by Mike Lynch

Feeding the social media monster

Sep 26, 20114 mins
IT StrategyMobileMobile Apps

It’s official: we’re addicted to smartphones. When it comes to CrackBerries it seems we all need just need one more hit. Or so says Ofcom.

Apparently, according to a recent survey, a third of adults use a smartphone and 37 per cent of those describe themselves as addicts, while another survey claims that 83 per cent of us with a smartphone or tablet feel addicted to apps.

The prognosis is not good — within a few years more than a third of Brits will have a handheld affliction.

Gartner predicts that there will be 300 million tablets in 2015 and some hardware manufacturers are tipping tablets to overtake PC and notebook sales by 2016.

It seems that having one of these devices does make you look cool.

And while you may have ditched the fags back at university, the craving for nicotine has been replaced by an unquenchable thirst for data.

The first thing we’ll all be doing in the morning come 2016 is picking up our iPhones, BlackBerries or Android devices to light up the screen.

And what about the other great new addition, social media? It can seem that every CIO I talk to lately is crying out for a social media solution.

Obviously, you cannot blame them for not wanting to miss out on the hottest trend out there.

After all, if news of Michael Jackson’s death broke on Twitter before it did on the BBC, chances are impressions about your brand are on social media sites long before they reach your CMO’s ears.

In conclusion, the experts tell us, we should all jump on the Social Media Bandwagon and refocus our marketing strategies on smartphone-based social media.

After all, Facebook has 500 million users – if it were a country it would be the third largest in the world.

As much as I’ve been known to like forward-looking statements, I beg to differ here. The thing about addictions is they function by blinding you to reality.

Customer loyalty does not grow on a single channel, however novel that channel may be.

So before we begin blindly data-mining Facebook statuses, we need to realise that as ‘hot’ as social media is at the moment, it is still just one of the many channels that customers use to voice their feedback.

The call centre, storefront, website, email exchanges and digital and offline advertising still provide a crucial touchpoint and generate a vast amount of actionable insight.

And at times, different customer touchpoints tell a completely different story.

An effective brand and marketing strategy must be based on market trends that incorporate all these channels, together with social media.

It makes sense: if a customer visits your website and then calls up your contact centre, wouldn’t you want to know? Each interaction is only one piece of the puzzle and only the multichannel view gives the complete picture.

And the challenge does not end here.

On a daily basis, customer interaction channels generate an amount of information so vast, it is physically impossible to read and watch it all in search of those few game-changing, mission-critical exchanges.

So a social media strategy that simply detects all instances in which your brand name is mentioned, for example, is simply out of the question.

Consider this: a tweet about McDonalds is posted every seven seconds, but over half do not refer to the brand – instead they reference a location, such as ‘turn left at McDonalds’.

An effective multichannel strategy should be able to distinguish this noise from interactions that provide actionable insight. In other words, not simply match up the keywords in your brand name but be able to understand the meaning and sentiment expressed in social media posts.

And given the colloquial nature of social media exchanges, you can definitely see why IT would struggle with this: the thesaurus on my laptop is not up to speed with the fact that the adjectives ‘wicked’ and ‘sick’ can bear a positive connotation.

But even linguistic evolutions like these are no match for the challenge posed by the equally dramatic rise in rich media. According to latest figures, 35 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. In fact, Gartner recently predicted that by next year, 50 per cent of all content will be visual.

And while blog posts and tweets may lend themselves to automated mining, rich media are much more difficult to analyse automatically.

So before we all become obsessed with Twitter, let’s look at the bigger picture. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but when it comes to new communication channels and data formats, the challenge for today’s CIO is much bigger.

Mike Lynch is the founder and CEO of UK software company Autonomy