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Social data: Understand customers better

One of life’s greatest headaches, in my book at least, is finding the right gift for someone’s birthday. Yes, even for the closest friends or colleagues. But I’ve recently discovered a nifty little site that makes that job a little easier. GiveEmThis.com allows you to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts to search your friends’ social posts and provides a recommendation of what gifts to buy them.

Simply keying in my colleague, Jeremy Woolf’s name made GiveEmThis recommend a pair of running shoes, a Garmin Forerunner watch, a gaming laptop and a couple of books; all based on what he’s posted recently on his social networks. And GiveEmThis isn’t the only social gift-buying recommendation engine in the works, Gift Boogle is another app that’s in the works.

Which got me thinking: these apps works because every day there are millions upon millions of posts from people talking about the products they love or hate, or just purchased, or just trashed. And, they’re sharing all this information freely and willingly.

The age of the Internet has not merely gifted us with e-commerce, and the miracle of clicking on something on Amazon and having it appear on your doorstep days later. Customers are changing. The advent of the “social customer” means there’s a more fundamental shift that’s happened and organizations that understand this shift in “customeromics,” and are harnessing it, are reaping the benefits.

As I mentioned, social data is literally a gold mine. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Pinterest – you name it, they’ve posted it. The proliferation of social networks to the mainstream has created a wealth of social information online. This can range from an ecstatic customer shouting praises about a product to people checking into that new mall in your city or even, simply, product reviews in 140 characters.

Each of these pieces of information may be inherently useful to your organization. You can do much more with this data than simply “measuring sentiment.” Understanding where more people are checking into might help you decide where there’s a good location for your business. “Listening” in to specific conversation threads may open up a B2B content strategy opportunity. Or simply understanding what most people have complained about your product, will help you fix your next one.

Savvy brands go beyond merely listening into their customer’s conversations but rather get right into the thick of it. A study done this year by help-desk software company Zendesk showed that 62% of consumers surveyed have used social media for getting customer support. Beyond merely starting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account, businesses need to think about what their goals are and how each of these social channels can help them better serve their customers.

The best brands will find new ways of building a meaningful customer engagement strategy with their customer community, asking for feedback or jointly collaborating with them on new projects. The key is understanding what our audiences want.

And sometimes, there’s no simpler way than hearing this directly from the horse’s mouth.

This post was first written for Social Business News in 2013 so some of the information and vendors may not be around anymore.