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Social media analytics has become a business must-have, allowing brands to extract actionable data from consumer output. But not all options are created equal, and some may do more harm than good. Here’s what brands must consider to pick a platform that maximizes ROI and engages with consumers on a meaningful level:

Budgeting

Historically, any spend relating to social media has come out of Marketing’s budget. This is supported by Incite Group’s The State of Corporate Social Media 2016 white paper. Of the 1200 business leaders surveyed, “65% are still in strong agreement that the execution of social media strategy is a core responsibility of the marketing team.” So there’s an important conversation to be had here – because social analytics benefits everyone.

Budget social analytics software lives up to its name and is really only focused on aggregating or gathering data. It will likely only tell you how many times your brand has been mentioned online, but it won’t be able to give you the context surrounding those mentions, or help you identify emerging trends in consumer sentiment. Basically, you get what you pay for.

What good is knowing people are talking about your brand, if you don’t know if the conversation is positive or negative?  Or if a new trend is taking loyal customers in a direction away from your brand? Accuracy at speed is paramount to remaining or becoming competitive.

For example most solutions in the market will tell you that the following mention is negative: “People that hate Girl Scout Cookies aren’t to be trusted.“ But this user is clearly using sarcasm to illustrate how much they like Girl Scout Cookies. Analytics tools must be able to account for this kind of social language.

Likewise tools that limit insights to the demographic level don’t give marketers nearly enough to work with.

Social media has put consumers in charge, in the sense that they will tune out any messaging that doesn’t appeal to the things they care about. If you don’t have the insights to connect with them in this way, you’re wasting your time and money.

If the marketing budget isn’t there for a more premium service, consider splitting the cost across the various departments that will benefit – that includes R&D, customer care, PR, advertising, and Corporate Affairs.

Segmentation

Look for social analytics software that allows you to analyze your audience data by segments of your choosing. The wealth of data available on Twitter and other networks is too vast to navigate using demographic segmentation alone – and far too complex.

On Twitter alone, 320 million monthly active users create on average 500 million tweets per day. That’s the noise your brand has to break through. The only way to do that is by targeting the most relevant audiences with a passion for your brand, or what your brand represents.

Demographics offer a baseline, but social media offers more sophisticated insights than gender, age, and location. You just need the proper tools to bring these insights to the surface and offer consumers the individualized messaging they crave.

When you have the right tools, you can use psychographic data – i.e., behaviors and attitudes – to find large unique audience segments comprised of consumers with common interests and emotions.

Sentiment analysis

Why emotion? Because emotion is what drives consumers to share on social media. And inaccurately accounting for sentiment arguably harms your business the most. Sentiment provides context to your data, taking insights beyond numbers to a place where they offer serious impact.

That context is derived from consumer language that rudimentary sentiment analytics tools cannot pick up on – like sarcasm, emojis, and slang. Without these social languages in the mix, analytics will likely be vastly inaccurate. And that’s how problems get missed while they’re small enough to deal with – and turn into PR disasters or poor campaign performance instead.

Tools that scan for keywords like “love” or “hate” without being capable of understanding their context, can assign incorrect weight to posts that are sarcastic and mean the opposite of what the keywords appear to say.

On the other hand, advanced sentiment analysis tools can analyze emoji usage, discover behavioral indicators, and understand not justwhat people are doing and feeling, but why. This information can – and should – come through in real-time, to give brands the opportunity to course correct as needed.

For example, if hundreds of consumers are talking positively about a product, but the social love isn’t matching up with what Sales is reporting, there’s likely something holding them back. Sentiment analysis tools allow you to rapidly investigate, find out what’s preventing people from purchasing, and address the issue – whether it lies in the product itself, your marketing efforts, or the checkout process on your website.

Universal Music Group Nashville is a great example of how social data can be a game-changer to your marketing strategy. One of their artists, Luke Bryan, was nominated for the Academy of Country Music Awards’ Entertainer of the Year, and they wanted to secure the win – because winning is a big driver of record sales.

Previous campaigns had relied on gut instinct, but they knew they needed more if they were going to beat the competition. Using NetBase they tracked share of voice for each nominated artist in real-time, and on day three they found the insight they were looking for. It turned out their competitors were front-loading their campaigns in the first three days, whereas UMG’s “gut instinct” approach had put them on a more conservative, long-term path.

With social data informing the move, they changed their strategy and pushed later content up to days three and four of the fan-voting period. This put them at the top of the pack through the end of the campaign – all the way to an Entertainer of the Year award win for Luke Bryan.

Focus

Most social analytics tools rely on Twitter’s API, but Twitter isn’t for everyone – so tools with broader reach are much more impactful. If Facebook is your most valuable social network (and it is for a lot of eCommerce brands) then an analytics platform that works with Facebook Topic Data would be a much more valuable investment.

The best insights come when you can compare the conversations happening on different platforms to see the big picture.

Such information is vital to making informed business decisions on anything from what content to produce for varying audience segments, to how you can solve the pain points of your competitors’ customers. Without it, the best you have is guesswork – and that’s something you shouldn’t pay for.

Social analytics is an investment – and one brands can’t afford to put off any longer. Like any investment, taking risks can cost you – so be sure the software you choose can deliver the insights you need. It’s not worth it otherwise.

Previously appeared on Commpro.biz

Image from Anthony Easton

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