly, it provides an integrated view and data for all media.

Evaluate your tools. Companies lack the proper tools needed to manage and measure social media activities, concludes TrustRadius research. Marketers use multiple sources of data and multiple technology products. They may trust their data, but they may not be able to properly interpret the results.

Invest in your staff. Hire or tap in-house technology-savvy personnel who have in-depth knowledge of statistics and are comfortable analyzing data.

Study your competitors. Competitive Intelligence is one of the main benefits of social media listening. “It might sound deceptively simple, but knowing where your rivals’ shoppers live on social media sites can lead to richer competitor analysis and a deeper understanding of consumers’ purchasing intentions,” writes business and technology writer Barbara Thau for an IBM blog.

Observing brand advocates, consumers who are loyal to a brand and likely to recommend it to others, can provide valuable information, Thau notes. Noticing how brand advocates interact with the competition can offer valuable information about how the competitor attracts consumers.

Consider human analysis. Social media monitoring and measurement services can measure the sentiment of brand mentions on a positive to negative scale. Services that include trained human analysts, in addition to automated software analysis, can provide more accurate judgments and uncover actionable insights that hide within the data.

Bottom Line: Social media listening is becoming increasingly prevalent among marketers. However, sifting through the vast amount of data to find actionable insights and reaping the full benefits of social media monitoring remains a struggle for many brands. An effective media monitoring and measurement program needs a staff that is knowledgeable and experienced in the nuances of statistics and measurement in order to arrive at real marketing insights. A measurement service that integrates all media and data into one dashboard and offers human analysts is also necessary to support the PR and marketing measurement staff.

This article was originally published on the CyberAlert blog.