Ask a Geek

Social Analytics: How Necessary Are They?

This story appears in the March 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Q: Do better social media analytics really help? 

A: There’s an ever-growing range of companies offering an array of social media analytics tools, from entry-level platforms such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social to sophisticated stand-alone products like Socialbakers and Radian6. 

All of these products use an API to capture data—the exact same data already available to you and your business for free from Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics and many other social media networks. The only differences between the native analytics and the more sophisticated—and expensive—options are the interface and the math used to calculate ambiguous metrics like “potential reach” and “engagement.”

As it turns out, the more you pay, the prettier the interface, the sexier the reports and the more complex the math. How much “pretty” you need or can afford depends on your budget, the scope of your marketing effort and the nature of your business.

To help you determine what’s right for your business, we turned to New Hampshire-based Katie Delahaye Paine, author of Measure What Matters and self-described “measurement queen.” 

Why should my company engage in social listening? 

If your customers are talking about you, you want to hear what they’re saying. If you’re spending good money to talk at them, why not devote some percentage to listening to what they have to say? Research shows that the conversations your customers have among themselves drive about 13 percent of business decisions and can amplify your advertising by 15 percent. What business owner wouldn’t want to be a fly on that wall? 

Are these expensive analytics tools good investments?

You’ll first have to go through the considerable time and expense to conduct rigorous modeling ahead of time to ensure that the metrics provided by a third-party analytics program are meaningful to you and your business. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with a flood of data that you can’t really do anything with or trust. 

Assuming I do the modeling exercise you suggest, what features would I look for in a third-party analytics tool?

Because you want the right data—not lots of data—you need a tool that filters out spambots, auto-retweets and pay-per-click results. Next, if the tool is providing sentiment analysis (i.e., classifying content as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative”), you need to go into the data to validate the sentiment. That’s because sentiment analysis tools tend to be keyword-driven, and a lot of keywords mean lots of different things. And finally, price is a factor. If you buy a cheap tool but have to invest tons of time cleaning up the data you get from it, you haven’t saved yourself any money.

What’s next?

The most important thing to consider—and then create—is a strategy to deal with what you hear from your social media feeds. How will you manage or redirect customer complaints, requests for service or sales inquiries? In social media time, you have about three hours before people start to get impatient and complain because “no one is listening.” 

Can I make do with the free metrics provided by social media platforms?

Unless you’re doing the extensive modeling mentioned above, it’s best to stick to the free basic metrics provided by the social media platforms you use. This lets you easily decide which metrics matter to your business. For instance, a restaurant has very different goals for social media than a bank or car dealership. Two places to start are with revenue directly tied to social media or audience size. Once you decide which direction you’re going, you can figure out the most important role for social media. Is it to drive traffic to a website, generate leads or build customer engagement? From there, you can determine the metrics that matter to you.

Edition: November 2016

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