How to Mine Social Media Customer Feedback Intelligently

An Accenture report says three fourths of businesses don’t know what their customers are saying about them and 31 percent don’t measure the effectiveness of social media. Here’s how to use social media intelligence, intelligently.

August 12 2011 by Ashish Gambhir


Customer surveys. Mystery shopping. Printed comment cards. Inbound emails. Website comments. Call ins. Not too long ago, executives relied on these traditional forms of feedback as the primary methods to gauge customer satisfaction.

But times have changed dramatically. As feedback volume from these traditional sources continues to decline — response rates from these channels have fallen from 50 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2011 — mentions per brand, region, and even store (or product) on social feedback channels are increasing exponentially. At the same time, the reach and influence of social media is exploding as well:

  • Facebook boasts more than 750 million active users worldwide, Twitter is now seeing 140 million tweets per day on average, and 4.5 million people use the Yelp app every month.
  • Foursquare has grown to 8.5 million registered users; by the end of 2010, they were recording 2 million check-ins per day.
  • 90 percent of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know; 70 percent trust opinions of unknown users.

There is no denying that social media feedback is rapidly growing, has tremendous reach, and is unbelievably influential. Knowing what customers are saying online and putting all of the social media activity to work in a productive way is a business imperative. Data is undoubtedly one of the most vital raw materials in today’s information economy, and the payoff of being able to effectively leverage all that data in terms of innovation, productivity, and business growth is undeniable. As Jack Welch is quoted as saying “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

Mining and translating the rich information embedded in online customer mentions arms brands, regions, and units with the unfiltered voice-of-the-customer insight they need to enhance customer satisfaction and earn their loyalty. In some ways, the web has turned every customer into a “shopper,” focus group participant, or any other source of customer satisfaction insight traditionally used. But instead of getting a few dated insights as a part of the analysis, you receive thousands, in real time, and all unsolicited.

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Recent research brings to light the difficulty executives are having in using this social media feedback data intelligently. In The Intelligent Approach to Customer Intelligence (2009), Forrester Research explained that the majority of companies struggle to fully understand their customers and leverage their customer data as a strategic asset. Accenture goes on to report that 75 percent of companies don’t know where their most valuable customers were saying about them, and 31 percent don’t measure effectiveness of social media. (Acting on Intelligence from Social Media, 2011)

Despite the challenges, there are a number of key steps executives can take to capture a complete, real-time view of customer feedback online, synthesize it into the richest customer insight, and equip themselves with the actionable insight needed to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty, increase revenue, and drive sustainable bottom-line results.

Understand the distinction between operational and marketing opportunity with social customer feedback

When customers generate substantial data about business processes, it can potentially serve as the basis for operational improvement. For example, if multiple online mentions highlight the inefficiency of the check out process for a particular retailer, it is absolutely worth analyzing the feedback to extract key opportunities for improvement (i.e., staffing issues, throughput issues, spacing issues, etc.).

Furthermore, since this data lives online, there are associated marketing-based opportunities. Content on the web is read hundreds if not thousands of times over by existing and potential customers. If customers read those comments about the slow checkout process online, they are likely to maintain that impression about the business until convinced otherwise – presenting a tremendous opportunity for strategic marketing efforts.

Realize that each mention online presents a unique value proposition

Today’s Internet is an ever‐growing repository of user‐generated content. It is ultra valuable, yet partially unregulated (i.e., anyone with access to express their opinion about a product or service online). Given this open access, credibility of certain authors and content comes into question. Fortunately, unbelievably high volume helps address some concerns with extracting insight from social feedback, but it is absolutely true that not all mentions are equal. Certain authors possess tremendous reach, others are well-respected on certain topics, and more are relevant within certain social graphs. Qualifying online findings with appropriate credibility assessment (whether that credibility comes from volume, reach, influence, or some other variable) is critical when extracting business intelligence from social media customer feedback.

Recognize the opportunity of unsolicited feedback online

Companies, for the most part, are not actively asking questions of customers on the Internet about product quality, service, impressions, or any one of the hundreds of topics customers discuss online. Instead, customers are taking the time to express their opinions based on their own motivation in unsolicited forums. This data set has tremendous value for companies because it represents the most important elements of the experience as defined by the customer. But, due to its unstructured format, it also represents the most challenging data to get through with any type of efficiency, relevance, or analysis. Free form, unsolicited feedback is exploding in social media. Customers are talking about their experiences, sharing their opinions, and making recommendations all without being prompted by you — and all with great detail, reach, and influence.

The best way to harness the strategic value of this rich social media feedback is to utilize technology that turns raw, unstructured feedback into actionable insight. As Forrester analyst Zach Hofer-Shall, a leading expert on Social Intelligence, blogs, “The concept of monitoring social media might sound obvious, because most data-hungry marketers understand the value of their customers’ social data. But based on my research, even though most marketers may collect this data, far fewer actually use it to inform an enterprise-view of their customers. As any analytical mind knows: collecting data is only the first step.”

Unica’s annual survey of marketers echoes Hofer-Shall’s contention. The survey, “The State of Marketing 2011” revealed that “turning data into action” was the highest priority for marketers: nearly 60 percent of respondents listed “measurement, analysis, and learning” as their top technology challenge; more than 60 percent identified “turning data into action” as their top organizational issue.

The aforementioned opportunities present three key approaches to realizing a new and impactful view of business intelligence. In combination, the three points can provide a well balanced understanding of consumer feedback, clear opportunity, and market response to internal initiatives. When considering technology to facilitate this process, challenge the results of the platforms considered. Is it truly has actionable business intelligence value? Or is it simply tracking measureable metrics that “nice to know” (e.g., star ratings, likes, followers, etc.). The emphasis of your interest, and the value of the technology considered, should be on industry-specific indicators that can truly help move the needle.