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Social Intelligence and Business

August 12, 2013


When you hear the term “social intelligence,” what comes to mind? The term has been applied to two very different subjects. The term is most widely used in a new scientific field that is exploring complex social relationships and environments. Daniel Goleman, author of the book Wired to Connect, writes, “The most fundamental discovery of this new science: We are wired to connect.” [“Social Intelligence“] He continues:

“Neuroscience has discovered that our brain’s very design makes it sociable, inexorably drawn into an intimate brain-to-brain linkup whenever we engage with another person. That neural bridge lets us impact the brain — and so the body — of everyone we interact with, just as they do us. Even our most routine encounters act as regulators in the brain, priming emotions in us, some desirable, others not. The more strongly connected we are with someone emotionally, the greater the mutual force. The most potent exchanges occur with those people with whom we spend the greatest amount of time day in and day out, year after year — particularly those we care about the most. During these neural linkups, our brains engage in an emotional tango, a dance of feelings. Our social interactions operate as modulators, something like interpersonal thermostats that continually reset key aspects of our brain function as they orchestrate our emotions. The resulting feelings have far-reaching consequences, in turn rippling throughout our body, sending out cascades of hormones that regulate biological systems from our heart to immune cells. Perhaps most astonishing, science now tracks connections between the most stressful relationships and the very operation of specific genes that regulate the immune system. To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mold not just our experience, but our biology. The brain-to-brain link allows our strongest relationships to shape us in ways as benign as whether we laugh at the same jokes or as profound as which genes are (or are not) activated in t-cells, the immune system’s foot soldiers in the constant battle against invading bacteria and viruses.”

That subject is fascinating to be sure; but, it is very different than what ListenLogic Chief Marketing Officer Mark Harrington thinks about when he discusses the term. Harrington thinks of the term “intelligence” in the information gathering sense of that word (i.e., think of the CIA). In his world, social intelligence is gleaning insights from the “billions upon billions of brand and product messages distributed across open channels and social networks everyday.” [“Five Reasons Marketers Need to Embrace Social Intelligence,” CMS Wire, 3 July 2013] Monitoring online chatter, he reports, is important because, “according to Dimensional Research, over 90 percent of consumers rely on independent online reviews of products and services as an integral aspect of their purchasing process.” As a result, Harrington asserts that marketers “need to get sophisticated and vigilant in their analysis and understanding of these messages and how they can harm or help their business.”


Kevin Glacken, Executive Vice President at ListenLogic, agrees with his colleague that the best marketing teams use social intelligence to protect and promote their business. “Many Marketing, Insight, Brand and Product teams are leading the charge within their organizations to extract true, actionable intelligence from the hype of ‘big data’,” he writes. “They are using advanced social intelligence, which is filled with unprecedented consumer insight, to set their strategies, guide their decision-making and drive innovation. While other teams wait and wonder if the promise of ‘big data’ will ever come to fruition, the ability to conduct digital consumer ethnography via real-time streaming ‘big data’ processing of billions of daily social discussions is revolutionizing how these groups understand, engage and win their markets.” [“Marketers Leading the Charge to Unlock Value from Big Data,” SmartData Collective, 13 July 2013] Glacken concludes:

“As the ‘Age of the Consumer’ progresses and consumers become more empowered with search engines, product comparisons and pricing tools, it is critical for Marketers to arm themselves with deep understanding of consumers and the decision points and factors they undertake en route to their purchases.”

As the headline of Harrington’s article states, he offers “five major reasons that marketers need to get serious about incorporating advanced social intelligence (ASI) into their strategies.” The first reason involves the simple notion that the world is now connected. He calls it “a streaming world.” He explains:

“It’s a streaming world that sees billions upon billions of real-time comments and conversations everyday from customers, employees, management, shareholders, suppliers, prospects, competitors, unions, activists, advocates, influencers, politicians, regulators and journalists, among many others, from all corners of the open social universe. Ignoring the relevant messages and corresponding influence within this intelligence is no longer a luxury for businesses given the wealth of insight it delivers to helping understand the current and coming forces, positive and negative, impacting on your business. … Incorporating advanced social intelligence into your marketing’s strategic planning framework opens up real-time, dynamic, multidimensional insight to build and optimize your corporate and product strategies as markets and landscapes shift in a streaming world, thus allowing your actions and strategy to mirror the real-time movements within the market.”

Most analysts agree that the clock speed at which business operates is getting faster each year. That is why real-time monitoring is also becoming more important. But real-time monitoring is only valuable if the collection and analysis system is capable of alerting decision-makers to potential problems or opportunities in near-real time as well. This is where cognitive reasoning computer systems can play an increasingly important role. Harrington’s second reason that marketers need to get serious about social intelligence involves the insights that can be drawn from real-team or near-real-time analysis. He writes:

“For years companies have relied on generating intelligence through surveys and focus groups, often building the strategies for millions on the opinions of dozens. Given the typical slow-moving approach, inherent bias and common methodology flaws with these approaches, many businesses have made bad decisions and developed poor strategies because of a lack of genuine market insight available to them. This is no longer the case for marketers today. Marketing and brand teams now have a wealth of deep insight about their industries, markets, products and competitors if they are merely willing to listen to the millions of open social discussions. No longer is there a need for flawed approaches of building a strategy based on the opinions of a few customers.”

Glacken agrees. “By analyzing millions upon millions of daily social conversations Marketers can understand their consumers like never before,” he writes. “Advanced social intelligence provides clarity on the detailed personas within consumer segments as well as the likes, dislikes, interests, actions, attitudes, and beliefs of each of these consumer personas.” That comment is a good segue to Harrington’s third reason to utilize social intelligence — unprecedented understanding. He explains:

“For years, a major focal point across the marketing organization has been to ‘know the customer.’ By actually listening via digital ethnography, marketing teams can understand shoppers, prospects, customers and consumers on multidimensional levels. This intelligence elevates segmentation to a new level with the ability to personify consumers based on their attitudes, opinions, actions and experiences shared across the open social universe.”

Harrington goes on to explain that social intelligence can also be used to construct “a specific customer journey … leading up to a purchase. With this understanding, marketers can influence these critical moments with promotions, messaging, education, channels, packaging or features.” His fourth reason for marketers to utilize social intelligence involves monitoring consumer sentiment. He writes:

“For years, sentiment or ‘buzz’ has been a primary driver for social monitoring. Unfortunately, this sentiment has been largely one-dimensional, simply telling if the market liked or disliked a brand with no actionable detail. The large issue has been that first generation tools have delivered questionable accuracy when it comes to sentiment. … Today by using ‘big data’ processing and sophisticated concept modeling to understand the infinite ways consumers speak, incredibly detailed sentiment analysis can be mapped.”

Because social intelligence is basically unstructured, natural language data, systems that can analyze natural language for its nuances and relationships is important for gaining critical insights. The final reason Harrington insists that marketers should use social intelligence is that it can help “crush” the competition. He explains:

“Aside from a deeper understanding of your markets, consumers and products, ASI can drive your competitive strategy both on deep inspection and real-time basis. Your enterprise can know your competitors better than they know themselves by understanding the issues, concerns, successes, flaws, strengths, weaknesses and decisions impacting and driving their business. Companies receiving this intelligence are using it to shape their strategic decision-making and tactical execution on a daily basis. If your competition is not going to listen to what the market is saying about them, then your business should seize that opportunity. This not only helps your organization gain a strategic upper hand with greater, more widespread market understanding, but also helps to shape your own decisions in beating the competition.”

Harrington concludes that the world will become more socially connected which will make social intelligence even more valuable. Glacken concludes:

“To effectively take full advantage of the wealth of intelligence within the billions of daily discussions across the open social universe Marketers are unlocking the value of ‘big social data’ with advanced ‘big data’ processing at over one billion streaming operations per second. These organizations have realized that simple, first-generation keyword tools provide ‘noisy’ results focused on questionable ‘buzz’ that often cannot be strategically acted on. Given the sheer volume of social commentary (billions of daily comments across millions of open source channels) achieving advanced social intelligence now requires a streaming ‘big data’ solution to keep pace with the volume, velocity, and variety of the social data. In many leading brands, Marketers are the ones leading the charge to transform ‘big data’ hype into reality. Doing so is not only possible and affordable, but critical to succeeding into today’s ‘Age of the Consumer’.”

Harrington and Glacken put forward a pretty compelling case for why social intelligence is growing in importance and why businesses would be foolish to avoid taking advantage of advanced systems that can properly analyze all of the data being generated on social channels.

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