The universe now contains a lot of social data. This article is about general approaches to turning social data into social results. (It was the topic of a Social Media Today expert thinkers webinar.)

Humans are peculiar creatures: what time they do not spend socializing, they spend monitoring themselves and collecting infinite volumes of data about their own behavior. The result is what we call...

The Vast Social Data Miasma

social media channels

So how do we use this swirling data cesspool to provide meaningful business insights?

For that we need a general framework:

The Three Keys to the Gates of Data Nirvana

1. Solid Data (accurate and complete)
 
2. Sensible Questions (well-defined and meaningful)
 
3. Rational Interpretation (objective and informed)
 

Since we already have Key #1 covered, it becomes Questions and Interpretation that are most critical in extracting value from social data. The challenge is, however, that every brand, every business, every product, every audience is a unique snowflake floating in the endless social snowfield. And hence, although there are many useful generalizations, the precise best Questions to ask, and the exact Interpretation that applies, remains specific to every situation.

Key #2 is an often under-served aspect of data analysis. Sometimes people expect data to simply sing answers to them, without anyone having to think too much about it. Instead, deeply considering the questions that a business wants to answer is usually the most important part of the process.

We think of the Questions as residing on a Pyramid of Data Inquiry, with the deeper, more "existential" questions forming the base, through to the more questions at the tip.

The Pyramid of Data Inquiry

social data 

Interestingly, the evolution of inquiry about Facebook Posts also tracks the evolution of social media as a component of marketing budgets generally.

Next we can give some further insight as to how we use the Data we have to answer these various types of Questions.

What response do my posts get?

ROI

[From the white paper "Optimizing Facebook Engagement".]

 

Is the response to my posts good? 

social strategy

[From a client competitive study. Brand names withheld.]

Are my posts worthwhile?

social media marketing

[From a client performance report.]

Don't let pretty charts fool you!

Finally, we come to Key #3: Interpretation.

You can make a sexy chart about anything. Well, we can. But data always requires context, always makes assumptions, always has uncertainty - and hence always requires Interpretation.

While this is a topic worthy of an entire website, our general guidance is that the more broad and general the questions (i.e., the further down the pyramid you go) the less certain the results become, and the more open to interpretation they become.

All inquiry is valid. We use Track Social to answer questions at all levels of the Data Inquiry Pyramid. However, it is also important to understand that not everything is knowable -- and at the level of Existential Questions, social data is sometimes only able to provide directional guidance to humans, who then have to make decisions with human brains.