I often read and hear today that social media is the new channel for marketing and customer service channel and also that companies must improve customer satisfaction to survive (I agree with the second proposition). Several observers have put the two ideas together and concluded that in the future all marketing and customer service will happen through social media – that I don’t agree with. My research shows that most customer interactions occur through a contact center or on a customer self-service portal, and I see no evidence that this will change, at least not for several years. However, it is true that many companies have created presences on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook – Ventana Research was one of the first research companies to do this. Many companies blog to promote their views and make announcements, and many use YouTube to show customers and prospects informational, marketing and training videos, but only a few have used social media as a customer forum to gather feedback and opinions. Of more significance is consumers’ use all of these sites to stay in touch with friends, find information – and complain about poor customer service. So we have a situation where both companies and consumers are experimenting with social media, but no one is sure how this new channel will affect business in the long run.

It is obvious that companies need information about how consumers are using social media and how it impacts their behavior. SAS proposes to help them find this information. Known for its array of products that support all manner of analytics, the company recently added two components to this portfolio – text mining and social media “extractors.” The latter can trawl social media sites such as Forbes, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and extract text from them according to predefined rules. This data can be integrated with other text sources such as customer surveys, Web scripts, CRM notes or call logs, and the integrated text data can then be analyzed using the text mining tool. This product includes a natural-language processing tool, which works in multiple languages and can go beyond simply spotting keywords to identify phrases, combinations of words, trends and expressed sentiments so that users can pick out what consumers are actually talking about on social media. They can enhance this information with data from other sources such as CRM and ERP systems to get a broader and deeper view of their customers. This view can be displayed in graphic forms that make it easier for users to pick out key information, metrics and trends. The system can also identify customers who are having the most influence over other customers, as well as the impacts of third parties on the public view of the company and its brand.

The effect of these capabilities is to allow companies to listen in to what people say about them on social media. My research into customer experience management [http://www.ventanaresearch.com/cem/cem.aspx?id=2507] shows that most companies have not gotten beyond this stage. More mature companies can use the SAS tools to move beyond just listening to determine what actions they should be taking based on the new insights and to formulate responses – for example, to questions being raised on Twitter with their own tweets. Doing this is still in the experimental stage but is developing rapidly. Some users of SAS social media analytics will be pleased to see that the company now offers it through an on-demand delivery model that not only makes it more cost-effective but enables faster response to market changes. My colleague wrote about SAS’s efforts in detail (See: “SAS Gets Social with Social Media Analytics”) in covering its preview of these products to the industry.

As I wrote earlier, social media [http://www.ventanaresearch.com/blog/commentblog.aspx?id=3816] is an important channel through which companies can build – or if they are not careful, destroy – customer relationships. Your first step should be to learn what is happening in social media that concerns your company, and social analytics tools, like those on offer from SAS, can provide that information. Has you company adopted these tools? If not, you soon may fall behind competitors that take business advantage of this hot technology.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Regards,

Richard Snow – Global VP & Research Director