I’ve been spending a lot of time with social media analytics and exploring how organizations are adopting and applying the technology. There are a number of obstacles confronting organizations seeking to implement social media analytics. These include technical and organizational considerations, as well as dealing with societal or consumer concerns when it comes to privacy. The latter appear to be particularly troublesome for end-user organizations.
One of the biggest technical issues is a perceived lack of best practices for social media analysis. Social media analysis is still a fairly new application for end-user organizations, and many seek guidance and best practices when it comes to actually designing and implementing their social media analytics initiatives.
Most business leaders fully understand that social media analysis is key for gauging brand visibility and consumer sentiment for products, services, and reputation management. But beyond the fairly basic application of social media monitoring and, in some cases, social media listening, many are unsure as to how to go about using social media analytics for more comprehensive applications. This is especially true for applications requiring the analysis of social media data in conjunction with enterprise data and correlating the results. In short, discerning the value of social media trends and analyses and applying them in the context of a business scenario can be challenging. And many organizations simply do not have staff readily on hand who possess a strong understanding of social media analysis tools and techniques.
Sourcing and integrating social media data is still a problem and many organizations are not experienced with analyzing unstructured data. Basically, unstructured social media data is in less than what most BI practitioners would consider a useful format for capturing, analyzing, and integrating with the traditional data warehousing and BI tools they are comfortable using and various business processes (e.g., customer service, claims processing).
Societal Issues: Privacy! Privacy! Privacy!
Ensuring or living up to customer/consumer privacy concerns with social media is of utmost concern. Specifically, how do you determine which practices will be acceptable and which might cross the line with your customers when you analyze their social media posts and comments?
In some ways, when it comes to social media analytics, I think consumer privacy is an even bigger problem for organizations than technical considerations because it is such a tricky question that has no easy answers. As we have seen in the past, even companies like Facebook and Twitter, whose business models center around social media analysis, frequently raise the ire of their users and regulators because they fail to adequately consider consumer attitudes when it comes to analyzing or sharing their postings or profiles.
Moreover, privacy considerations tend to become even more iffy once organizations move beyond basic social media listening and start combining social media data with other enterprise data (customer, etc.) and consumer data (mobile usage, etc.), because the findings from such comprehensive analyses are even more revealing of customer habits and trends.
The bottom line is that, when applying social media analysis, companies should take considerable care to avoid upsetting or alienating their customers and consumers (in general). As with other social business activities, a policy of openness is recommended. One way is to inform customers/consumers in advance of your plans for capturing and analyzing their postings (or sharing their data, etc.) in order to gain their feedback and assuage their fears as opposed to just springing it on them and having them find out about it in the press or via Facebook or Twitter.
Again, the difficultly is in determining the extent to which you want to inform them of your plans. But you should inform them, because social media can cut both ways, and before you know it, your company’s social media analysis, data sharing, or other practices may become the topic of consumer rage resonating across Facebook and Twitter or other sites.
Moving forward, companies should count on consumer privacy continuing to receive increasing attention from the public and regulatory agencies alike, as organizations upgrade their social media monitoring, analysis, and analytics initiatives with advanced technologies and as the practice becomes more widespread.
In fact, it is possible that the issue of privacy — especially when it comes to social media and other online engagements — could eventually become like a grassroots movement or struggle among consumers and activists, similar to the way that demands by consumer advocates to rein in telemarketers with a “do not call list” and other legislation forced legislators finally to act. This is certainly a possibility if, like the telemarketing industry, companies get too carried away with their social media analysis activities and repeatedly upset consumers, politicians, and regulators. Again, a policy of openness and use of consumer education is recommended to help alleviate the ire.