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Published September 16th 2015

Interview: The Role Social Media Intelligence Plays in Business

“Tell me what your goals are. Then I can tell you how social will support that.”

On Tuesday, we had the chance to sit down with Tracy Bell, Enterprise Media Monitoring Executive at Bank of America, to discuss the role social media intelligence plays in a complex business with over 200,000 employees operating in more than 35 countries.

The conversation exposed a social intelligence framework with a very intentional and methodical design.

It was clear that the firm had taken careful consideration to acutely define the capabilities of social intelligence, how social insights would inform their greater business decisions, and how that information would be communicated internally in a consistent and straightforward manner.

Although Tracy admitted that, “there’s a different journey for every company depending on their size and scope,” she was able to generously share some of her experiences and learnings from leading the Media Monitoring team at her firm.

Where to start?

“The data will build the case for you.”

For her, listening was the cornerstone of all social media endeavors.

In what felt to be both a personal philosophy and a valuable tenet of her social intelligence program, she told us that she “believes all conversations start with listening.”

As is the case in an everyday discussion, listening and understanding ensures that there is a two-way conversation.

Tracy Bell, Bank of AmericaTracy Bell, Bank of America

It ensures that social posts and all other public facing messages are adapted to consumers’ unique concerns and not solely based upon a company’s own direction or intuition.

Indeed, she went on to tell us that “listening will inform the process and provide the justification for why then we need to expand the analytics, why we need to engage, why we need to be there.”

Yet for a brand that is constantly being discussed by thousands of individuals across the globe each day, listening is a relatively broad category.

What do Bank of America listen for?

“Most companies start listening as a marketing function, that’s probably the easiest place to start but it may not be the highest value for the work.”

Tracy’s team of seventeen provides insights based on social media data to lines of business across the firm: commercial banking, risk management, global banking, wealth management, home loans and more.

In terms of risk management, she told us that firms can “use social media to be one step ahead” of any risk.

Specifically, she provided several examples of how social intelligence could benefit risk management endeavors:


“A lot of things that end up in traditional media start in social. You can use social intelligence to predict headline risk, by evaluating the topics that consumers tweet about to the media.
Are you worried about what the next banking law is going to be? Look what consumers are tweeting related to banking regulations. Instead of looking what’s on the docket, maybe you can look at what isn’t yet on the docket.”

One use-case she specifically emphasized was product development.

building-674828_1280She elaborated that financial firms can “use social to make whatever [they’re] going to sell easy to sell by understanding what people want, what they don’t like about competitor’s products, and what they see missing in the industry’s offerings.”

Tracy’s approach to social intelligence seemed uniquely open-ended in that it focused less on fulfilling the traditional roles of social listening and more on answering or exploring the various ways in which online conversations could inform some of the business’s most difficult questions.

She was less interested in what social was trying to accomplish and more focused on what the business’s goals were.

She told us, “if your social program isn’t supporting real business outcomes, then you probably shouldn’t be selling it.”

Creating credibility

“Consistent, repeatable, clear”

When portfolio managers, investment analysts or risk managers read traditional financial metrics, they’re accustomed to knowing exactly how that number was extracted and what it indicates.

They depend on these numbers being consistent and clear every time they view it.

In our conversation, Tracy told us that for social media intelligence to establish credibility within a financial firm, reporting needs to be “consistent, repeatable and clear.”

However, it should be noted that when the data consists of organically occurring conversations, providing consistent, repeatable and clear metrics is not always that simple.

ViziaObviously our discussions and the emotions behind them are not binary – how can social media analysts boil down the spectrum of conversations into actionable, data-backed insights?

As she aptly put it: “We’re talking about the analysis of something extremely human.”

In the early stages of developing a social intelligence program, social media monitoring executives should target forward thinkers that will be receptive to social insights. As she points out, they should “go after business lines that will actually take actions on it.”

After social media intelligence has proven its ability to inform business decisions, it’s much easier to build a case around future insights.

For firms with established social intelligence programs such as Bank of America, credibility can come down to three central rules:

  • Consistent: Although each line of business might use social data for different goals, it’s important to always keep the metrics and reporting format consistent throughout the business. “If this is rolling up to the CEO across all of his divisions, he should see common metrics.”
  • Repeatable: The data team and analysts should establish a reliable methodology that can be applied across various use-cases and business lines. “Every time you pull that number it’s done the same way. How it’s done is equally as important as what tool you use.”
  • Clear: Social media data, initially unstructured, can be difficult for those unfamiliar with it to understand. Before a Media Monitoring Executive can expect social insights to actually inform business decisions, “creating a common language across the organization” and “educating the consumers of data” is a valuable prerequisite.

Structure in an unstructured environment

Developing an effective, adaptable and credible social intelligence program that meets the standards of the financial industry is not an easy task.

Yet Tracy’s team was well accustomed to identifying unique ways in which social media data could support Bank of America, building creative and trustworthy solutions around new questions.

Supplying around 1,000 deep dive analytics reports each year, they had obviously established an important and very credible social intelligence structure within the firm.

Our conversation shed light on some of the common challenges social media intelligence leaders within the financial industry face.

Still, she made a point of reiterating that each company’s journey, use-cases and experiences will be different.

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