Social media is a perfect storm but offers usable insights with the right tools

By Dennis Clemente

When you think of a perfect storm, environmental calamity comes to mind. But there’s an entirely different perfect storm in our midst. It’s big. It’s unstructured. It’s social media.

How do we turn this perfect storm to usable insights, asked Robert Floyd, guest host of Social Data’s Best and Brightest meetup who also happen to be the regional vice president of DataSift.

Think about it. There are now 1.8 billion people on social networks, 400 million tweets a day and 3.2 billion Facebook likes a day. How do we even begin to make sense of it?

Last July 25, DataSift, Porter Novelli, location host, and Tableau talked about how they are analyzing social data and augmenting it with insights for big business at the new World Trade Center building.

For James O’Malley of Porter & Novelli, the data starts with research but that’s too broad. Narrowing it down, O’Malley said the questions people ask is where every data curation begins, as it built on alzheimers.gov accordingly.

Floyd’s inputs, especially from social networks translate to “the world’s biggest focus group” and from there companies create a process that helps them work out a system. Multi-tracking is key. You could do it any number of ways but Floyd said they do it by gender, language, sentiment, language and topics which sound easy except their technology helps them get results faster—in half a second, for instance.

Social data is getting more complicated yet Tableau’s Michael Kravec makes it look so easy to use with its sophisticated drag-and-drop software for those who can afford it ($500 a pop for one user a month? Tableau is a respected analytics software giant dealing in business intelligence–and one that draws envy and admiration in equal measure.

But why does Porter Novelli, a global PR firm, care so much about social data, too? It’s because of the potential of social data to help scale businesses immeasurably. But where does one begin?

The metrics side of a PR initiative seems relatively easy. “You dial a phone number and you reach millions of people if your pitched story to the New York Times gets published,” O’ Malley said.

But for far more complex PR efforts, Porter Novelli has been known to use a PR robust tracking tool called PN Sonar which follows a four-step process called collect, process, analyze and report. In terms of collecting, you do that from a custom suite of data, load more than 250 items daily combining social, traditional and internal data, and store it long term for trends and modeling.

“We analyze real social data to build algorithms and ontology customized for each client’s digest,” said O’Malley, adding that all the data can even be seen in one single place.

Porter Novelli makes use of research, measurement and optimization. You study audience behavior, find out what your competitors are doing. The measurement addresses what’s happening in the gaps, showcasing the results and providing the basis for future learning. For better optimization, you need to provide content, in term measuring it by performance, as it tweaks messages to what works, and making changes to channels and platform as you go along.

How do these companies determine which data works for its media contacts? It’s good to know for instance that CBS’ 60 Minutes has the largest BMW fan base or that it can spot some inconsistencies which car ads works for, say, an American Idol audience. You would think Ford lords it over any other car commercial in the show because it’s embedded in the show’s storyline, but Hyundai turned out to have three times more audience, based on the social data gathered.