social media how toAre you tapping the social media data stream? Inside that river of data lives great insight that can give your business an edge.

Social media allows you to match data generated by social interactions with individual’s preferences and general interests. This creates useful profiles that give marketers insight into how to tailor future offers and products to their customer base.

In this article I’ll show you five ways to use the data generated by your social network profiles—and those of your competitors—to expand your reach and sales.

#1: Listening Data

Nearly every social media plan tells you to begin by “listening,” but what are you listening for? Monitoring news related to your local business environment and industry can give you a sense of the conversation around your products or services, but social listening allows you to expand this information and make it more relevant.

Specifically, you can gather data about the reactions to your products and campaigns as measured by interactions with messages on Facebook, retweets, mentions on Twitter and comments on your blog.

Measuring the volume, sentiment and relevance of these interactions—and tracking this data over time—will allow you to determine how new products, services and/or offers are received by your customers.


Here’s a view inside Gatorade’s mission control, where the brand reviews insights from social data to drive marketing improvements.

Tools like Google Alerts and HootSuite allow you to monitor basic volume of interactions. If the volume grows to the point where manual tracking is not feasible, there are a few paid products like Radian 6, Meltwater Buzz and Scout Labs that allow you to track data in a more automated fashion.

Some large-scale examples of using listening data for product development and service improvement include Dell’s new Social Media Listening Command Center and Gatorade’s Mission Control. How can you model your listening campaign on these examples?

#2: Benchmarking Data

In the past, it was difficult or even impossible for business owners to know how their efforts and branding stacked up against their competition, aside from observing the general performance of the competitors’ businesses and anecdotal information. Social media data allows you to understand your performance relative to your competitors, because so much of it is publicly accessible.

Once you gather the listening data based on your own company profiles, compare it to that of your competitors to gain perspective on your performance.

Observe the size of your communities relative to your competitors. Also, analyze the relative activity of those communities. Do your fans and followers post more or less frequently than your competitors?

Additionally, you can dig in to see who is following your competition and your own profiles, and compare to see who has more relevant community members for your industry.

Note the relative level of effort required to gain the number of interactions your competitors are driving. If you’re receiving either more or fewer interactions than your competitor, but posting with the same frequency, note the differences in your content and what is driving the disparity in results.

Be sure to account for competitors in each social channel on which you are active, and if possible, benchmark yourself against competitors that are active across multiple channels.

#3: Strategic Forecasting Data


RapLeaf, a social data company, provides insights on customer trends.

While market research groups provided one channel for companies to learn about the interests and perceptions of a few customers, companies like RapLeaf allow you to identify your customer base by revealing key insights and trends about what social networks your customers use, other popular websites for customers, relative location trends and relative demographic trends.

The use of social data allows you to hone your financial performance projections and product development, especially if you produce specific promotions for each social network, and can track revenue and profit from the activities on individual channels. Knowing this kind of information about your consumer base allows for more accurate targeting and the power to personalize campaigns.

#4: Real-time Tracking Data

Traditional advertising channels like radio, television and print were able to provide estimates of effectiveness through quantifying radio ratings, television viewership or magazine sales; however, these ads were effectively impossible to track with any real certainty. Social data allows marketers to view relevant and real-time trends including how campaigns are performing at given time and how alterations to campaigns affect results.


Tools like HootSuite provide real-time tracking of social data to drive business decisions.

Not only do these tracking mechanisms allow businesses to see how a campaign is performing, they allow them to view consumer data at a granular level, identify positive or negative trends and make instant modifications.

This ability, combined with the real-time tracing of consumer sentiment, can mitigate wasteful spending or funding for a campaign that isn’t working as planned.

#5: Reflection and Insight

No matter the level of preparedness a company has in listening, gauging relevance, forecasting and implementing, there’s still a degree of uncertainty in social media. The advantage of robust data tracking services is that you never find yourself guessing why something worked or what caused it not to work. Here is a great post on how to analyze Twitter performance, for instance.

Consumer feedback is usually statistically significant, mostly unsolicited and readily available for companies looking to reformulate their efforts. By understanding a campaign through the targets’ points of view and gaining the ability to quantify their evaluation process, social data can be an invaluable tool for marketers.

How will you use social data in 2011 to grow your business? Is there a particular suggestion that you’ve already implemented and can discuss? We’d love to hear what’s working for your business, so leave your comments in the box below.

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  • Peter, this is such an essential topic! Thanks for providing a good place to start reviewing the options.

  • Great post! When more people start to see the opportunities that open up after setting up a listening dashboard, adoption will be more widespread.

  • Collectual

    I agree with you that one of the reasons social data is so critical and insightful is that it’s “mostly unsolicited” – customer conversations ideally are unprompted and can reveal so much about a brand or product.

  • This is great information, and it points out that a business or online site needs to make time to not only collect the data, but actually look at it and strategize accordingly. It’s one thing to be paying for good idea, another matter entirely to use it to bring more business to you.

  • PhilMershon

    Nice job! I’m helping Mike Stelzner analyze the data from the current Social Media Marketing Industry Report and one of people’s top questions relates to how to measure and monitor the data that comes from social media. Thanks for addressing this so clearly.

  • Amazing how you can take out items and make them simple and easy to understand. I just chanced upon your blog while browsing for social media for business keyword and it brought me not only to the topic I was looking for but more. Thank you for sharing this very informative post.

  • Peter


    My pleasure, glad you enjoyed the article,


  • Nick,

    I agree. Once you can tie the time spent monitoring social to real results and tangible business outcomes, people will invest more time in the practice.

    Thanks for commenting,


  • Peter


    Responses to surveys and focus groups often suffer from biases, and I think social media responses are better to a degree in this area. Sure, some people still have agendas and are not completely forthright on these channels, but for the most part, reactions and sentiment are organic.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • Peter

    Thanks for commenting David, couldn’t agree more.


  • Peter


    Glad to be able to post on something timely and of interest to the community. Good luck with the Industry Report, I’m sure the findings will be really useful.


  • Hjkbanker


    I have read your blog multiple times, but I do not understand what you are classifying as “social data”. Where do you extract this data (facebook, twitter, etc…)?


  • Great post Peter.
    Good info definitely worth sharing with others.
    I know for myself, I’ve made a personal promise to delve more into what our customers are looking for from our products and do my best to help them get implemented. I’ve gained so much insight already as to what our customers expect and want just by listening really carefully, not just what they say to us, but what they say all the time.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (

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  • I digged into Google Alerts and HootSuite after reading this article & found them very useful. Is it possible to display visits to Twitter profiles and Facebook Pages with the pro version of HootSuite?

    Thank you for this article!

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  • Marie

    Congratulations for the post! I love your blog, I learn every day a lot of things about social media!
    We havent got in Spain that valuable information!
    I did my master thesis about this topic. And I divided the costumer data in knowledge (google results, number of visits, number of followers and fans), in actitude (number in comments, twitter messages, retweets and I like of facebook), and finally behaviour (number of customers and real income from social media).

    I think is very important to measure all the variables!

    Greetings and thanks a lot for the article!


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  • jasonarican

    Hi Peter-

    First let me say thank you for the mention.

    This all very useful information for your readers (and those are great links too). One thing that we talk about with our clients is the importance of tracking as you start to develop and build your strategy for the space. For all the reasons above, it’ll really help you get a sense of what the landscape is like before you jump into it. This can often be overlooked in the rush to “get a Twitter” 🙂

    Thanks again and have a great weekend!

    Managing Director | Client Relations, Meltwater Buzz

  • I have heard a lot of good things about Rapleaf.

  • It’s pretty amazing how much the simplest data can make or break a brand these days. Which is why recourses such as these are necessary to keep a brand at the top of the heap.

  • Item #3 intrigued me. I will have to look into Rapleaf and strategic forecasting using social media. Good idea, and great post overall. Thanks!

  • As always a great post! As more and more Social Media platforms develop and more opportunities arise, it’s very important to stay focused on the aspects that really count. It is very easy to get caught up in the vortex of Social Media information overload, this is true for companies and individuals. Listening makes ALL the difference and addressing the more important people and issues (business wise) is essential. Rapleaf is certainly interesting! LinkedIn and Facebook groups seem to be a great place to listen to like minded people and Seesmic provides a good service to make this easier.

  • Peter


    Facebook data can be garnered through the Insights feature available to Page owners. Twitter data can be garnered through third party platforms. My company uses TweetDeck and HootSuite, depending on the preference of the individual manager.



  • Peter


    That’s great advice for the readership. Thanks for sharing your experience.


  • Peter

    Twitter no, but Facebook does Post Views now, which incorporates both views of your Fan page and views of your updates in feeds.


  • Peter


    Glad it was helpful.

    Thanks for commenting,


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