Social Media Intelligence: The Competitive Advantage

We’ve all felt it: that little glow of pride when your tweet gets a bunch of retweets, or when your followers hit a milestone number. It’s tempting to feel like there’s a little bit of magic—or a maybe a kindly muse—involved when you see payoffs like these.

But the truth is social media success is more than just gaining a ton of followers or composing witty tweets, and those things don’t happen by accident or luck. It takes a lot of hard work and an analytical approach to truly succeed at social. In order to make social media work for you, you need savvy and strategy.

That’s where social media intelligence comes in. With this method, you not only engage with and listen to your audience, you learn as much as you can about what they’re responding to and why. That way you can give them more of what they want—and see customers respond accordingly.

Here’s why you should be implementing social media intelligence and how to use it to get the most out of your social media efforts.

What Does Social Media Intelligence Do for You?

Just as it’s tempting to think writing a clever update or gaining a bunch of new followers happens because you’re having a lucky day, it’s easy to see what you want to see in data. A gazillion followers (or shares or views) looks great but may or may not be making a difference to your profits—which, after all, is the endgame of your social media efforts.

“Not all data is helpful,” writes Lars Lofgren in “Metrics, Metrics On The Wall, Who’s The Vainest Of Them All?” “Some of it is worse than worthless because it tricks us into believing we have answers when we don’t.” It’s crucial to track data that is meaningful to your business and that helps you make informed decisions.

It’s not enough to know how many visitors your site gets per week or per day, for example. Knowing how many of them are actually converting to site subscribers or, better yet, paying customers—and what encourages them to make that leap—is much more useful. This information allows you to make changes to your approach, keep tabs on what improves your conversion rate, and then repeat it or scale it up to ensure future success.

Not only does social media intelligence help you to optimize your social media efforts, it gives you a distinct advantage over competitors who don’t use it. As your visibility, conversions, and profits increase, your less-savvy competitors will level off in audience growth, and even potentially alienate customers.

The Social “Stack”

In “Understanding the Social Media Intelligence Stack,” James Lovejoy emphasizes that data collection through social listening is just the first step of social media intelligence. It’s the bottom level of a stack or the first rung on a ladder. “Social listening is an ear into the online world; however, it is social media intelligence that translates that information into actionable insights.”

Make sure that you’re tracking data that’s useful and actionable. From there, you need to manage the data you collect, analyze it thoroughly, then distribute your insights to your team and implement what you’ve learned. The levels of this stack are interdependent and equally important.

Let’s look at each of these steps in more detail.

    Social Listening

    In this first step of the social media intelligence stack, you collect information about how your audience is responding to your efforts. There are a plethora of tools and methods to collect this information: social media management dashboards, search term alerts, hashtag tracking, and more.

    If your audience engagement tracking needs an overhaul, check out Yulia V Smirnova’s great list of social listening tools at KISSMetrics. (The list is geared towards those marketing e-commerce businesses, but the tools mentioned are handy for anyone collecting audience engagement data.) Many of these solutions also allow you to eavesdrop on competitors’ data, which can help you establish a benchmark for your own numbers.

    Data Management

    The next step is organizing your data. This can entail “anything from automatically categorizing subsets of social data, customizing rules, or filtering data based on specific criteria,” says Lovejoy.

    The key here is to break down massive amounts of data into segments that align with segments of your audience. You can organize data by individual platform, users’ locations, gender and age demographics, and more.


    In this step you’re actually looking at audience behavior for each of the segments you’ve identified. What are the behavior patterns within individual groups? What are commonalities among groups?

    Go beyond the “vanity metrics” (metrics such as likes, favorites, site visitors that look good on paper but don’t help you to make decisions). See how different groups move differently through your sales funnel. Compare sentiment about your company from group to group.


    In this final step, you share your findings with the members of your team. Different departments will have different uses for that data. Your CEO, for example, might use the findings to make a more persuasive pitch to a prospective client or partner. Your social media marketing team, on the other hand, will take these insights and use them to refine your social strategy.

Of course, social media intelligence isn’t a one-off process. Incorporate all of these steps into your social media plan on a regular and frequent basis—creating a continuous cycle of listening, organizing, analyzing, and acting on the information discovered.

Social media success isn’t magic, or luck, or even easy to attain. It takes a lot of trial and error and persistence. More than anything else, a successful social media strategy requires a near-scientific approach, in which you experiment, collect information about what goes right and what doesn’t, and learn from it. With the right approach and the right tools, you can see serious benefits from your efforts.

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