Why big data & innovative thinking in your social team is the real “next big thing”

Johnny McGinley this month argues that it is this fast rate of change in the industry has led to our fixation on what “the next big thing in digital” will be.

While focusing on future technological developments is essential in the digital age we live in, to gain competitive advantage, in this increasingly technology driven world we can be in danger of forgetting the fundamentals of social media.

Social media at its core is about a brand and SME engaging with stakeholders online in a meaningful way that strengthens and enhances positive brand sentiment. Social media is therefore, I believe, first and foremost a social science about how people behave and interact online rather than a pure technological science or discipline.

This poses some key questions for us to consider. How in an environment of rapid change in digital and social media can brands and SMEs use technology to build positive brand sentiment and equity? What is the key to this at the strategic level? How can we bring advances in technology back to the fundamental principle of meaningful engagement on social media with brand stakeholders?

I believe there are two elements to this which will be the key to success going forward. The first is big data which is receiving much attention in the industry at the moment. ComScore revealed recently that 92 per cent of the world’s data was created in the past 2 years. Data is created by humans. If data is created by humans it is telling a story of real actions from real people. And analysing that data (analytics) is what provides valuable insight that a brand can use to build stronger stakeholder relations, gain competitive advantage and drive sales. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that retailers could realise a 60 per cent increase in their operating margins through the smart use of big data. Sounds good so what is the problem?

The problem is that analysing that data takes time. And if it takes time it means an investment of resources (both human and financial) is required by an SME or brand. So to secure that investment a business case has to be made and the top management team have to understand and be committed heavily to digital. There almost has to be a digital culture in the business from the top down and in the UK and Europe (compared perhaps to the USA) more work I feel needs to be done on this. Going forward analytics teams and software to mine that data for customer behaviour insights will become a big thing but many brands and businesses need to prepare now to get ahead of the game in digital. Adobe Marketing cloud is a good piece of software which I have used but there are of course others on the market.

The second element to making social media a success going forward is fostering and driving innovative thinking in the social media engagement team don’t just focus on training them on the latest digital media developments. Why is this? Because I would argue that anyone can learn the fundamentals of social media with the right social media training. You can teach someone the admin controls of a Facebook page and how to use Facebook and Twitter. But what will differentiate your social media engagement efforts from your competitors is continually building and developing the creative abilities of your social media staff. It is creative and innovative thinking by individuals combined with social media knowledge that is the true recipe for success in social media engagement. Many businesses will focus on training their social media team on the latest technology and developments in social. They can perhaps often focus less on softer skills such as developing creative and innovation skills in staff. This in itself though raises another important and interesting question. How do we encourage more innovative and creative thinking in employees? Can someone for example be trained to think more innovatively?

While levels of creative and innovative thinking are subjective and vary from individual to individual I do believe simple things can bring about a more creative mind-set in a social media team that a brand can benefit from. Two such ideas are given below to consider:

Idea one:
Build regular collaborative thinking and brainstorming sessions into your social media team meetings. There are employees in businesses that have ideas but keep them to themselves for a variety of reasons. When they are in a collective group however, they will likely feel an increased need to contribute to the group. It is psychological. People want to be heard in a group setting because they do not want to be seen as the silent one who did not contribute to the group. They will draw on the ideas of others in the group and think about those ideas in their own minds to add a new angle or something new to what has been suggested in my experience. Encourage this in your brand or business culture.

Idea two:
A busy mind is an unproductive mind. Often good ideas come to people when they are in a relaxed state and their mind is not overly occupied. So have regular “time out” sessions in your social media team. Google do this exceptionally well they have the 20% time rule where employees can spend time on personal ideas each week. Also strange as this may sound relaxation techniques has been shown to help foster innovative thinking. Encourage your social media staff to come up with new ideas for social campaigns and allocate a small amount of time each week for them to take time out to do this. If you do you stand to gain competitive advantage over your competitors from new innovative ideas that may come out of such sessions and perhaps even “go viral” online.

So to conclude:
We live in a rate of rapid change in the social and digital media industry. In this environment of high technological change we can focus on what the next big thing in digital will be. I argue that we should understand and keep in mind that social and digital media is more of a social science than about the technology developments. It is first and foremost about understanding how people behave and interact online and then aligning your behaviour and stakeholder engagement strategies as a brand to exploit that to be ahead of competitors. That is the first part of the equation.

The second part of the equation is big data. Mining online consumer data from your digital efforts for meaningful insights into consumer and stakeholder behaviour online that will drive a deeper insight and understanding that you can capitalise on as an SME brand.