It’s Time To Get Smart About Social Data Intelligence

by Susan Etlinger

I spend a lot of time reading and thinking about social data: what it is, what it isn’t, how to measure it, where it’s going. But even the best strategy for collecting, analyzing and interpreting social data is just a set of pretty charts unless it is connected in a meaningful way to business objectives and, as importantly, actual business data.

In the past year, we’ve seen social media proliferate throughout the organization. The average enterprise-class company has 178 owned social media accounts. Thirteen different departments–from Marketing to Customer Support to Legal and HR–are actively engaged in social. At the same time, we’re seeing early momentum toward  integration of social and enterprise data.

  • Customer Relationship Management, Business Intelligence and market research providers are working to bring social into the mix, with varying results.
  • Analysts are viewing dashboards from social platforms side-by-side with other in-house reports to determine whether there are meaningful relationships.
  • Businesses are manually entering social data into their enterprise systems, whether to improve customer experience, brand reputation, financial performance or for other purposes.

They want to understand how signals from the outside–signals that the company didn’t solicit or structure–square with what they’re hearing from their own internal systems. A  real desire is emerging for  social data intelligence, which we define as follows:

Insight derived from social data that organizations can use confidently, at scale,
and in conjunction with other data sources to make strategic decisions. 

For this report, my colleague Jessica Groopman and I spoke with a range of companies: business to business, business-to-consumer, technology vendors and agencies–to see what they are doing to bring social data into the enterprise mainstream. While this is still a relatively nascent phenomenon, there are  promising results and similarities; Caesar’s EntertainmentParasole and Symantec are all intent on using social data to understand and optimize the customer experience, although they’re taking different approaches to doing so.

Through this research, we found that social data has now become business-critical. To derive value and mitigate risk, organizations must treat it as a core enterprise asset. This requires strategy, discipline, governance and executive sponsorship. We also noted that organizations working with social data fall into four distinct stages of maturity, supported by six key dimensions:

Maturity MapFig5 N2

It’s also time to recognize that in developing a strategy for collecting, interpreting and acting on social data intelligence, organizations are taking the first steps toward developing a strategy for what is generally known as “big data.” After all, social data is a type of big data, as it fulfills the criteria in the widely-shared definition by Gartner Group.

Today, organizations have a choice to define a common approach to social data collection, institute processes to share and interpret it, and set clear criteria for action. They’re going to have to decide how proactive they wish to be and how much investment and organizational disruption they are willing to face.

But the downside of not developing a social intelligence strategy and instead taking  a laissez-faire approach is significant: to brand reputation, customer experience, risk avoidance and financial performance.  It’s a pay-me-now or pay-me-later proposition,  with real  advantages for the companies who begin this process sooner rather than later, and thus have the benefit of early learning.

You are welcome to download the full report here:



We will also be hosting a webinar on Thursday 9/5: Register at: https://cc.readytalk.com/r/23moakboy12i&eom)

I’d like to thank Jessica Groopman, senior researcher and sanity-preserver extraordinaire, Charlene Li, a generous and rigorous editor, Susan Wu, who made all of the interviews (and many, many other things) happen with grace and a smile, and my other  colleagues at Altimeter Group who questioned my thinking, provided thoughtful input and ideas and who make me proud and grateful to be their colleague every day. And, of course, many thanks to the companies and individuals who contributed their experiences and ideas throughout this process. I value  you all immensely, and any errors are my own.

In the interest of continuing meaningful discussions of this topic, please feel free to send me the URL to your posts on this report and I will link to them below.