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Social Media in Business Intelligence: Bold Steps or Sidesteps?

What a difference a year makes! Among the many prioritized business intelligence technologies and initiatives our company tracks in annual market studies of what is significant and strategic to BI, social media analysis has remained a back-burner issue for years. But now there are other factors at play. Battles in the U.S. presidential campaign played out over a year on Twitter, attracting people like a magnet; and now the new White House administration is using Twitter to dramatically alter perceptions and even present alternative facts. 

So, social media BI is now a hot topic, thanks in large part to politics over recent months. Are we at an inflexion point of significant change in the progress curve for social media adoption in BI and analytics? Is it postured to experience a boost in 2017 as an area of BI investment? I posed these questions to launch a recent discussion among the participants in one of my Friday #BIWisdom tweetchats on Twitter. The group was lively, and their tweeted comments show they had given thought to this even before I raised the questions. 

Compelling current data comes from social BI, someone tweeted. A participant responded, I could easily see it leading to reactive management if not used wisely. Another pointed out, So many companies ban social media, so how could it effectively work in BI? Someone else advised that the use cases for social analysis need to be understood and agreed to before trying it in BI.

As I told the #BIWisdom folks, most companies I have spoken with that are using social BI are doing so with a discrete cloud app in marketing. The group agreed that makes a lot of sense since sensitivity analysis, managing the message and competitive analysis are perfect social use cases. That makes it a business need now, not a luxury or add-on, stated an attendee. Another tweeted, There is much potential. But there are challenges in synthesizing and classifying the information and combining it with other data for analysis.

Honing in on the use of social BI in marketing, someone tweeted, Marketing is best used as a tool for tactical and strategic business alignment. But since social BI is operational, there is a high risk of misuse and of false positives. Someone added, But if marketing is the product, social BI takes on a whole new dimension. Another tweeted, Tied with that is whether social sentiment is your product (politics, for example) or whether its simply a marketing channel.

I commented that part of the issue is incompatibility between sentiment and facts, and its hard to make key decisions based on how a group might feel. One of the #BIWisdom group asked, How can companies bridge that gap to get an understanding of the indications both are pointing to?  

We then veered into opinions on whether social media's focus on sentiment will change and become more substantive. Opinions varied:

  •     If an organization relies on listening through social media and then adjusts, it can be beneficial.
  •     People often take more to social media to complain or seek customer service rather than praise. 
  •     This is important. It could lead to a lot of effort in fighting perception fires rather than growing the business.
  •     What if others take the lead of President Trump and start sharing statements of policy, etc.?
  •     Well probably see more of it in the future. People appreciate transparency.
  •     Social BI is a specialization of data, using data gathered entirely from outside the organization.
  •     It could lead to trying to shoehorn someone into analyzing something that isnt their specialty. This is likely part of the reason many organizations dont put a lot of effort behind it. But it can be worthwhile.

The #BIWisdom groups conclusion is that there a lot of low-hanging fruit for social BI. And vendors are doing demos around the possibilities in social media analysis. But determining how to actually show value is difficult at this time. 

Bottom Line: Social media in BI isnt going away. But are we at an inflection point in 2017 where companies will choose to take bold steps? Or will companies sidestep social media BI initiatives  like a boxer avoiding a harmful blow? The key issue is how to tie it to critical business outcomes.

I believe organizations need to pay more attention to social media analysis as it becomes a centerpiece for government policy. The larger question is whether this will become the norm for all kinds of institutions. 

My advice for companies considering in investing in social media analysis is to become aware of the capabilities but dont try to reinvent the wheel as this movement evolves. Politicians often outsource the analysis of its social media data. Similarly, companies stepping into the social BI waters cautiously may benefit by leveraging outsourced resources, lessons learned and expertise already available. 

Learn more about this and many other topics at our upcoming Real Business Intelligence® conference, July 11-12, 2017 on the campus of MIT. 

Howard Dresner is president, founder and chief research officer at Dresner Advisory Services, LLC, an independent advisory firm. He is one of the foremost thought leaders in Business Intelligence and Performance Management, having coined the term “Business Intelligence” in 1989. He has published two books on the subject, The Performance Management Revolution — Business Results through Insight and Action, and Profiles in Performance — Business Intelligence Journeys and the Roadmap for Change. He hosts a weekly tweet chat (#BIWisdom) on Twitter each Friday. Prior to Dresner Advisory Services, Howard served as chief strategy officer at Hyperion Solutions and was a research fellow at Gartner, where he led its Business Intelligence research practice for 13 years.

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