Perfect Clues. The Promise of Social Media Data

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The range and number tools we have available to bring marketers information these days is staggering. Monitoring and mining consumer sentiment through social technologies are some of the latest and most promising to emerge. The speed, granularity and contextual relevance of these tools yield powerful insights.

But let us never forget that these tools are generally a means and not the end. Like the Buddhist saying, “Don’t confuse the pointing finger with the Moon” we mustn’t use any of these data as a substitute for really knowing our consumer or customers.

I like to think of research findings and data as “perfect clues.” They are clues to something more important, something real, deeper. Even if data is proven to be valid and reliable, remember that data isn’t the “moon.”

Take time to be with your consumer



So as we go about monitoring and mining social media data, gleaning information and insight, let us take one more small but powerful step: spend time with your consumer.

  • Call them
  • Do a store visit
  • Take a customer service call
  • Join an ethnographer in a home visit
  • Do a drive-a-long
  • Take a customer out for a coffee

By any of these simple steps you’ll understand things in a way that no data will ever show. And most people find this to be really energizing and enjoyable.

The most enjoyable job I ever had was selling ski gear at Sun & Snow Sports, a long successful specialized retailer in Ann Arbor Michigan. Yes, much of that enjoyment stemmed from my passion for the sport (Lord, I confess my ski-bum-envy). But I believe that much of that enjoyment came from really knowing my customers. It was only through spending time with them in conversation, listening, gaining the personal and the non-verbal that I really got to know them. Their ski-gear needs were a simple extension of who they were as a person.

Known to be some of the best custom boot fitters in the business, if you’re ever in Ann Arbor and looking for great gear, head over to Sun & Snow Sports. Ask for Bob Parent. With over 35-years in business, a big part of their success spending time with their customers.

These levels of personal selling may remain the province of retailers, but shouldn’t that ideal be more of our aim?

The Power of Social Media Data

With social technologies we are increasingly able to “listen” to naturally occurring conversations about consumer needs, our products, services and brands. This wasn’t possible, just a few years ago. “Listening” (social media monitoring/mining) is a positive step beyond the research paradigm of “asking” (surveying). But it remains a means to the same end: knowing your consumer. Psychologists, and sociologists warn that for all it’s good, social media is no substitute for real life. Humans need companionship. And brain science shows we’re hardwired for physical proximity. We need to be with each other. In much the same way, we need to spend time with our consumer.



Too often we think of the consumer as this abstract “thing.” We segment, we profile, we target. Sounds like we’re searching for a criminal more than serving a customer. Let’s stop that. Let’s spend time with them and get to know them.

A good reminder from David Ogilvy, the late, great ad-mind and advocate for knowing your consumer…

“The consumer is not a moron; she’s your wife.”

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