With the rise of social media, today’s businesses are able to access more information about their customers than ever before.  People are constantly blogging, commenting, and tweeting their opinions to the public.  Though most of this information is topical, these posts are retrievable by companies through data mining, and can be converted into useful information through a variety of analytical techniques.  Data mining can give a company insight into how the public views them, and in turn can be used to develop business strategy.  The data mining of social media websites keeps companies active in the conversations regarding their products and services without having to be the ones directly asking the questions.  It is a form of market research that is not dependent on prompts and, therefore, limits the response bias associated with surveying and other traditional forms of market research. Traditional forms of market research oftentimes can not yield the same results as companies who use this specific data mining technique centered around the abundance of social media and publicly available information.

For many companies, a presence on social media is seen only as a way to market products, and establish relationships with current and potential customers.  Through the use of data mining, however, social media can be used to analyze the market for trends and opportunities.  Some websites, such as Twitter, encourage users to use hashtags to emphasize key words and phrases.  When sifting through large data sets (such as a live Twitter feed) these hashtags make it easy to pick out important words.  Businesses can see which key words and phrases are used in combination with the name of the company or individual products in order to analyze the opinions of their customers.  A common way to visualize this text data is through a word cloud, which makes frequently used words larger than less common words as a way of determining relevance.

Although there is a plethora of information that can be obtained through social media, much of it is irrelevant to business decisions.  The challenge with big data is transforming it into usable information; trends in public opinion can be determined through different types of data analysis. Through sentiment analysis, which involves ranking key words according to positive or negative connotation, a company can decipher how people feel about their products and services.  This allows a company to find areas for improvement and other opportunities. For example searching for the word "terrible" when used in the same text string as the company name can be used to aggregate negative information about your company which can then be used to determine solutions to solve grievances.  Location analysis can be used to look for regional trends by looking at the location data associates with bits of information. For example if your company runs a location analysis for where people are talking about your product and allocating marketing dollars to that region to reach more consumers  Moreover, these and other techniques can be used to look for successes and weaknesses in the business strategy of competitors.
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Ken Ballard

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