Unlocking Social Data – The Key to Understanding Your Communities

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at Tech Fest 2014 during London Technology Week about social data within the events industry. The video is now available to watch here. But if you don’t have a spare 18 minutes today, here’s what I talked about…

Data from social media is incredibly rich and can reveal crucial information about your event communities, helping predict the trends which will affect your show in the future and enable you to make those critical decisions faster. Social data is fascinating stuff as it can provide us with real-time, actionable customer intelligence. Put simply, it’s the best piece of customer insight that you never commissioned.

Despite being in a digital format, don’t confuse social data with machine data. Machine data includes things like web analytics, user logs, clicks which, while they can tell us about what a user is doing, they don’t give us the why, they don’t give a deeper insight into what our communities are thinking or feeling.

Social data on the other hand is much richer as it enables us to tap into the trends, patterns, thoughts and feelings of our communities. It’s straight from the horse’s mouth, it’s what people are saying about themselves and their experiences.

We can break social data down in to main segments, sentiment and profile data.

  • Sentiment relates to what people are saying about your brand, industry, or specific topic. This data could be telling you how your customers have arrived at a purchase decision, how they’re feeling about your brand, or what products you could be developing for them in the future.
  • Profile data is what people are signalling about themselves through their profile and connections. This data is super exciting as it’s highly accurate and can give you a more rounded view of an individual customer or segment.

In an industry where people come to our events with the primary of objective of being social, we can really start to use this data to our advantage.

For example, social data can tell us:

  • What our communities are talking about – which speakers, topics, sessions, exhibitors were they interested in?
  • What was missing from the show? What were people talking about which wasn’t covered by the agenda?
  • Who are our most influential participants?
  • How are our attendees connected to one another?

We can then use this information to:

  • Invite our influencers as VIPs to the show
  • Discount the price of a booth – or upsell
  • Change the showfloor layout
  • Shape the programme for next year
  • Targeted and personalised marketing

At UBM we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible with social data. It certainly hasn’t been easy to get where we are and we’ve still got a long way to go. Like many exhibition companies we realised that digital had changed things for us.  The increased connectivity our communities have with one another and with the content they need, there was a real risk that we could be superseded.

Therefore, we knew that we needed to better understand the challenges our customers are facing and to be as responsive as possible to the needs of the community. While we’ve long been using traditional surveys to try and get the information and feedback about our shows, social data is really starting to give as the edge. It’s live, it’s real-time, and in the main it’s honest and unbiased. In essence, it’s helping us put the customer right at the heart of everything we do.

We’re currently using two main tools to capture and analyse our social data.

We believe that Twitter is the strongest platform for the social data around our events; the platform is conversational, real-time and most importantly, open. As a result we’re using GleanIn’s Twitter marketing tool to get us the community insight we need. By proactively collecting the Twitter handles of our speakers, exhibitors and pre-reg we’re able to build up an in-depth picture of our show community. We can start to see the why and the who not just the what – from why people are registering to who’s influencing attendance.

The second social string to our bow is our show Apps. Within the app people are able to create a personalised agenda, check into seminars, rate and review speakers, network with other attendees, and submit posts and contributions to the live stream. The data we get provides us with an additional layer of data, which once combined with our Twitter data starts to give us an honest appraisal of the show from which to draw more accurate conclusions.         

GleanIn has helped us discover a couple of interesting things about the communities we have around our events:

  • There are a lot of Twitter users who are following two or more of our speakers and exhibitors. These are great visitor prospects for us as they’re obviously interested in the subjects, topics and products on offer at the show.
  • Once people have registered for the show and are following one or more of our speakers or exhibitors on Twitter, these people have a higher rate of conversion to going from a pre registered visitor to onsite attendee than those who don’t.

Both these facts tell us that if we can get our speakers and exhibitors to talk about us to their followers, not only do we increase our pre reg prospects but that our overall conversion rate is going to go up to – and that’s something we are able to measure, prove and act on (An example of this from our TFM&A event is our speaker Dave Chaffey, which you can read more about here). This kind of advanced reporting is currently helping us to shape our content programmes, identify and target influencers, monitor real-time sentiment around the show, and be proactive in our decision making.

We’re also just starting to experiment with social registration, which not only makes the registration process a smoother user experience, but also adds a layer of social proof – the positive influence created when someone finds out that others are doing something. This can be as simple as encouraging your pre-reg to share the fact they’ve just registered with their networks, influencing more people to register. Or to highlight to your pre-reg who else they know if going to the event by harvesting about their connections, helping to influence on site conversion. All of which is helping us to drive pre-reg and improve our onsite conversion rates.

I’m not going to lie, we are still facing challenges in getting social data to work as hard and as effectively as possible for us. Our biggest challenges centre around our legacy customer database which makes it difficult to be as responsive and agile as we’d like to be when it comes to social data. The additional data which we’re able to capture through social, such as interests, work history, connections, and sentiment does not always fit with our existing fields and is constantly changing. And because of this we’re not currently able to combine our social data with our CRM data to get a truly 360 view of the customer.

However, social data does now form part of our wider customer intelligence strategy. Our next steps on the journey involve working with business intelligence specialists to help us aggregate all of the insight we get across the business – manual reporting such as surveys, financials, machine data, and all the social stuff into an active intelligence engine – helping us to really visualise and understand what’s actually happening across our communities.

Social data is the future. Whether it’s implementing a strategy to better understand what content your communities prefer to receive, what’s driving conversions from your social audience, listening to conversations about your market to improve new product development, linking the buzz of a particular event, conversation or single tweet to an uplift in sales, or delivering a better customer service, big data from social media can do all of those things. 

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