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Social Media Meets BI
Three Social Media Trends Impacting the Direction of BI

by Wayne Morris, CEO, myDIALS Inc.Thursday, March 24, 2011

If you watched any of the Super Bowl this year, you couldn’t help but see the ads from Chatter.com, SalesForce.com’s social media collaboration tool. Besides proving that the Black Eyed Peas performed far better in the commercials than live in the huge stadium, the Chatter.com presence marks an important transition. Businesses are embracing the potential of social media – albeit dialing back the public social aspects to a more private nature – as a way to promote collaboration and improve decision making through the ranks.

The convergence of social media with BI puts another nail in the coffin of traditional BI.

BI today needs to be flexible, fast, and – aptly illustrated by the “coolness” factor of the Black Eyed Peas in the Chatter ads – accessible to the masses, which now includes a workforce well versed in social media tongues.  People are now accustomed to a certain level of interactivity and ease of use thanks to social media networks. They no longer accept static views of information.

There is a natural progression of social media from personal to business use, similar to the way Skype began in the consumer realm but imperceptibly became entrenched as a mainstay for business. However, not all aspects of our consumer-driven social media will translate into business use. For example, it’s unlikely we’ll be sharing photos in a business setting as much as we share them in our personal lives, but social media capabilities like the ability to chat with quick messaging, track a thread of conversation or get notified when someone else has added to a project will soon be essential to business applications. And specifically: business intelligence.

As this transition unfolds, we expect to see a few key trends driving the integration between social media and BI: more channels, more exclusivity, more sophisticated, standardized metrics, and more collaboration.

  1. More Social Media Channels to Track

    Today, we have the big three – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn – but we’ll see more channels integrated into business applications moving forward, making the ability to track them all even more critical. The pace of social media innovation far exceeds the pace of business, and smart companies are going to look for BI solutions that have the ability to anticipate consumer usage trends in order to translate and act on the growing channels of social content and keep collaboration humming at top speed.

    This trend will affect all operational departments in business, but the marketing discipline will likely be the most advanced.  Of all business functions, marketing professionals are typically the group on the sales and product frontlines, and therefore need the latest and greatest social weapons to be battle-ready.

  2. More Exclusivity, Narrow Subject Matter Focus

    As data volumes explode, clogging social channels with impertinent information, consumer and business users will seek filters to sift through the noise. The addition of more exclusive social networks – e.g. Quora.com, Proust.com – for personal use is the precursor to more private social networks for business.
    We’ll see more communities form around specific subject matter – e.g. vertical industry, like MESA in the manufacturing community; or Sermo for physicians.
    We already see this with LinkedIn Groups: communities where you need to be invited or approved, that are restricted to – and therefore focused on – particular subject matter.  But we’re going to see much more of this move to subject matter expertise and semi-exclusive social communities in the business world.  The ability to capture metrics from these specialized communities and to embed contextual links will become increasingly important.

  3. More Sophisticated Performance Metrics

    With the addition of social media to the business mix, BI solutions need to aggregate and analyze more sophisticated performance metrics, particularly since the number of data sources and associated activity metrics continues to grow. One way of addressing this shift is to consider a move to “composite metrics.” For example: while some BI solutions tailored to marketing users may track site visitor Bounce Rates, that metric alone is quickly becoming useless and obsolete because there are so many other, synergistic factors to consider. A bounce rate is a percentage that doesn’t tell you much. You may have a zero bounce rate on a page – which sounds great, right? – but if there was only one visitor to the page, that low bounce rate quickly loses its luster. Instead, a weighted metric or composite value based on a) the number of visitors to page, b) the number who stayed for the longest amount of time, and/or c) the number of visitors who viewed consecutive pages provides more useful and actionable insight.

    Composite metrics also help by providing complete context of a desired outcome together with the drivers that affect that outcome.  For example, we have devised a measure that can be tracked over time to show a composite view of marketing campaign effectiveness: 

    Overall Marketing Effectiveness (OME) = Attraction x Engagement x Conversion

    Attraction is a measure of getting visitors to come to the website (for paid search, this would be Click Through Ratio). Engagement measures the percentage of visitors who stayed and engaged, based on time spent, number of page views, etc. And finally, Conversion rate tracks the percentage that converted to qualified leads, sales opportunities and closed orders.

    Regardless of what metrics become the new standards, BI solutions will need to focus on the context of outcomes that help users make better decisions and ultimately drive incremental revenue and profit.

  4. More Collaboration and Sharing Insight

    One aspect of social media that can be embraced by business, particularly within the context of BI, is the ability to easily share information and collaborate.  For example, commenting on a particular metric for a specific point in time to provide your analysis or explanation will enhance other people’s understanding.  This understanding is further enhanced as others add their insight or analysis. Similarly, the ability to easily add contextual text for a time period – that is applicable to a set of metrics during that period – provides additional context for everyone looking at their measures for that period.  For example, a flood that affected production in one location provides context both now and in the future as people try to understand why production was reduced across multiple product lines.

BI Needs to Embrace Social Media

We all know change can be uncomfortable, but it’s easy to embrace if you consider it as just a bit of history repeating itself. In the early 80’s personal computers landed in every cubicle. The advent of cloud computing consumerized IT.  Putting apps at a user’s fingertips let us access content anywhere. And now, technologies that mold to our most basic consumer instincts – the desire to socialize and share information – are taking their rightful place in a business setting.

While I’d say that business users are nothing more than consumers in suits, that wouldn’t encompass the modern business attire, would it? The lines are blurred, contributing to the phenomenon we’re seeing with the democratization of information sharing and decision making. In the same way, it’s time for BI to get with the times. If BI isn’t accessible, flexible, easy to use… and most of all, social, it’s not going to succeed as a valuable decision making tool for business.

About the Author

Wayne Morris has more than 25 years of experience in executive management, strategy, marketing, sales and technical roles in software, services and hardware companies. As CEO of myDIALS, Wayne helps companies optimize operational performance by connecting to multiple internal and external data sources and delivering Key Performance Indicators and Key Performance Drivers in a highly visual, intuitive, interactive dashboard suitable for all employees


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