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[Interview] How Microsoft uses social analytics & how you can too

Microsoft Media Team interview case study social analytics data use

In modern marketing, mature social media teams can adopt a myriad of roles across marketing, communications, customer service, audience research, product development, and much more. At the core of this activity is using social media data intelligently to extract smart insights. As the demands of this role grows, so does the social media data and analytics understanding required by social media teams.

Ben Donkor is a social media analyst at Microsoft, and is adamant about the importance of social media analytics for all businesses. In this exclusive chat you will discover why social analytics is something every organisation should be looking at, how Microsoft are using it, and how you can start.


Audiense: What does the role of social media analyst entail at Microsoft?


Donkor: "I sit in the main social media team, which is part of our marketing and communications department. It’s primarily looking after social media analytics and intelligence, covering products such as Windows, Office, and Surface."

How much does social media analytics impact other areas of marketing and the wider business?

"In a broad sense, with my work I try to give them some helpful directions. They’ll have things they like to do, and using our understanding of the data we’ve gathered we can help them predict the result they can expect from it. We can then suggest tweaks for the campaigns based on our analytical findings that will help yield better results.

There’s also a social listening aspect that’s relevant to them too, as it’s often the first place we’ll hear about how people are reacting to our products. We can take a bigger look at the conversation and give a broader picture of what people are saying."

What metrics or signs do you look for in order to assist your colleagues?

"KPIs and metrics differ from community manager to community manager, and we have a mix of them. For example, the main KPIs for some of our community managers include traffic driven to the site, while for others it's more social engagement. So when I’ve done reports for him we’re mainly looking at how activities convert to click-throughs, and what we think will deliver the best results going forward. Whereas some others are based more around sentiment, so we’ll analyse what’s driving likes and retweets.

That’s the social team, but I also help with the editorial team. A big focus for them is how much traffic they drive with their content, and how that turns visitors into fans and eventually customers. So I’ll be looking at what social content is leading to the people who are most likely to convert for them."

Is attributing customers to activity your sole aim with social media analytics?

"One of the best things about working for Microsoft is that the benefits of social media are widely understood throughout the company, they get it. They get that you can’t attach a precise pound sign to every activity, there’s value in a good brand experience or a great campaign. For example, for our launch of the Surface Pro 4 we were more interested in driving interest and conversation than sales, so we were looking at metrics around that."


How has your social data been implemented elsewhere in Microsoft?

"They come to me to consult on specific questions to get a clear view of where the audience is, what they’re doing, and where we can fit into the picture. One recent example was the work I did with someone in our editorial team, who specialises in IT and security. She wanted to get an understanding of people’s concerns, so asked me what sort of topics in that area were trending at that point last year. Not only could I show her the main topics, but also who drove the conversation to help us formulate a plan on how we could drive the conversation going forward.

We are also used by the sales team to research the social blueprint of specific companies or industries they are targeting. We take the pulse of the conversation around them to build an idea of how to approach them. One of the things we found in the finance industry was that in November all of the analysts in that area would post up their predictions for the next year. This would get people looking forward and was thus a perfect time to see what people were talking about, then open a conversation with potential customers with a strategy of how our software addresses the big issues."

How do you research an audience on networks like Snapchat where they aren’t public?

"One of our demographics that we target is developers, and we wanted to know what other channels we could reach them on before we spent time and resources building a presence on those channels. So we built an audience of developers on Twitter, and searched their Tweets to look for what channels they kept mentioning. Snapchat and Reddit were two that kept cropping up a lot, so we looked at Reddit posts and screenshots of Snaps they had posted so that we could inform our teams about the sort of content that is connecting with them on those channels."

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Where do you think social analytics fits in with a company’s customer data?

"For businesses looking to build a comprehensive view of their customer, it’s a lot easier if you start the relationship with a customer’s social data. Once you have it, see what you want to achieve with it and what metrics you are looking to understand.

For example, one of the social media KPIs for us is driving positive engagement against our competitors, so seeing how many people say they love Lumia compared to a rival phone. Those KPIs then mean a lot more if we can identify if that person is a customer or not, and compare it with other details in our CRM like what other products or services they have used.

This data can then be collated together to build an effective strategy on how best to market to them going forward, and the CRM aspect means our targeting can be accurate too."

You recently did a talk to social media professionals, and found out that you were the only full time social media analyst in the room, why do you think that is?

"There’s two reasons, firstly we need more at events and we also need more at companies. I’ve noticed a lot of brands either have no social analysts in their team, or only one person to do all the social analytics work. This means they either won’t have someone to send to an event, or sending them means losing their entire analytics team for the duration of that event.

On top of this, I actually looked for social media analytics events a few weeks back, and couldn’t find that many. They might have an analytics talk baked into a bigger social media event, but no event purely focussed on analytics, which they do in a lot of other industries. But as it’s a growing area I can see more demand for specialist analytics events in the future."

Why is it important to get a full time social media analyst on board?

"If a brand wants to be successful on social media then having an analyst is a no-brainer. If you’re taking the time to post content and build a strategy, you need to understand how it’s performing in order to assess what you’ve done and accurately strategize for the future. To put it in simple terms, if your social team is the car, your analyst is the Satnav. They won’t be turning the wheel, but they will give you the best directions.

I think a lot of brands are at, or getting to, a point where they need to bring on a social media analyst but may be complacent due to past success. Work out what they want to achieve and how it will help, then use that as leverage to find the budget to bring one on board. Following that, you need to start looking at the suite of tools for your analysts."

If a brand doesn’t have a social media analyst yet, how can they implement and learn social analytics in the meantime?

"Firstly, think about what to achieve and search for online resources that cover those goals. It sounds simple, but that’s how I started specialising in this area. Understand what’s possible in social analytics, social listening, and integrating this data into your marketing, plus what sort of insights you can get from them and why it’s important.

You probably won’t have the time to measure everything, so try to think about what metrics you want, and how they will fit into your brand’s bigger picture. Each metric creates a piece of that picture, identify the top few that are going to give you the most useful view of your audience and activity, then just measure that for the time being."

How should a marketing team decide which social media tool to get?

"The first thing I always do is look at the business objectives and ask what are we trying to achieve? Doing this at the beginning of your tools search will keep you focussed. Next look at what the individual social teams are trying to do. Third, look at what the analysts are going to need to achieve these aims before you get the tool, and ask them about it.

You can’t just search for any social media tools, because the range of what they offer, and how they work together is so big. Think about going to buy a car, you don’t just look for a car. You have an idea about what model or type of car you want and how you’ll be driving it. This stops you trying every vehicle on the forecourt, and it’s why you need that specification when you’re looking for a tool."


How can companies make the most of their social media analysts?

"A lot of companies will get their social analyst, and get a tool, and think the work is done. But there are great benefits in having a way to let the analyst report to other areas of the business where he or she can make the difference. It’s no good keeping them locked away in a social silo, where their insights may just get lost on a pdf somewhere. There needs to be an internal policy letting the company know that the social analyst is there for their benefit, and the processes needed to collaborate or consult with them."

What are the main developments that you see in the field of social analytics over the next couple of years?

"I think we will see a bit more analytics available from dark social. How many people are sharing content via DM, what’s happening on Snapchat. It’s all well and good having brands on these channels, but I think that getting an insight into what’s happening below the surface (without affecting people’s privacy) will help justify further involvement.

I can also see social analytics tools and marketing platforms carving out more unique identities. We’re seeing it at the moment where the tools with their own exclusive offerings are turning more heads in the industry. A one-size-fits-all approach will no longer be enough to stand out when there are options who have clearly put a lot of effort into solving specific challenges that marketers are having."

Want to hear more insights and opinions from digital marketing and social media professionals at some of the world’s top brands and organisations? Check out the other social media interviews in our Spotlight Series, including NASA, O2, United Nations, Pizza Express, and many more.

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