Intelligent businesses have been collecting and analyzing Web traffic data for nearly two decades now. After all, what company wouldn’t want to understand how and why a customer visits its site? The difference between success and failure could be as simple as identifying the site’s key performance indicators and quickly adapting to customer need.
Until recently, this process was limited to a brand’s own site, since that was the only source of data available. But the explosion in social media has forced companies to expand the reach of analytics, thereby opening up new sources of (and new ways to employ) information. Recognizing this opportunity (and perhaps responding to market demand), several major vendors of Web analytics platforms recently launched social media tools within weeks of one another.
“Increasingly, marketers are finding social media to be an effective way to build brand or product awareness,” says Matt Langie, senior director of product marketing at Web analytics firm Omniture. Social media, Langie adds, allows companies to address customer support issues, promote and sell products, and engage customers in the online conversations that are already happening. “Measurement and analytic tools help [marketers] better understand aggregate trends and ultimately optimize their online business with the social media sites and channels that are most effective.… By combining social media analytics with a broader online marketing suite, marketers are able to gain a ‘single version of the truth’ to determine what marketing investments are performing best and achieving their objective.”
Omniture recently forged a deal with Facebook intended to provide online marketers with solutions to optimize the network as a marketing channel. Webtrends, another Web analytics firm, has also turned to Facebook, and offers services such as social media measurement, paid-search optimization, and integration of online and offline data silos scattered throughout organizations.
Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, vice president of marketing at Webtrends, says that analyzing a Facebook page is essentially no different than any other form of Web analytics. The true value of these new tools, he says, is in how the data is captured.
The breadth enabled by social media analytics is what allows companies to do something more important than what they’re able to do by merely collecting the same old customer information, says Akin Arikan, director of product strategy at marketing solutions provider Unica. Tools that collect data from a brand’s Web site, Arikan suggests, don’t have the benefit of the personal information that consumers typically reveal within social media profiles.
“With Facebook Connect, you start to learn more about [the customers] from what’s known about them on Facebook,” Arikan says. Before companies analyze data from the social networking juggernaut, he adds, they typically don’t even know what it is they don’t know. “Customers haven’t told you yet about their demographics, current location, or whether they’re highly connected,” he says.
Arikan says that Unica’s NetInsight analytics tool offers more than a siloed marketing capability; users are able to mix information from social networks with information from other channels and proposed actions are based on the combined data.
An upgraded solution from marketing optimization provider Coremetrics takes the personal information gathered from Facebook and creates a unique profile for each consumer. According to John Squire, the company’s chief strategy officer, the Coremetrics Impression Attribution tool allows advertisers to use that information to better personalize an experience or message to individual customers.
Joseph Stanhope, a Forrester Research senior analyst, says we haven’t seen the last of this wave of social media analytics tools—and a wave of upgrades will surely follow. Growth in the general Web analytics market gets some credit, he says, but the fact that Facebook is a closed environment that dictates technology standards means that Web analytics companies must continue to release better, more-mature products.
Stanhope thinks the competition for the best social media analytics product will soon be rivaled (if not overtaken) by the market for mobile-device analytics software, and says he wonders whether vendors will be able to adapt fast enough to keep up with their counterparts. Judging from the recent explosion of these products, the answer is probably yes.