Debunking 3 Myths About Sourcing Market Intelligence From Social or Public Data

Invariably as I discuss market intelligence with a prospect the question gets asked, “So where do you source your data from?” I always cringe when that topic is broached. Not because I have any reservations about the strength of using social monitoring or publicly available web analytic sources, but because I know the stigma that has often been unfairly attached to these types of data.

The problem stems from the fact that social listening (also known as digital monitoring) is a practice that unfortunately had its label cemented when it was best (and only) known for tracking consumer sentiment against a brand name by looking at people’s posts, tweets, and comments in the realm of social media. Tech platforms emerged to help source the data, apply some form of language processing, and give a visual analysis of trends, sentiment, and key influencers. These technologies, because they were primarily about pulling tweets and Facebook posts, were quickly labeled as social monitoring platforms. Veterans of the industry can easily remember the painful experience of the Radian 6 “pre-Salesforce acquisition” platform and the agony of their blue dashboards.

Today, however, those platforms have evolved to sourcing an immense amount of data from multiple types of digital sources and their natural language processing (NLP) capabilities are highly evolved. Despite this, however, the practice, as well as the supporting platforms, are still labeled simply as “social” listening and people still assume the value of the data from these is limited, thereby leaving them, unfortunately, without some very strong and actionable intelligence.

“People still assume the value of the data from these is limited, thereby leaving them, unfortunately, without some very strong and actionable intelligence.”

To that end, I’d like to consider offering an argument against three of the most commonly assumed myths about what “social listening” can provide:

Myth #1 – Publicly Available Data is Not Valuable
Ever hear someone describe a recent car purchase not as “used” but rather as “new to me?” In that simple phrase is a powerful concept, namely that something’s value is primarily determined by it’s relation to the user’s needs and not by what the industry might try and force on a buyer. The same is true for market intelligence.

Consider this. Every second, the following takes place in the digital arena:

  • 60,532 GB of Internet Traffic
  • 68,851 Google Searches
  • 70,078 YouTube Videos Viewed
  • 8,153 Tweets
  • 863 Instagram Photos Posted

Think about the amount of content being created and viewed on a daily basis and how much your competitors are playing in this space and what might be learned by this (and these stats don’t even include blog postings, forum discussions, news releases, etc.) The point is that the question around value is based on what you are currently acquiring today in market intelligence. What are you discovering on a weekly basis about your competitors and the behaviors of your buyers? If the answer is “very little,” then market intelligence sourced from social data would be immensely valuable both from the aspect that it provides insights you are not currently holding, but also because of the types of information you might glean.

CASE STUDY: For one of our clients (Fortune 500) in the tech industry, public data led to the discovery that several of their partners / resellers were not addressing easily-identifiable problems that presented hurdles for buyers. The intelligence provided them data and information to meet with those partners and give them guidance on solving the issues and thereby help increase their own sales as a result. At the end of the day, the data was deemed “highly valuable” by our client given how fast it was sourced and how quickly it was able to be used to address a revenue issue.

Myth #2 – Extensive Must Mean Expensive
In the same way that old mindsets pervade about social data, the same is true about what needs to be spent on market intelligence. Companies have been held captive to the notion that in order to learn anything of value, they have to hire a massive firm to conduct a 6-month study that will carry a budget-devastating fee with it. The truth, however, is that in today’s digital world… much of what one of these firms will find from consumer outreach or black-box data purchases are likely already readily available online for those who know how to find it and able to be sourced for much less.

CASE STUDY: A large healthcare provider recently paused one of our intelligence briefings to inquire as to whether we had been made privy to the findings of a recent market study they had conducted and spent a significant amount of money on. The reason? Our data and findings were nearly identical in detail and summarization, despite having been sourced in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost. The truth was that the findings in the more expensive study had already been researched by other intel firms and published in forums and blogs across multiple outlets and the queries we developed for social monitoring easily uncovered the data.

Myth #3 – Social Data Isn’t Useful for B2B
Because most people associate social data with the “voice of the consumer,” the assumption is that there is very little to gain in a B2B context because businesses rarely have a voice in the social space. While it is true that garnering direct conversations from a company is difficult, what needs to be remembered is that social and public data sources are now comprised of a significantly wider and deeper pipeline of content to include blogs, forums, commercial reviews and other source material. To the experienced analysts, these areas of content are just as viable to gleaning intelligence around how products are performing in the marketplace or where there are new revenue opportunities emerging.

CASE STUDY: A leading tech company in the document management space was looking to uncover potential new business opportunities. Through a series of intelligence briefings, it was discovered that law firms and legal offices were seeking to use new technologies as a means of reducing filing and document management requirements of their staff and convert the time of these resources to client-billable hours. The clearly defined target and the simple messaging around potential revenue impact resulted in a global channel partner call to ensure every possible outlet was informed and using this intelligence to pursue the market opportunity.

The goal here is not to present social monitoring/listening or public domain data as the silver bullet of intelligence. Traditional market studies still have their place and relevance. Instead, the takeaway is to educate the product marketer or sales leader about how much the digital content space has grown, and that the ability to mine that space for insights and intel has evolved with it. Using this intelligence to stay ahead of competitors, inform product development or empower sales enablement is a “must-have” for forward-thinking companies.

Check out our recent case study on how we helped a Fortune 500 finserv business leverage market intelligence to predict and plan competitive action >