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Tracking social media metrics can foster better business decisions

Social media metrics are more than the raw number of likes or mentions on social sites, and their uses extend beyond the marketing department.

How do social media monitoring's uses extend beyond just gathering metrics such as "likes" and site traffic?

There are people who will write blog entries about your product or service, or they'll go on some social site and pontificate. In that case, you're not looking at a like or a follow -- you're looking at a body of text. We now have tools that can get into that too, and measure the degree of passion among the people who are talking about you -- not just that they exist, not just how many there are, but how strongly they feel. And it gets better. When you're able to track blog sites and forums where people are talking about you, you're able to basically get your customer base to provide you with reviews of your services and products. It gives you insights into what your customers really want.

For more on putting social media data to use

Mining customer opinions with social media listening

How to boost innovation with social media data

Who should own social customer service?

You can also do great things with this data other than plan your marketing. You can merge social media data with your business intelligence -- Oracle is one of the companies that's working to develop a suite of tools that integrate business intelligence with social media -- so you can have an understanding not just of what people are buying, but of the entire product cycle. You can understand the return on investment when you take the data from your customers and merge it with the production data that tells you what you have to spend to get your service up and running or to change your product. You can basically close the business intelligence loop with social media. And you can justify your actions moving forward from an ROI standpoint.

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Listening is at the heart of social media monitoring and can deliver value by uncovering opportunities and risks. Hearing where, when and how customers are using products and how they are holding up can identify new potential customers and feature requests. The answer provided by Scott Robinson also points out the relative ease of integrating social media with business intelligence when you use one tool to manage both, but there are an ever-growing number of tools that bridge the gap between platforms.
Laura has it right. By listening, you can find out exactly what your audiences and potential customers think and feel about your brand, your products, your methods and your team. Social is powerful because it helps connect businesses to communities. Otherwise there'd be little need for great companies like http://www.communityroundtable.com/ and others that help businesses actually connect with constituents.