Silos changing: Social media spreads

This week Mike Evans, our expert blogger from Cambashi, discusses social media in business processes

Experts at industry analysts and market consulting firm Cambashi contribute a regular blog for TM titled Silos Changing. This explores how new software applications enable manufacturers to implement business initiatives in the new economy.

This week Mike Evans, our expert blogger from Cambashi, discusses social media in business processes.

Mike Evans, Research Director, Cambashi

Many enterprise application users in a company would like to integrate social media into their business processes. These include marketing actions to protect and promote their values and reputation, but could also identify supply chain, packaging, or quality issues at an early stage.

Most early usage of social media was by advertising agencies operating listening platforms on behalf of their clients. But we now see that manufacturers can directly use information from social media to make better business decisions from information in their enterprise applications.

Late last year, SAP entered the social media analytics market.  It will re-sell NetBase’s on-demand software with plans to integrate it with several SAP BusinessObjects products and CRM modules.

The on-demand software gives customers access to a database that draws in 95 million social media posts daily from Twitter, Facebook, news feeds, blogs and more, and stores this information for a year. By making this information available via Google-like dashboards, users can extract trends and get a handle on customer feedback, competitive offerings and more, according to SAP.

Recently Dassault Systèmes acquired NetVibes, a pioneer of personalised dashboard software.  Though originally aimed at the consumer market, NetVibes evolved to be more widely used in the enterprise market to create dashboards that aggregate content from sources, especially social media sources.  It’s used by large enterprises such as CocaCola to connect real-time web apps directly into their internal enterprise systems like ERP.

At this stage, these are mainly enabling technologies, but Infor has already shown how analytics can be integrated into specific applications.  The Infor Epiphany CRM solution is one example.  The enterprise application user accesses the system via a dashboard that aggregates information from different applications. One of those might display information on a specific product. Another area of the dashboard could show social media streams that mention that product or its category. When the user switches to a different product, the social media streams too switch product.

Sales executives using Infor’s CRM can get up to speed on a competitor’s position before a sales call.  Marketing executives can make decisions about marketing campaigns based on more current and appealing trends they can see in the market.

One difficulty with social analytics is the volume of data with lots of social media noise hiding the signal.  Most systems manage get the user to specify a list of seed sources or corpus of knowledge and they follow links from there to source the information they send to the dashboard.

It’s very difficult to choose the right starting points. Social media communities are often a narrow group of individuals that see each other as peers. Within that group social analytics identifies sentiment and trends.  However, these communities interlink in complex ways. A community member interested in a product might also support Tottenham Hotspur and be in that community. In analysing social media, the selection of sources needs to be more sophisticated than simply friends of friends.

Dan Morrison, the co-founder and CEO of ITtoolbox, an early community of IT professionals, describes B2C communities as “communities of interest” and B2B communities as “communities of practice” where the community of practice is an online community where the primary value is based on professional interests – such as LinkedIn. However, we often find that the community of practice gets invaded by hiring and job seeking and the really interesting communities often are closed to these kind of invasions.

These are problems to solve but our forecast is that we will see a lot more, and more sophisticated enterprise systems that integrate information from social analytics into the business processes they support.

In future blogs we will go on to write about other potential deployments that respond to more savvy consumers such as designing in flexibility.