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Ruminations on IT, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Full ACM Interview On Social Intelligence

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I was asked by a reporter for the Association For Computing Machinery (better known as the “ACM”) Web site to do an interview recently on the subject of social intelligence.

You can see the fruits of our interview here.  Paul Hyland, the reporter, did a nice job of synthesizing the essence of what we communicated in our email interview.

However, there were a few things left out that I felt would have been helpful to the audience, so I’m attaching the full email interview exchange below.

Social intelligence as a social media analysis discipline is still in its infancy, but at IBM we’ve been working in this arena for several years. Though I see much analysis and focus in the marketplace around the social analysis tools, there seems to be a deficit on some of the organizational and methodological approaches necessary for effective social intelligence gathering and actionability.

Hopefully the full interview below provides some insights into how many of us are thinking about this space inside IBM, and certainly I welcome comments and others’ observations on the subject!

  • For those ACM News readers who aren’t familiar with the emerging concept of “social intelligence” (SI), can you give me a quick explanation of what it is all about and why it has become so important today? What are a few of the most obvious applications of SI?

I’m not going to try and speak for the entire industry, but will share an explanation of the concept as we’ve started to recognize it inside IBM.

Simply put, social intelligence is the gathering, management, and analysis of business intelligence via the social media.

Business intelligence, of course, can encompass a wide gamut of actionable data and insight that can assist organizations in their decision-making.

To answer the question of why it has become so important, it’s probably best to answer the last part of the question, as to what the most obvious applications of social intelligence are.

The importance is driven by the changing business realities that the advent of the social media represents.  There are now billions of people online around the globe, and those people represent a huge diversity of opinions, preferences, sentiments, and related expressions of interest across an even more diverse set of topics and issues.  That includes expressions that impact brands and organizations around the globe.

Those companies wishing to adapt, learn, and benefit from those expressions are well advised to “listen”to those conversations, and to work to glean useful information and insights from those expressions.

To do that effectively and efficiently requires organizations to establish new ways of gathering market insight and intelligence, this time via the social media, and to structure their social intelligence gathering efforts in a way that maximizes the benefit they get from the data and insight collected there.

Actual examples run the gamut of business functions.  PR and communications may be listening in order to understand the impact of a recent PR initiative…Marketing may be interested in understanding the awareness of a new product or service, or perhaps to understand how the competition is faring…support or CRM in a service business may be wanting to understand how happy customers are, or aren’t, with a new service initiative.  There are a garden variety of social intelligence mining opportunities.

  • Talk to me a bit about the analysis of SI data, which is more import to our readers than is the gathering and management of SI data.  What are the key aspects involved in that analysis?

Great question.  Whenever I talk to people about social intelligence, I like to put it in some kind of a construct to help people get their heads around the opportunity it presents.

I refer to the four “O’s” – organization, opportunity, outcomes, and operations.

With respect to organization, you need to determine where in your company the social intelligence gathering and analysis function should reside, as that will help determine the type of insight and analysis you’re to gather.

Opportunity helps determine what you’ll eventually come to analyze.  If you’re an organization that largely markets products, your social intelligence analysis could well center around gathering product feature insights, or competitive insights.

The outcomes help put the analysis to practical use.  Too often, companies don’t listen with any sort of end in mind.  Establish a hypothesis and outline what it is that you’re looking to ultimately do with the intelligence you gather. That will help focus and bring clarity to how your organization will use its social intelligence.

Finally, operations.  Build an operational framework for taking action on your social intelligence.  Establish an organizational workflow and identify the constituents whom you will share and ask to act on the social intelligence you distribute.

Then, hold them accountable for the actions emerging from those insights.  Otherwise, you may soon find you’re just gathering intelligence for its own sake instead of actively leveraging the insights you gather from it to the betterment of your business.

I find that this is where too many organizations typically start their social intelligence journey, with the tools and vendors as opposed to what is it they wish to elicit from their efforts.

Go back and start with the four O’s above, THEN, as part of your conscious evaluation of what you’re trying to accomplish, you can start to outline what partner vendors or tools will be your best fit.

If you’ve read any of Forrester’s work in this area, you know they break this market into three key areas: Social dashboards, Multichannel Analytics Providers, and Listening Service Partners.

Full disclosure: IBM is in this business, with products like Cognos Consumer Insight (which would fall into the Multichannel Analytics category), but as a practicing marketer as well, we’ve examined and experimented with tools and vendors across this spectrum.

If you’re simply looking for a dashboard that allows you to monitor the landscape, and you’re going to establish a certain self-sufficiency, then the social dashboard approach may fit best for you.

If you need more handholding or professional services, or want a partner that can help you gather, analyze and even summarize your social intelligence, then an LSP would be warranted.

If you’re looking to gather data both in and outside the social media realm, structured and unstructured, then you’ll need a Multi-Channel Analytics Providers’ solution that can accommodate those unique requirements.

There are scores of vendors in each of these areas, and I’d be doing a disservice trying to mention certain tools without identifying specific use cases.  That said, here is a link to a wiki that was put together of some of the more notable social media monitoring solutions.

  • I know that “social intelligence” is also a psychological term. Are you familiar with that term? In order to avoid confusing our readers, is there any connection between the two? I need to draw a distinction.

I was not aware of the psychological orientation of the term until you mentioned it, but upon looking it up on Wikipedia, I would certainly distinguish that original definition with what I’m referring to here.

That definition describes social intelligence as the exclusively human capacity to use very large brains to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.

Earlier, I set this discussion up with the definition centering around social intelligence being the gathering, management, and analysis of business intelligence via the social media.

The distinction is pretty clear, although I would argue the former definition could be applicable with the social media definition if you were attempting to do a social network analysis of a group of people online, and trying to understand and negotiate the social relationships and environment (read: the social graph).  Otherwise, I think they’re pretty well distinct from one another.

  • Can you provide a “further reading list” of sources of information on social intelligence for those readers who want to learn more.

I have my own personal preferences.  Since this is an emerging area, a lot of the useful insight you’ll find is on blogs and from people in the analyst’s community.

For the latter, I really like the work Forrester’s Zach Hofer Shall puts out around influence and what he refers to as “customer intelligence.”  Note, however, that though his blog is public, much of Forrester’s research is by subscription only.

I also like to keep up with work from the Altimeter Group, notably Jeremiah Owyang and Susan Etlinger.

And of course, it’s also helpful to follow blogs from some of the key vendors in this space.  A few names I’d suggest would include Converseon, Radian6, Cymfony, and Nielsen Online, among others.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be relevant to our readers concerning SI that we haven’t covered here?

The easiest way to get up to speed on social intelligence is to practice.  Practice definitely makes more perfect in this emerging space.

You can easily practice your own form of simple, DIY social intelligence by establishing a few Google News/Blog alerts.  Perhaps you want to monitor a few keywords relevant to your competition.  Or scan the social media for mentions of your brand.

You don’t have to have a multi-million or –thousand dollar investment to get started, that’s the beauty and economics of social media.  So, do some basic monitoring to get going and build from there.

Also, work to educate your colleagues about the opportunity social intelligence presents by offering them up some insight that nobody has been able to collect.  That will help get and keep their attention, and give you the opportunity to make the case for getting investment to take your social intelligence to the next level.

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