Because they're new, many social media analytics tools are available as services. One prominent example is Radian6, a software-as-a-service product recently purchased by Salesforce.com. Radian6 presents a dashboard of brand mentions-tagged positive, negative, or neutral-based on Twitter feeds, public Facebook posts, posts and comments on blogs and discussion board conversations. When purchased by the marketing and customer service departments who use them, such tools may not require heavy IT involvement. Still, University of Kentucky's Kellen believes he needs to pay attention to them. "My job is to identify these technologies, see what the match is for the organization in terms of competitiveness, and start educating the right people," he says.
The university has the same interest in monitoring sentiment about its brand as any other business, but Kellen says he may also identify opportunities to develop applications specific to school concerns such as student retention. For example, monitoring student posts on social media could help faculty and administrators learn earlier when students are having academic trouble, much as Dell does when its support organization detects people tweeting about broken laptops, Kellen says. IT developers should also be looking for ways to build alerts generated by social media analytics into applications for responding to those events, he says.
"We don't have the know-how, nor the tools, go out and mine massive quantities of social media postings," says Hackney. "But once you have the data, you need to be able to have enough information about events happening in the company to be able to correlate them." While John Hancock's efforts in this area are "nascent," according to Hackney, he envisions a role for IT in correlating the data provided by a social analytics service with corporate data. For example, if the social media data shows comments about the company in the Midwest are becoming more negative, he would want to see if the company has made price or policy changes in that region that might explain the trend.
Finding such correlations could make a big difference in getting company leaders to believe in the return on investment of social media, Hackney says. "In my industry, everybody's an actuary, everyone's looking for the numbers-they don't take anything on belief."
David F. Carr is a freelance writer based in Florida.
Read more about business intelligence (bi) in CIO's Business Intelligence (BI) Drilldown.