Thursday, January 26, 2012

Do not depend on Facebook (alone) for customer insights

Diving deeper into one of the key areas where all enterprises can find value from integrating social media, customer profile enrichment with the social dimension can help several business functions.

Even though I have been thinking that companies need to maintain their own customer profiles, I got emboldened to take a stronger stance, by this white paper (Regn./PDF) from @gxsoftware on a related subject of avoiding over-dependence on external social networks like Facebook to gain deeper insights on their customers.

Though my headline has Facebook, this applies to all of external social media sources.

Factors to consider
Here are the factors you should consider in your customer profile building strategy:
  1. Your data needs may not be easily satisfied: Though the social networks do try and expose as much data as possible through APIs and Aggregators, you might not get the data in the most efficient manner for your specific needs. There are myriad restrictions on APIs (data volumes, number of calls at various levels like IP Address, App, API and User) which need to be negotiated through to get the data. Also, not every type of activity on the social network might be of interest to you.
  2. Privacy policies unclear and likely to toughen up: As Ray Wang lays out demands in his recent post, users are likely to press for better privacy controls on their favorite destinations like Facebook. In fact, there are startups offering fine grained user-driven privacy settings e.g. Diaspora. So you should realistically expect unpleasant surprises on non-availability of data that you assumed will be available forever!
  3. Data Ownership is also unclear: Even if you had the data available, the social media that hosts the data and/or the end-users may assert uncomfortable-sounding rights on the data and its permitted usage/storage etc. This may lead to expensive workarounds/solutions to adhere to these rules if you haven't taken care to design it upfront.
  4. Data access may become pricey: Finally, even as you work through these issues, you might end up staring at steep fees to access the data. After all, Facebook and the like will monetize the data in as many avenues as they can (advertising, data access, etc). 
The WP lists a few other factors like losing competitive advantage since everyone can get the same data access - these are valid factors too but they are almost a given in the social world.

What can you do?
As you might have realized, many of the factors are beyond the enterprise's control. So the enterprise should have a plan of action to mitigate the downsides. Some of the elements in that plan could be:
  1. Start Listening now: Even as the privacy and data ownership rules continue to toughen up (and they should), you should be collecting as much data as possible (while of course still adhering to the T&C's of the social media!) by engaging with customers and listening to their activity streams. Start your social media integration journey now.
  2. Look at a policy-driven enterprise social platform: As you start listening, remember the value of an enterprise-wide platform leveraged by multiple business functions for multiple use cases. One of the first issues you will have to solve is to gain connectivity to the social media (see factor#1). In a subsequent post, I will describe the challenges in this area and what to look for in a possible solution. The platform should ideally have policy-driven (and automated) models pertaining to data ownership, access rights and storage restrictions e.g. you should be able to dynamically model a source as having members-only access with data storage restrictions on certain fields in the incoming data. The platform should be able to enforce the data access and data archival based on these settings. At scale, poilcy-driven automation is key.
  3. Create your own Enterprise Social Graph: We shouldn't expect others to do the heavy lifting for our business needs. You should evaluate how you can mashup enterprise and social dimensions for your key entities like Customers, Products and Suppliers. If you already have a MDM-based Customer/Product Hub, it would provide an ideal platform for this. What you might end up with is a logical graph which captures the dense relationships between and among these entities. Ideally, all your business cases should be able to query this graph to get the required information. This is truly Big Data territory - a salivating possibility for another post!
  4. Invest in community building: Now that your customers see enough value in engaging with you across multiple channels (mainly social media since it is ubiquitous), you should be able to invite them to participate in your own communities or at least on forums where you have access and maybe even ownership of all the data. The data access terms are now more favorable to you.
  5. Leverage this graph in CEM and PLM: The Enterprise Social Graph can now be even more relevant and enriched with very detailed customer profile information. The rich profiles that this graph provides for your customers and products is ripe for leveraging in improving the customer experience and your products.
What is your take on how the data access situation will play out in the medium-term? Where are you storing / planning to store the social dimension of your customers and products?

Ram Subramanyam Gopalan - Product Management at Informatica
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Views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily represent those of Informatica.

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