As businesses begin looking strategically at big data as a way to improve their business performance, an important element of their efforts will be in the burgeoning capability of social analytics.
I've been analyzing this space for a while and took a detailed look at the close linkage of big data and social media a few weeks ago, where I made the following points:
1. Social media has become the primary creative channel for new information. Most enterprises are just now realizing that the Internet, the world's largest network, is already mostly peer produced. As social media becomes more widely used inside the firewall, the same thing will happen.
2. Business intelligence must look at the whole ecosystem. Looking just at one's own databases, or even the information that business partners have, is no longer adequate. Having the big picture today means connecting internal business data to external information streams, live and without delay if possible. Data outside of your organization also outnumbers internal data by many orders of magnitude, so sifting through the integrated whole to spot trends and important issues quickly enough to drive business decisions is the objective. It's also the central challenge.
3. New techniques are required for social analytics as well as to handle the volumes of big data that result. Most traditional analytics tools aren't competent at processing social media very deeply, which typically includes connecting together distributed conversations across hundreds of social networking services, tying in any associated rich media, as well as deep integration with social media APIs. They also can't turn today's petabyte streams of raw information into usable strategic insight fast enough. Nor are they easy enough to use such that business intelligence tools can impact a large enough part of the business. See my recent exploration of specific big data techniques for more insight into this.
The key to all this is combining together social analytics, which can deal with the unique aspects of social media with big data, which can process vast, real-time information flows quickly enough to matter. This results in what is increasingly called social business intelligence (SBI).
As JP Rangaswami wrote in his exploration of actionable social information this week:
It must be accurate, and verifiably so
It must be timely
It must be comprehensive
It must be comprehensible
It's the last item in particular that separates most analytics capabilities from actual business intelligence, while the rest is what big data helps brings to the table.
The good news is that traditional business intelligence (BI) will remain essential for the foreseeable future, to look into and understand what's inside an enterprise's systems of record. Some will even move into social BI. However, the broader shift today to systems of engagement as a primary -- and even the majority -- source of new business information will almost certainly require fundamentally new social BI tools so that workers can quickly access ground truth and get the insight they need to perform their jobs.
Disambiguation Note: There are at least two types of social BI gaining traction at the moment. The first is the use of a social layer within business intelligence tools to enable collaboration and the distribution of business intelligence using social media. The second type, which is what I'm referring to here, is the employment of business intelligence tools at social media activity itself, both global activity outside the organization as well as Enterprise 2.0-style activity inside.
Nine Social Business Intelligence Strategies
While the field is somewhat new, as social analytics has only had a real run-up the last two years, some obvious strategies have started to emerge. For now, most organizations will be trying to build basic social BI capabilities and get experience with them. They quickly discover that the level of effort needed and infrastructure required makes cloud-based offerings the route of less resistance -- at least in terms of cost, implementation speed, and competency -- to acquiring capability and starting to experiment. It's build, buy, or use the cloud. Whichever way, social BI = big data + social analytics + domain-specific BI apps.
Assuming that one has social BI capabilities, these are the strategies that will most likely be applied based on my surveys of social business initiatives:
There are other ways to apply social BI but these will be the most common ones for the majority of companies building or acquiring such capabilities. I'd love to hear stories about how you're applying social media analytics and/or big data techniques to your social business efforts in comments below or on Twitter.
Six Social Business Trends To Watch Note: See point #4.