4 Research-Driven Principles of Social Media Analytics

As the fields of social media and web analytics evolve, it is becoming increasingly important for professionals to understand basic principles of data. In the last several years, social media has become a powerful advertising platform that connects businesses with consumers and visa versa.

While consumers bear the responsibility of filtering through advertisements with a discerning eye, advertisers need to understand the role and power of data for two reasons: (1) to understand how to analyze and interpret information for strategic decision-making and (2) to communicate openly and honestly with consumers. As social media evolves, the corresponding analytics and metrics are evolving as well as Twitter and Facebook have begun releasing demographic, georeferencing, and user engagement data to advertisers and decision makers.

From Klout to QuantCast, Hootsuite, Bit.ly, and more, there are a number of analytics platforms for measuring benchmarks. But, it's also important to understand how the small numbers relate to the big picture. Here is an introduction to big-picture principles of social media analytics-- where foundations of social science & demographic research meet advertising and social media:

1) Selection. When you're looking at a Facebook or Twitter community, you need to keep in mind that your users have chosen to join. On Facebook, especially, it is widely known that the fastest-growing demographic includes older women. Depending on your community, you might find an imbalance of a particular demographic -- for instance, you might notice that your population is heavily skewed towards women over the age of 40. Don't just assume that your brand, product, or website appeals most to that particular demographic. You need to keep in mind that certain demographics are more likely to engage certain groups in the first place. Social media analytics provide only one dimension for analyzing your brand. It's because certain people may be more or less likely that others to "self-select" in and out of your community.

2) Qualitative and quantitative analyses are both valuable. When you're assessing user engagement, feedback, and your brand's reputation, neither words nor numbers alone are sufficient for telling the whole story. It's important to analyze benchmarks from a number of angles, simultaneously. A simple example: you can count the number of comments that you receive, but you need to read the comments to understand what people are actually saying. It's the substance of the comments that can help you make decisions based on your numbers.

3) To measure influence and engagement, you can't rely on one number alone. Data, statistics, charts, graphs, and math are subjective. They are tools that help people explain a phenomenon or situation. Especially when you're dealing with indexes (like Klout scores, for instance), it's important to understand how the numbers are working to illustrate and overall point. Social media analytics are an art, and sometimes, you're better off selecting your own ratios and benchmarks for a campaign's performance.

4) Social media is a marketplace that is governed by incentives. Think of your social media platform as a product. What does your product have to offer? A basic principle for analyzing consumer insights is that you need to know your audience. At the most basic level, consumers need motivation. You can't expect a Facebook page or Twitter feed to catch on just because it exists. You can think about it from a research perspective: when market researchers collect survey data, they frequently encounter noncompliance and hostility. Human psychology has a large part in determining a data collector's success. Are you polite? Do you give your survey respondent an emotional or money-saving incentive to respond? If you're a brand, consumers like you better if you are polite, provide a legitimate service, have a personality, and act responsibly.

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