How social intelligence can help you develop better marketing strategies

When it comes to advertising in the Internet age, it’s not the size of your audience that counts, but how well you connect with them – and social intelligence is one of the most valuable tools that marketers can use to identify and reach the ideal audience for their clients.

The was the core message delivered by a Feb. 4 webcast hosted by online marketing veteran Tara Hunt, who was joined by Tim Burke, CEO of Halifax-based marketing analytics firm Affinio Inc., Claude Théoret, CEO of Montreal-based analytics firm Nexalogy Environics, and Marshall Kirkpatrick, co-founder of Portland, Oregon-based social media strategy firm Little Bird Technologies.

“I’m always surprised at how little brands know about their audience,” Hunt said. “They’ll give me these broad demographics… like males, 18 to 35… and I’m like, ‘What else do you know about them? What other brands do they have affinities to? Do you know where they’re hanging out, what they’re talking about, which influencers they’re following?’ and very rarely do they know.”

While it isn’t surprising that many businesses don’t take advantage of social intelligence, Nexalogy’s Théoret said – he compared the practice, which involves analyzing social media data for insights into an organization’s consumer base, to preparing maple syrup, which requires around 50 gallons of sap per gallon of syrup – the organizations that don’t will have a difficult time keeping up with the ones that do.

As an example, Théoret cited one of his company’s most high-profile clients: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose staff – including Hunt at the time – used Nexalogy’s services to support the Papineau MP’s successful bid for the Liberal party’s leadership in 2013.

At the time, Théoret said, conventional polling across the country revealed a deep divide between English Canada and Trudeau’s native Quebec, but Nexalogy’s social intelligence research was able to draw a line between the two, with voters in both provinces concerned about issues such as economic uncertainty, even if they had different things to say about them.

“We were able to show what the common points were between the rest of Canada and Quebec,” he said. “If you look at the social graphs, they’re about as isolated as you can possibly get… But if you look at the conversational landscape, they’re saying the same thing, which is really inspiring.”

The four experts agreed that many companies take a dim view of social intelligence, reducing it to a quick scan of a given demographic’s Twitter and – assuming they have public access – Facebook feed, which they said couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We look at the connections between the participants in a conversation or in a community, and measure how connected a person is to relevant experts in their field, or how many connections a brand has to influencers in their field, or how hot a piece of content is relative to what’s normal in a conversation, and all of those kinds of insights can… point you in new directions,” Little Bird’s Kirkpatrick said.

Influencers – experts or enthusiasts in a given field with many social media connections who trust their opinion – are another poorly understood element of social intelligence, with Hunt saying that far too many organizations simply try asking their followers for tweets and call it a day.

“I think brands feel like they’ve invested so much into their own thought leadership that it’s hard for them to reach out and have humility to ask for input from other people,” she said, adding that when collaborating with influencers, she likes to keep the saying “people will support that which they help build” in mind.

“If I reach out to an influencer and ask for their input and their ideas, and then implement them and… give them kudos and credit, those influencers are way more likely to just naturally talk about that brand,” Hunt said. “You don’t have to be like, ‘can you tweet this?’”

Another topic raised during the webcast was the frequent criticism by senior managers that influencers – and social media in general – represent a small insignificant portion of a company’s audience – a criticism that is not without merit, Nexalogy’s Théoret said, given how many “followers” online are actually bots – though he noted the number of bots online simply makes social intelligence firms more important, because they’re needed to separate human reactions from the bots.

Hunt, meanwhile, called social media users “canaries in a coalmine,” while Affinio’s Burke said that companies need to appreciate that their audience on a given social media platform accurately reflects a segment of the wider audience using their products and services. What’s more, different platforms are frequently used by different segments, he said.

“You can’t take that as being meaningless, but you do have to know what those stats look like, platform by platform, and adjust accordingly,” he said.

“Unless you understand your audience – unless you have a really solid understanding of the interests and passions of these key groups that you’re trying to reach – you’ll never be able to create the right content.”

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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