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The following is a guest post from Ed Sullivan, Sailthru's VP of Business Development and Alliances and a guest presenter at our webinar, Your Invisible Customers: Why Social Media Analytics Misses the Mark

The emergence of social media has transformed business for the better. Social networks have empowered customers by giving people a platform to get their voices heard. At the same time, social media forced brands to re-evaluate how they’re communicating with and marketing to customers. All of a sudden, it’s not about one-way communication anymore. Customers today demand a more meaningful exchange.

In my past stint as an executive at Salesforce Radian6, a social media monitoring platform, I saw smart companies take advantage of the rise of social media to listen to customers. These forward-looking companies are using tools to tune in to what their customers are saying and are joining the conversation when necessary.

Listening to customers is critical because a company’s brand today is the sum of all the customer conversations happening about it. Companies no longer own their brands; customers do. What customers tell other people about your company defines your brand. Social media monitoring provides a starting point to listen to these conversations.

While it’s critical to consider the benefits of social listening, it’s also necessary to be cognizant of its limitations. In fact, a deeper look reveals that relying on social media alone to inform your strategy is dangerous. Here are three reasons why social listening doesn’t have all the answers your company needs to compete in today’s business world.

  1. Social listening misses your invisible customers.

Social data only captures the thoughts of a tiny sliver of your customers. A 2015 Vision Critical study found that 85 percent of what you hear from social comes from only 29 percent of your audience. The opinions of these social media enthusiasts easily dominate the conversation. A vocal minority drown out the majority of your customers.

The data that you see on your social media dashboard doesn’t represent most of your customers. These “lurkers” are online but not actively posting, so analytics tools can’t capture their sentiment.

  1. Younger people are moving to ephemeral networks.

The last decade has seen a huge transition in the demographics of social media users. Social media’s early days attracted tech-savvy, younger users, who suddenly found a voice online where they could express themselves and keep in touch with friends. But eventually all generations became active on social. Today, Boomers are the fastest growing demographics on sites like Facebook and Twitter, while Gen Zs and Millennials are moving to “invisible” networks like Snapchat.

The move toward ephemeral networks is significant because social monitoring tools can’t track conversations happening in these apps and websites. If you’re trying to understand customers who are are on emerging social networks, most social listening tools can’t help with that task.

  1. Social monitoring alone can’t help you predict future behavior.

To win today, companies need to be able to reasonably predict future customer behavior. Companies need data and customer intelligence to answer questions like: Who’s most likely to buy? What motivates customer loyalty? What are the signs that your customers are about to switch brands?

The ability to look ahead is a huge competitive advantage for companies, but getting that deep insight requires more than occasionally talking to customers on social and listening to random conversations about your brand. It requires a more focused form of engagement. It requires building a relationship with your customers so they feel open to sharing their feedback and their data with you.

A single view of your customers is also required. Breaking down silos between various departments and making sure that your company has a grasp of all the data available to you will enable you to provide a more personalized and connected experience to your customers. You need to create an interest graph of your customers and learn what makes them tick. Social data alone can’t provide that—companies need to integrate other sources of data and customer insight.


Stop ignoring your invisible customers

Social media is a powerful tool for companies to start to get closer to their customers. But it’s not enough. Don’t think for a minute that having a social listening program provides sufficient insight to make you a more customer-centric company. Stop ignoring your invisible customers and start to pay attention to other important conversations about your brand.

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