Do you know what your customers are saying about you on Twitter, or Facebook? If someone makes an adverse remark, do you ignore it or respond to it? Is it a trending topic or a one-off to be lost amongst the zillions of tweets being posted all the time? Can you spot and highlight the good remarks?
Twitter now generates over 340 million tweets per day - almost double the amount of six months earlier. No wonder people call the Twitter data stream “firehose”. FaceBook users post 3.2 billion likes and comments per day. This means it isn’t easy to track the stuff which is pertinent to you.
This “sentiment analysis” is one of the hottest topics in business and IT right now, and companies large and small are struggling to know how best to deal with it. While it’s a difficult problem, organisations want to address it, because there is potentially great value in exploiting what has been described as “a never-ending customer focus group.” Facebook, Twitter, Google, Foursquare and the like can be used to gauge interest in a new offering, to provide early alerts of problems with products and services, or to provide useful information on how your competitors are viewed. But analysing the available data is hardly simple.
In IT terms this is often referred to as a “Big Data” problem. Trying to harness the vast amounts of information generated by social networking requires very large computer systems and rare skills, in new tools with obscure names such as Hadoop, Hive and Pig. Only large organisations are likely to have the skills to exploit these directly, or to be able to hire the large consultancies with the knowledge required.
The good news is that an increasing number of companies are offering cloud-based services to help you to understand sentiments relative to your business. Two well-known names are SAP, whose SAP Social Media Analytics is based on a product from US technology company Netbase, and Salesforce.com, which acquired the market leader, Radian6. Another interesting offering is MicroStrategy’s Facebook Gateway: Facebook data partially stored and analysed to give its users a head start in finding what they want from pertinent Facebook data pages. Then there’s DataSift, a startup which offers powerful analysis tools for 15 popular social network data sources.
Today, many of these services are presently targeted at, and used by, larger organisations. But the ‘pay as you go’ nature of Cloud based services, together with the rapidly advancing capabilities of startup IT companies mean that such facilities are increasingly within the reach of smaller companies who want to exploit social networks and their “big data” to improve customer relations. That said, having the analysis capability is only a start – interpreting the data can require considerable skills, intuition and knowledge - something you may need to staff up for yourself, or consider using an external agency for.
It’s worth starting to think now about how much you can do, and how soon. Better customer understanding is something that can never come too quickly.
Philip Carnelley, Principal Analyst - Software - PAC UK
With over 25 years of experience as an industry analyst, software developer and project manager, Philip has become one of the best-known and most respected analysts in the sector. His work has covered business applications, BI, document management and KM, and latterly Philip has focused on Cloud, Software as a Service and application services.