We live in a digital world or rather ‘social digital’ world. This is because so many of us have taken to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites/tools that this has become an obsession to many.  

Obviously, the huge social media traffic has provided companies an unprecedented opportunity to showcase and message themselves. Marketers and bankers have happily followed the traffic. Now every company has a social media strategy, mostly directed at messaging and feeling the pulse of the customers.  I often think many companies have a strategy more as a ‘place holder’  than to deduce any ‘monetizable’  intelligence ( if there is no such word, I have coined one!).

How are retailers using social intelligence? Retailers arguably have the largest presence on social media and have successfully used it to build brand recognition by driving traffic to their sites. Yet, many big retailers had negative return on their investments on social media sites since ‘likes’ often did not result in purchase. Definitely this is not the end of retailers’ social media adventure. I do expect sharper social analytics will help craft a renewed and financially sustainable strategy in the near future. Why? The traffic is simply too finger licking good to ignore.  So do expect more here.

How are banks using social intelligence? Definitely banks have made some headway in extracting actionable risk intelligence from social data. For example, to detect fraudulent loan applicants, some banks now seek to cross-match applicants’ personal details like date of birth, location, photos etc. with social data that is readily available from Facebook, Twitter etc. Mismatches are subject to greater /manual scrutiny.

Risk managers and collection agencies can identify social network behavior of customers whose payment behavior is already known. We can use the same analytical paradigm by taking a set of existing customers (known behavior) and matching it with social networking data – travels (location), payment transactions etc  to glean insights. For example we can track delinquent customers’ travels and see if their delayed payments arise from travel and travel related splurges.  Frequent holiday travel / vacation data emanating from social network intelligence can alert lenders to proactively minimize / reduce / freeze credit lines. The legal and regulatory ramifications of such actions are unclear and will be tested in courts or when regulators take a stand.  But it is well known that Banks have used, are using and will not hesitate to use customer intelligence in creative ways to manage their profitability.

While social analytics is gaining ground, my personal view is that overall impact of social intelligence today has been a mixed bag of success. One key reason is that the extant social analytics tool kit is evolving. Often we find we are not able to garner cool, actionable, disruptive intelligence because we don’t know what to do with this ocean of social data. But that is changing and better tools are coming into the market.

A new paper published by McKinsey points out that social intelligence is now playing a powerful role in helping companies gain strategic insights and develop competitive strategy. New tools are helping social analytics teams to look into user groups, user forums etc. and catch up on what customers are complaining about.

A talented social analytics team can piece together information on competitor’s new product strategies!  How?  If you listen closely to Twitter chatters, technical help forums etc. , there is wealth of ‘confidential’ information.  For example, techies while seeking help on complex problems they are trying to solve, inadvertently let the cat out of the bag.  That gives you the ‘what’ in the puzzle. Cross matching this user forum posts information / twitter handles with face book or Linkedin can lead to ‘who’ and ‘where’ puzzle pieces. Now thinking social analysts can collate the ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘where’ and come up with missing pieces. The paper says it is often surprisingly easy to get at confidential information on competitors by deploying appropriate social analytics tools. 

Well, this is scary for companies and do expect more restrictions on employees after the CEOs have taken the time to read this paper.  Behind this emerging scenario is the hidden hand of intelligent social analytics.