5 Steps For Bringing Social Data to the Heart of Corporate Planning and Marketing Strategy Commentary

By Martin Thomas on December 5th 2017

Real people in real situations, talking about real things in their real words and in real time. It’s like being given access to the world’s biggest and best focus group. Compelling, isn’t it? Market research transformed. Advertising planning reinvigorated. Customer service taken to new heights. Marketing campaigns informed by new insights into customer behavior and preferences … or maybe not.

Knowledge, information and insights are, all too often, trapped in social media silos, ignored by strategic planners and other important decision makers. Pretty screen-grabs of charts – showing nebulous social media data points – are sometimes flashed-up during senior management presentations, but rarely does anyone senior ask, ‘what does it mean?’ or ‘how can we make the most of what we are being told?’  

Speaking different languages

Those responsible for handling social media activity are often complicit in this wasted opportunity by failing to translate the language of social into the language of business. Why should anyone in senior management care about your ‘likes’, ‘shares’ or ‘positive sentiment’ scores? What has any of it got to do with the organisation’s strategic priorities?    

Part of the problem is that most social media teams and specialist agencies are pretty inexperienced when it comes to strategic planning – by instinct and temperament they tend to be doers rather than thinkers. They have also emerged from a new economy business culture that doesn’t really do planning. ‘Fail fast, fail often’ has become the mantra of Silicon Valley to justify an impatience with deliberation and careful analysis and the prioritisation of execution over planning.

It also doesn’t help that most senior management teams and boards – once you leave the rarified worlds of the technology and ecommerce sectors – are digitally illiterate. Not only do they not really understand the potential of social technologies, but they have an innate suspicion of the hype. The social media evangelists have not always helped themselves by often over-claiming or exaggerating its benefits.


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It doesn’t have to be this way

In the spirit of the click-bait numerical list, I would like to propose a five-point plan for how social data can be freed from the social media gutter and take its rightful place at the heart of corporate planning and marketing strategy.

1. Train social media teams to use the language of the boardroom and reframe their activities and results in a business context. Senior managers are fascinated, if not fixated, by the dynamics of customer and stakeholder behavior and investor sentiment, so show them how social data can provide many of the answers.

2. Make brand and communications planners the custodians of social data. The most important thing with social analysis is to move from simply showing the data to telling the stories behind the data. Good planners are good storytellers – they understand how to translate often complex and sometimes contradictory research and data into a compelling brief or an engaging report. This is one of the reasons why social data has played such a central role in political campaigning – the brilliant campaign planners have immersed themselves in the social data and found a way to engage their political masters in the bigger picture.

3. Create some data ‘theatre’ by taking social media out of the digital department and into the heart of the organisation, for example, by putting up flat-screens visualising multiple streams of social data in the reception area. Everyone, from the junior social media executive to the CEO, will be captivated by the constant streams of posts, tweets, comments and images. It will stimulate conversations and provoke debate and act as an almost constant reminder of the wealth of intelligence that is available.


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4. Encourage digital literacy within every boardroom and within every senior management team. It will be a long battle – I have been running workshops for directors for many years and persuading them to find time in their busy schedules to learn about social media can be a challenge. But, in my experience, when presented with the evidence, senior managers are fascinated by social listening and how it helps them cut through layers of well-massaged, CEO-friendly content and hear the actual voice of customer.

5. Celebrate the role of social data in shaping the big, business-critical strategic decisions, rather than simply its use as a means of informing the creative development process. We need fewer case studies that are only really of interest to the digital marketing team and more case studies that will be celebrated by the C-suite and the ‘grown-up’ consultancy firms.

Social data is powerful, persuasive and a potential game-changer for strategic planning. Let’s set it free.


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Martin Thomas

@crowdsurfing

Martin Thomas is a social business consultant and Institute of Directors’ course leader on digital and social media.