Simon Small: Consider the humans behind social data.

By Roger Christie

Simon Small is Director of Solutions, Support and Marketing at Lexer — an Australian technology business. Here he discusses the digital and data literacy gap in many Australian organisations, and the need to surface the human aspects of each digital interaction.

Roger Christie (RC): Thanks for talking with us today, Simon. As it happens, you’re actually our first interviewee from the wonderful world of technology and data, so I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective on the opportunities for social.

Now, to set the scene for those who don’t know Lexer, could you tell us a little bit about the business and, in particular, your approach to ‘human data’, which is a little unique in this market?

Simon Small (SS): Human data means understanding and engaging with humans individually, with rich, nuanced information about each customer and prospect, driving personalisation across service and sales that is relevant, timely and personalised.

The challenge with many data sets today is they are either disconnected, incomplete, or massively underutilised because they aren’t unified to a single view of each customer and prospect. That’s what we aim to solve, with our data and products.

RC: What’s so important about social data in that ecosystem? Why should businesses look at this particular data set with interest, and how should it align with other data sets?

SS: When you combine purchase history, email engagement, social interactions and research data from Roy Morgan or Experian, you can build a really powerful picture of who someone is. Social, in particular, is interesting as it’s real-time, unprompted and demonstrates that someone is clearly interested in a topic or brand.

RC: One of the complaints or criticisms we often hear with clients — as I’m sure you do — is the ‘noise’ around social data. It’s unclean, unstructured and — at worst — untrue. Considering these common gripes, how do you advise businesses make the most of social data?

SS: First understand what you are trying to achieve, define your hypothesis and questions, then bring together data sources that could answer those theories. An important step is cleaning and unifying that data, so look for certain behaviours that might infer an interest, attitude or behaviour.

We apply deterministic analysis to each social interaction someone has publicly to translate a 140–280 maybe — tweet with an image and location into numerous attributes about that person. Were they away from their normal location? Which brands did they interact with? Does it infer life stage or family make up?

Because we don’t see high accuracy in probabilistic methods we don’t identify sentiment, or tone, or anything we can’t confidently determine.

Once you have this unified view of your data and clean attributes from messy data, you can begin analysis and modelling to answer the questions you have about your customers, prospects and business as a whole.

RC: Do you think we have the skills required in key industry roles to make sense and use of social data? Or are businesses shying from hiring specialists as, you could argue, the value returned from most social initiatives is yet to justify further investment?

SS: The broader issue is a lack of capability and capacity in translating human data into actionable customer engagement. Clients are overwhelmed with data of all kinds and are busy trying to maintain BAU, launch products, drive sales and brand, all with small budgets. There are people with the skills to analyse social data, but when you combine it with CRM, ecommerce, sales and retail data it starts to get very complex, time consuming and can become a burden.

We’re seeing social as a service channel continue to outstrip traditional channels in cost and customer satisfaction. When it comes to sales and revenue generation, it can be done poorly and well — we’re seeing clients achieve higher ROI in social versus SEM, for example. The challenge with social is often scale: while high reach can be achieved, it’s impact on brand perception and lead generation is often capped, so brands continue to rely on traditional mediums like TV and outdoor, although we’re seeing them evolve rapidly into digital.

We believe if you engage with a current or potential customer across all channels in the right way at the right time using human data — not cookie data — all channels complement each other and all deliver powerful ROI.

RC: Do you think Australia has a ‘data literacy’ problem at either a practitioner or executive level?

SS: Yes, but it’s improving dramatically. Five years ago, data scientists were a new concept that everyone was crying out for, leaders and executives relied on traditional data, or none at all. We’ve seen a massive shift in both intention and implementation of programs that put customer data at the centre of a business.

The biggest challenge organisations face, as always, is technology orchestration, getting systems and data to work together in a way that people across marketing, CX and digital teams can access and utilise easily in their day-to-day. Few have solved this, but I’m seeing more effort, top to bottom, being put into this area than ever before.

RC: Another challenge isn’t just the ability to capture and interpret social data, but the ability to distribute it to those parts of the business it’s most needed. And to then work with those individual stakeholder groups to create value from the data — what we call ‘social intelligence’ and a key social capability for organisations today.

So, while we focus a lot on capturing data, would you say businesses get much more value from what is actually done with the data? And, if so, what skills or qualities are most important for social leads to possess to ensure their organisations see value from social data?

SS: This is something very important to us — democratising data. If the data isn’t in the hands of people who can make decisions and take action with it, the data is useless. It should be almost instantly available, able to be manipulated, analysed and distributed for action by everyone who is delivering customer engagement. That’s something we’ve worked hard on, building a platform that anyone in an organisation can use, with data that can be worked and then sent to any part of a client’s marketing or CX tech stack.

Want to target an audience to drive sales this month? Build that audience, analyse it, make it bigger, change your strategy and messaging and execute all within minutes, not weeks. So many organisations still have to request data from another team, wait two days…or two weeks — that’s too slow.

RC: What are your views on ‘digital command centres’ — are they more promotional than a genuinely valuable resource for businesses? Is the data they capture an enabler of business performance or an end in itself? And should practitioners then be focusing on communicating the outcomes supported or delivered through social data rather than the process?

SS: Yes, it can become a bit promotional, but sometimes that helps to draw attention to the data, its relevance and timeliness. Equally, sometimes it has a negative effect. It really comes down to the use of the data. Managing risk, monitoring a campaign performance or feedback, tracking competitors, looking at service response loads or times, can all be valuable dashboards. Many times people present things that look nice, but don’t mean anything.

RC: What are some of the best examples you’ve seen of social data used to address business challenges?

SS: We’re seeing lots of value with clients overlaying social data with customer data to inform sponsorship and TV buying strategies, optimise their spend in these areas, and setup the right partnerships.

There are also many who manage risk to stay on top of crises, engage with people directly, work with corporate affairs to manage it and stay on top of the latest incidents, but it’s what you don’t see that’s the measure of success here.

RC: And finally, what are some of the common challenges businesses face when trying to access and utilise social data? What’s your advice to those looking to deliver business value from this new source?

SS: It’s overwhelming. There’s lots of noise and it’s hard to know what it all means. Start with the key questions you have or problems you’re trying to overcome, filter out the noise, look at your competitors and influencers, then look at ways this human data can help inform or solve your key challenges.

RC: Thanks for your insights, Simon.

This was the seventh interview in Propel’s Expert Series featuring Simon Small — Director of Solutions, Support and Marketing at Lexer. Simon can be found on Twitter and LinkedIn if you would like to follow up any topics raised in his interview. The Expert Series will continue soon, and aims to showcase the breadth of business opportunities and value available to organisations by focusing on social capabilities, not social media channels. If you have an interviewee recommendation, please contact our Managing Director, Roger.