People still tend to think of the data gathered by companies like Nielsen and comScore as the information that drives most marketing decisions, whereas social data is still very much seen as being useful only for social media marketing initiatives.
Whether this is still the case, however, is up for debate: People spend so much of their time on social media that, more than ever before, platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are becoming graphs of consumer preferences and interests.
Meanwhile, the efficacy of other data sources that people used to use to understand and target consumers (interviews, third-party cookie data and the like) is increasingly being challenged.
From an insights perspective, the traditional ways of understanding audiences and what they care about—such as conducting interviews and surveys—are very static; in other words, they don’t take into account the massive changes in behavior that technology has brought about.
By the time surveys have been conducted and published, that information is already late to the game. And in a world where technology has sped up the life cycle of information, especially with regard to trends and consumer behavior, being able to gauge consumer sentiment quickly and effectively, in real-time, offers immense value.
The traditional methods of gauging consumer sentiment via interviews and carefully conducted research, while still perhaps producing some valuable insights, are just no longer equipped to meet the requirements that marketers demand.
Before the widespread adoption of the internet, changes in consumer interests, behaviors and preferences moved at a much slower pace than they do now, in the age of smartphones. The amount of content creation and social sharing that currently happens on a daily basis is tremendous: 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute onto YouTube alone.
Nevertheless, despite the enormous disruption wrought by mobile adoption and social media, brands have been loath to update their marketing data tools and strategies. Consumer insights are still largely driven by surveys, while brands are shifting their television budgets online using stale data from syndicated surveys, broad category targeting and cookie-based segments that are accurate roughly half of the time.
Not only does social data avoid some of the issues of staleness, but it’s also a leading indicator of consumer behavior and sentiment. Social media is where people are discovering content and expressing their interests, so for any company looking to discover their core audience, it’s a natural place to start.
Some companies are already using social data to guide marketing campaigns and target ads, but very few are using it to its fullest extent: to determine what that audience cares about at any given point in time and how it changes.
This is where social data excels. People share so much of themselves on social media—whether it’s soda preferences or their thoughts on the latest superhero movie—that it’s foolish for any company to privilege survey data over social data.
Despite the wealth of consumer information available on social media, most marketers still use social media reactively and tactically. The majority of brands carry out “social listening,” for example, monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other places where consumers congregate to gauge their reactions—in other words, looking to see if people are excited about a new product or outraged over an ad campaign.
The opportunity is there for brands to put this information to more sophisticated uses, namely by analyzing it at scale using natural language processing to mine data from comments, likes, shares and the like.
Using this social data would help solve some of the most fundamental social data gaps for brand marketers by allowing them to build up a more complete consumer profile and improve targeting efforts, and by identifying the core issues or passion points that the target audience identifies with.
For example, a brand targeting millennial music enthusiasts could use real-time social data to determine which artists those millennial enthusiasts were most excited about at a given time and which websites or media outlets they go to in order to find about those artists, and then place ads in those outlets or enlist one of those buzzed-about artists for a future ad campaign.
Instead of using social media in a reactive way—that is, to engage with people who are already talking about a certain brand—marketers should use social data proactively to learn more about their target consumers and target campaigns accordingly.
It’s not enough to rely on Nielsen-style interviews anymore. Instead, companies need to think about how to apply social data to mainstream marketing issues. Social media is no longer just a toy—it’s changing the face of marketing forever.
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