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Social Media Analytics and Its Place in Management Education

Business schools can teach the power of the technology and stress its ethical application

Friday, August 30, 2019

By Sanjay Fuloria and Nupur Pavan Bang

There is a surfeit of social media data available for anyone who cares to generate insights and use it for legitimate (or illegitimate) purposes. However, to capture the data in the best possible manner and to get the desired outcome, one must know what to look for and where.

Space, time, content and network are the four key dimensions of data collected or information disseminated through social media. But how does one capture and analyze these? Are the management graduates and post-graduates of today equipped to make the most of this data? The point we will try to make is that social media analytics can be used for making positive impact on business outcomes and hence must be introduced in B-schools as an elective.

Calculating the impact of company marketing campaigns is one such use. In order to do this, questions about the brand could be asked on any of the social media platforms such as Twitter. These questions could generate a lot of discussion about the brand. Then, the company that has launched the product can measure sentiments through the discussions. Twitter metrics like engagement rate, potential impressions, geographical locations, tweet frequency, hashtag usage, top tweets, and followers' activities can be measured. All this would give a fair idea about the success or failure of the marketing campaign.

Social media analytics can help organizations learn from their competitors. By analyzing the social media activity of competitors, organizations can understand what new product launches are happening, how the customers are reacting, what are the good/bad product features, the kinds of complaints customers have, etc. This analysis could lead to prevention of similar mistakes by the company that is analyzing the data.

The use of social media in trading and investing is well documented. In financial markets, information and the speed of information is the key. Short-run movements in the Dow Jones average can be quite accurately predicted through the sentiments expressed in tweets, thereby giving an edge to traders able to make such predictions.

Soft and Hard Skills

On the jobs front, analysis of social media sites like LinkedIn could help users comprehend the types of jobs that are aplenty. They could also help indicate supply and demand for various skills in the jobs market. This kind of social media analytics could be most useful to MBA students who are about to get into a full-time career.

A quick search on the internet for most sought-after soft skills that companies are looking for in 2019 are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. The most in-demand hard skills are cloud computing, artificial intelligence, analytical reasoning, and user interface design.

Another important aspect of business that could be strengthened by the right use of social media analytics is problem resolution. If a customer complains about a product or service on social media, the company should try to resolve the issue in a timely manner, in real time if practically possible. If the social media analytics reveals a sizeable number of complaints about the same service or the same feature, then the company can take stronger action to rectify the problem: changing/correcting the feature, replacing the person handling the issue, or maybe even re-launching the product/service with improved performance.

Management Initiative

In all this, the management professionals in any organization would play a key role, as they are the decision-makers. If they understand how to use social media analytics, then the job for any organization would become easier.

Any analytics starts with defining objectives clearly, asking the right questions, collecting the right data, analyzing the data and, finally, gathering insights from the analysis. The two most important links in the analytics value chain are clear objectives and asking the right questions. If these two aspects can be somehow hard-wired into the brains of management professionals, right from their MBA days, the outcomes would be better.

MBA curriculums have many analytical subjects these days. Introducing social media analytics into the curriculum would be an added advantage. The topics to be covered should include open-source programming languages like R or Python.

However, it needs to be realized that there are two sides to every coin. Social media analytics can also be used to influence outcomes illegitimately. Cambridge Analytica, a London-based election consulting firm, was in the news for analyzing data from an estimated 50 million Facebook profiles for insights that were used to influence election results in the U.S. and other countries. Online materials favoring candidates were delivered to individuals based on their psychographic profiles. This was a wrong and sinister use of social media analytics that compromised personal information and wrongly influenced election outcomes. Hence, the study of social media analytics must have an ethics component as well.

Sanjay Fuloria is a professor at IBS, Hyderabad. Nupur Pavan Bang (npbang@gmail.com) is associate director, Thomas Schmidheiny Centre for Family Enterprise, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.




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