Social Media Analytics vs Social Network Analysis: Is There A Real Difference Or Are You Seeing Double?

As an industry analyst, I’m part of the professional class that delights in defining standard marketplace terminology. More than that, many of us spend our working lives coaxing industry to march under marketing banners aligned with our pet definitions.

Yes, indeed, each analyst likes to feel that his or her marketecture terminology should rule school. Last month I did a Forrester podcast on a topic that’s extremely hot right now: leveraging the power of social media and social networks to manage your brand, drive marketing and sales campaigns, and manage ongoing customer relationships. In that session, I discussed the role of analytics in social media for multichannel customer relationship management (CRM).

My initial impetus for the podcast was to spell out the chief distinctions between two terms that, on first glance, appear almost synonymous: social media analytics and social network analysis. During the podcast I also trucked in another related closely related term—social media monitoring—and even alluded to social intelligence and other phrases that have gained currency.

What follows, for those of you who don’t listen to podcasts, or can’t find them, is the gist of what I said on this topic: 

  • Question 1: Social media analytics and social network analysis: Are these simply two ways of referring to the same applications, or is there some important difference between them?
    • Answer: In the broadest sense:
      • Social media analytics refers to BI tools—reporting, dashboarding, visualization, search, event-driven alerting, text mining, etc.--applied to information sourced from social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
      • Social network analysis is advanced analytics that is specifically focused on identifying and forecasting connections, relationships, and influence among individuals and groups; it mines transactions, interactions, and other behavioral information that may be sourced from social media, and/or just as often from CRM, billing, and other internal systems.
      • Social media monitoring is real-time analytics that uses complex event processing (CEP) to acquire, filter, and display events taking place in social media.
      • Social intelligence refers to the trend toward incorporation of social network style interaction models—such as those associated with Facebook and wikis—into the BI user experience. 
  • Question 2: What are the key applications for CRM? What’s the business benefit? Who’s doing this? What business processes do they support? Is anybody doing both social media analytics AND social network analysis?
    • Answer: The key application of social media analytics for CRM is listening to and engaging with customers, and prospects, who voice their requirements, sentiments, and issues through social media; product, brand, marketing, and customer service professionals are doing this. The key application of social network analysis is looking for shifting patterns of influence among customers who drive churn, upsell, and cross-sell throughout communities; this is being used by the same groups that use social media analytics, and is also being used by security professionals to detect and prevent fraudulent collusive activities. The key application of social media monitoring is identifying, and hopefully predicting, customer issues that surface through social media before they become showstoppers; once again, this is used by all of these groups, plus also being leveraged by public safety and law enforcement to detect signs of criminal and terrorist activity. The key application of social intelligence is to help BI users tap the actionable intelligence that is in one another’s heads; this is not yet being implemented widely among BI users, due to a paucity of commercial tools. 
  • Question 3: How comprehensive and mature are commercial solutions for social media analytics and social network analysis? Is there any published Forrester research evaluating these offerings?
    • Answer: Maturity varies by segment. Social media analytics and monitoring are well-established market segment that Forrester’s Marketing and Strategy client group covers under the heading of “listening platforms.” Social network analysis, a reasonably well established disciplined that is seeing a ramp in new commercial offerings, is covered by myself, and was discussed in my recent Forrester Wave for Predictive Analytics and Data Mining solutions, my Q2 teleconference, various recent blogposts, and at IT Forum. Social intelligence, still largely a futures topic, was discussed by the Forrester “virtual data management” analyst team in Rob Karel’s blogpost from May
  • Question 4: What are the gotchas? What cautions and caveats would you highlight for customers evaluating social media analytics and social network analysis?
    • Answer: Users should note that most social media analytics, social network analysis, and social media monitoring tools are siloes, separate from and non-integrated with your existing BI, data warehousing, predictive analytics, complex event processing, and data integration tools. Also, few vendors provide best-of-breed integrated tools in all of these areas. Furthermore, the high price tag and scarcity of skilled development and modeling personnel who can work with these technologies spell high total cost of ownership for the unwary. 

No, I won’t attempt to define “social.” Everybody has their own definition. Foisting mine on you all in this context would be unsociable.