If you think your careful attention to social media analytics, monitoring, and customer relations means you know your customers better than ever before, think again. Rather than enlightening you about your customers, all that social media data may actually be misleading you – because it’s only showing you a narrow and atypical slice of your social media audience and your customer base.
That’s the key insight in a new report my co-author Vision Critical President Andrew Reid and I released last week, What Social Media Analytics Can’t Tell You About Your Customers. The report provides long-overdue context about who you are actually hearing from when you tune in to your social media audience. Our big finding was that even if your social media audience is largely made up of people who are also your customers (which in itself can be hard to ascertain), those customers who you actually hear from on social media are not representative of your customers as a whole.
In fact, almost 90% of what you hear on social media comes from fewer than 30% of social media users. That 30% – the people we call enthusiasts – are the vocal social media users who post 5 times a week or more. And they’re fundamentally different from the quieter social media users who make up the vast majority of your social media audience (and potentially your customers): the dabblers, who post two to four times per week, and the near-silent lurkers, who post once a week or less. But don’t mistake quiet for irrelevant: even though they are barely posting, the vast majority of lurkers and dabblers peruse Facebook at least once a day.
Understanding the differences between these three kinds of social media users is crucial not only to your social media strategy, but to the way you approach customer intelligence. Whether you’re trying to understand how to serve, market to, or engage your customers, you need to understand the expectations and attitudes of all of your customers.
We were able to uncover the blind spots of social media analytics by working with three global brands to combine detailed feedback from their customers with Facebook profile data from those same people. This effort revealed a massive asymmetry between the fans and customers who get heard through social media dashboards and analytics, and the reality of who’s on Facebook. Even more important, it allowed us to develop the first data-driven picture of how vocal and quiet social media users differ from one another, in ways that matter to your business.
Enthusiasts are the people that social media analytics do a good job of capturing – because they (OK, I’ll admit it: we) are actively participating on social media sites. Those enthusiasts tend to be eager shoppers. They’re more likely to be looking for that next great buy, and to make that purchase in a big box store. They are also avid users of their mobile devices – they’re more likely to whip out their mobile phones to comparison shop while they’re inside a store. They’re also selective about the types of TV programs they regularly view, and are likely to consult friends and family in their purchase decisions, and more likely to share their own opinions in turn. These are the people that you will most likely see represented in your social media intelligence.
But’s what’s missing is the data on your dabbler and lurker fans and customers – that’s much less likely to show up in your analytics. Lurkers tend to be more reluctant shoppers, and social media is less likely to have spurred them to make a purchase. And unlike enthusiasts, you’re unlikely to find them shopping at a big box store. They’re less interested in their mobile devices than in their TVs; they watch more types of TV programming, and follow fewer topics on Facebook (though, interestingly, they’re just as likely to play online games). They’re less inclined to turn to friends and family for shopping advice offline, and less interested in sharing their own views with online friends.
Dabblers fall squarely between these two extremes. But like lurkers, they’re often missed by social media analytics: because they post so much less than enthusiasts, they account for only 10% of what you hear on Facebook, even though they make up almost 20% of the Facebook audience.
These differences mean that you can’t use enthusiasts as a proxy for your customers as a whole. Particularly when the signals you pick up on social come from customers who disagree, you need to find ways to contextualize what you’re hearing on social with every other source of customer insight you can get your hands on: transactional data, customer feedback, click tracking, and so on. Not to mention actual conversations with as wide a range of customers as you can possibly engage.
It’s only when businesses combine all of these sources of insight that they really will know their customers better than ever. Social media analytics may remind companies why it’s crucial to understand their customers – but the differences between enthusiasts, dabblers, and lurkers means that social media can’t deliver that understanding.
originally posted on hbr.org by Alexandra Samuel
About Author: Alexandra Samuel is a tech speaker and data journalist who creates data-driven reports and workshops for companies around the world. She is the co-author of Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are (with Robert C. Pozen) and the author of HBR’s Work Smarter With Social Media. Follow her on Twitter at @awsamuel.