What is Social Media Analytics?

How social media analytics differs from social media intelligence and social media engagement

Social media isn’t just about collecting Facebook “likes” anymore”, says Danny Bradbury, and we couldn’t agree more.

Social media platforms – such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr – are a public ‘worldwide forum for expression’, where billions of people connect and share their experiences, personal views, and opinions about everything from vacations to live events.
But social media isn’t just a place for individuals to connect with each other. It’s also a place for brands and customers to interact. The growth of these platforms has provided companies a new source of consumer insights on which to base their strategies: social conversations. Through social media analytics, businesses have the opportunity to listen, dig into these conversations and understand what people are saying online to make better-informed decisions.
But first…

What is Social Media Analytics (SMA)?

Of all the definitions for ‘Social Media Analytics’, Gohfar F. Khan’s hit the nail on the head. In his Seven Layers of Social Media book, he defined social media analytics as “the art and science of extracting valuable hidden insights from vast amounts of semistructured and unstructured social media data to enable informed and insightful decision making”.
Many organizations don’t listen to social conversations because of the overwhelming amount of available data; however, there are certain tools that specialize in capturing and interpreting this conversation online, making it easier to separate valuable signals from social media noise. These tools can crawl most social media channels, including anything from the main social networks to forums, news sites, and blogs.
Within organizations, different people and departments have diverse reasons for leveraging social insights. Some of the different use cases include:

Whether you are knowledgeable of these terms or not, you’ve probably heard the term ‘social media analytics’ used interchangeably with ‘social media listening’ and ‘social media intelligence’, but they aren’t exactly the same. Next, we will outline the differences between these overlapping terms.

Social Media Analytics vs. Social Media Listening vs. Social Media Intelligence

Social Media Monitoring (SMM)

Often called ‘social media listening’, social media monitoring is the ongoing process of using social media channels to track and gather what the audience is saying – a hashtag, a keyword, or other terms – about a brand or its competitors.
As The Future Place states, monitoring can be active, for example searching for specific brand mentions, or passive, like listening to the audience to find out their interests.
Think of McDonald’s new campaign introducing their new preservative-free chicken nuggets. Both McDonald’s and the agency responsible for their ad “A Better Chicken McNugget” would rely on SMM to track surface-level metrics to measure their new campaign. These vanity metrics, such as number of likes, shares, or retweets can be used to assess basic engagement and campaign performance, without looking for deep understanding of the social conversation around McNuggets and its context.

Photo Credit: McDonalds

As a summary, SMM consists of identifying and collecting useful data, with no means of categorizing or understanding it. Therefore, no insights can be derived at this listening stage.

Social Media Intelligence (SMI)

Social media intelligence encompasses monitoring social media, collecting and analyzing the content, and using the resulting insights to inform the strategy. Basically, SMI uses both social media monitoring and analytics to derive strategic solutions.

Social Media Analytics: Omniscience

Social media analytics is an exercise in omniscience, not omnipotence. Before we begin drilling into why, here are the definitions for both:

  • Omniscience: knowing everything; having unlimited understanding or knowledge
  • Omnipotence: having complete or unlimited power

Social media is a place where users can talk freely without having to filter themselves. This is why SMA is omniscient and not omnipotent: it gains unlimited understanding or knowledge about a certain topic, but doesn’t need to participate or control these social conversations. What we mean when we say “omniscient SMA”, we refer to the analysis of unsolicited conversations on social media, without the intent of interfering or responding to them.
Think of it this way: Batman is omniscient and Superman is omnipotent. Although most companies want to assimilate themselves to a God-like character with unlimited power like Superman, Batman is more intelligent, relatable and versatile in his job.

“Superman is too busy saving the world, so Batman needs to focus on street level crime.” The Artifice
Photo Credit: Warner Bros

Social Media Analysis vs. Social Media Engagement

Organizations can’t control the social conversation because social media is largely unsolicited.
Unlike traditional focus groups, social media analysis extracts insights from unsolicited conversations without the added bias of direct contact by listening and understanding from an outside perspective, without trying to be part of the conversation.
Photo Credit: UXDesign
On the other hand, social media engagement (i.e. interacting with customers, prospects, and influencers on social networks) involves a two-way conversation; with engagement, there’s a ‘personal’ interaction between brands and their fans. When engaging with customers, brands can reach out to customers to remediate any issues they might have found through social monitoring.
Therefore, social media analysis and social media engagement are not the same. Ultimately, social media analysis is about listening, not managing the conversation.
Even if brands know how social media analysis works, where should they start? Find out how brands can use social media analytics to get valuable insights by downloading our guide here:

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