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Using Data to Define Social Spheres of Influence

a report from our partner, IBM

Pioneering organizations are embracing the expanding sphere of influence social data has on their operations. Currently, about 40 percent of organizations around the globe collect real-time events and data. Some of these organizations are combining data from social platforms with internal and external data to revamp business processes and drive innovation – creating immersive experiences enabled by the interactive nature of the platforms (see Figure 1). In the process, they are establishing competitive differentiation and crafting entirely new business models.


The value of interactive social platforms comes from their unique ability to expose the worlds of buyers, sellers and competitors in real time on a publicly accessible platform. This enables organizations to reach constituents further up and down the value chain, unlocking insights previously unattainable. It is the “earned and learned” authenticity of the signals coming from these social interactive platforms that creates such a powerful impact: the ability to create a snapshot of the daily lives, concerns, wants and needs of more than a billion individuals and organizations around the globe.


For organizations serious about optimizing the value of data generated by interactive platforms, we identify five functional business areas where leading companies and communities around the globe are creating more “aware” business processes based on insights from social data. In addition, we discuss how some organizations take innovation to the next level by reinventing how they interact with the world around them.

Transforming Business Processes

Socially savvy organizations are incorporating the public data available from social platforms into business processes and combining it with existing internal data or other public data sources. As they do, they stand to gain clarity and discover insights that can help shape decisions throughout the business. Furthermore, this combined data gives decision makers increased context, depth and confidence to act.


By integrating aggregate social data, along with other real-time information like weather, customer location and point of sale data, into the core business capabilities of the organization, companies can transform those processes into ones that are actively “aware” of the business context surrounding them. This real-world data adds, as one executive noted, “humanity to numbers, charts and graphs.”


We have identified five functional business areas where organizations are transforming business processes through the inclusion of social data (Figure 2).


Sales and Marketing

Moving beyond social listening and push marketing, leading companies are now using social platforms as “early warning systems” to understand how, when and why to engage with customers.

Research & Development
Supply Chain
How Organizations Use Data Analytics
Moving Beyond Social Listening... Next Level

The first step in shifting the focus to the business of social involves recognizing the untapped value in social platforms, value that can be realized across the organization from product development to regulatory compliance and a wide variety of functions in between. The next step for most organizations is to expand the social listening team. Two key talent pools are needed: data specialists to extract information from relevant APIs and analysts versed in enterprise-specific business challenges with the ingenuity to understand how customers, ecosystem partners, competitors and market forces can influence or explain the solution. Moving beyond social listening requires a dedicated team, and some enterprising companies have created divisions within their organizations that focus solely on analyzing social data and deriving value from its insights. 


For example, Unilever, a global consumer goods company based in the United Kingdom, learned that insights gained from social data can benefit almost any department within the organization. However, gaining those insights requires a shift of mindset from asking “social analytics” questions, like how many Retweets or likes did something receive, to asking deeper, more probing questions about the business. Understanding this, Unilever created the People Data Programme, where a team of dedicated employees and suppliers mines millions of Tweets per month for business value.


“People come with a question like ‘We’re worried about the packaging of this product. Are consumers worried as well?’” said Shawn O’Neal, vice president of global people data and marketing analytics at Unilever. “Based on that, we investigate and first find that people aren’t talking about packaging, which leads to the next obvious question: If they’re not talking about packaging, what are they talking about? And then when are they talking? Why? To whom?” he added.

He continued, “A Unilever partner (Pixoneye, a new startup) has done research suggesting that targeted ads based on one or two specific pieces of information that could be acquired through apps or new technology via social channels can drive ad effectiveness from 4 to 40 times higher than what we expect from a traditional TV ad,” O’Neal said. “Simple knowledge such as whether an individual owns a pet and which kind of pet they own (e.g., dog or cat) makes targeting that much more effective.”


By examining the conversations on social platforms, the team also discovered that a specific premium ice cream is not an impulse purchase nor is its purchase dependent on sunny weather, upending several long-held beliefs. It also changed the mindset about the value of social within the organization.


“We don’t want a world where the business asks a narrow research question,” O’Neal explained. “We want them to ask their big questions and then constantly go back and forth with the social analysts, drawing out the insights in very short periods of time. We need to learn something that the business can use to drive sales now, not next year. Social gives us a window into the world to what is happening right now, versus the six weeks, or as long as six months, that it has taken traditional research work in the past.”


Organizations once had to speculate about what was happening around them. The data coming from today’s interactive social platforms creates a rapid and intimate understanding of global behavior patterns and trends. Yet, even greater value can be created by combining social data with other sources of internal and external data, and then applying analytics to gain clarity, make better decisions and take action. Interactive data sources create signals, which are rapidly becoming key elements in helping organizations bring context to decisions, and can be used to revamp and even reinvent traditional business processes.


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