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Making sense of social media: new intelligence for strategy leaders

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Social media is changing the way we communicate. Sites such as Facebook and Twitter give individuals and groups across the world the opportunity to connect with each other and forge new communities as never before. 

The same phenomenon is also changing our sense of self. Millions of people now choose to live their lives in a very public, online arena, using social media to share images and conversations with ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ they have never met in person. In doing so, they are shaping a new type of society.

Threats and opportunities – for society and business

How these developments will change our world is not yet clear. But, just as social media has the potential to be both a positive and a negative force in society, so it brings both opportunities and threats for businesses.

The World Economic Forum report, ‘Global Risks 2013’, for example, highlights the speed at which misleading or provocative information can spread virally via social media – and the consequences of this – as a significant and growing risk. Many businesses are already alert to the damage that conversations on social media can cause to their reputations and are taking action to manage this. Fewer businesses though are aware of the opportunities social media offers and of how they can use the data generated by social media for commercial advantage.

New business intelligence for strategy leaders

Expert analysis and interpretation of the billions of social media conversations being generated online every second can give businesses new, rapid and extraordinarily accurate insight into the markets they operate in, the customers they serve and the companies they compete against. 'Social intelligence' (the business intellegence derived from this analysis), when used to complement established research techniques, offers business leaders a superior platform for both tactical decision-making and strategy development.

These were the key themes to emerge at a dinner hosted by PA at its London headquarters. Strategy directors from around 15 leading organisations attended to hear Baroness Susan Greenfield present her insight into the impact of 21st-century technologies, such as social media, on the brain. 

To find out more about our programme of events for business leaders, contact us now.

The British scientist explained how each human brain develops in response to the unique stimuli presented by the surrounding environment. She argued, therefore, that as people spend more and more time in online worlds – where experience is two- rather than three-dimensional, and only the senses of sight and sound are fully engaged – the human brain will inevitably change. 

She went on to warn of the danger of new technologies, including social media, creating a society where people become more isolated and less empathetic, and urged society to use new technologies to create an environment that enables human beings to fulfill their potential more fully.

Following Baroness Greenfield’s presentation, guests heard from PA experts in social intelligence and predictive technologies, who talked about how businesses can develop social intelligence to capitalise on the opportunities social media presents.

Social intelligence for commercial advantage

First acknowledging the need for businesses to protect themselves from the threat arising from social media, PA went on to outline four key ways businesses can use business intelligence derived from social media to profit:

Understand: Find out what customers really think about your products and services, and what they want from you in future. For example, by monitoring social media conversations, an international pharmaceuticals company was able to identify the potential for a secondary use for one of its products, and to plan and execute the successful launch of this new product.

Innovate: Bring people together online in collaborative communities to harness their brain power and find solutions to your toughest challenges. This technique, known as crowdsourcing, was used by Pfizer to find a way to fold protein and achieve a breakthrough in its research into a cure for HIV/AIDS.

Influence: Spread positive opinions about your products through social media’s viral networks. A global cosmetics company used social media to amplify the voice of customers who already loved its products. It found this technique far more effective in persuading people to try and buy its products than its traditional approach of offering product samples.

Predict: Pick up early signals that show how customers and markets will behave in future. A major hotel chain, for example, used social intelligence to predict its own and competitors’ occupancy rates three months in advance (the industry standard is 21 days) and adjusted its pricing accordingly to secure a greater share of the market.

Following PAs presentation, guests shared their own experiences of social media in a business context. What became clear is that many businesses are still unsure about how they should respond to social media, and are unclear about how they can capitalise on it. PA believes that business intelligence derived from social media will become an increasingly important tool in helping business leaders develop effective strategy in a world transformed by digital technology.

To talk to us about using social intelligence to gain commercial advantage, contact us now.

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