Making Decisions with Social Data

“Data” is such a general concept–one can just about use words like “information” or “stuff” interchangeably. Of course, such data is widely available to brands who want to collect it, but it’s pretty useless unless they know what to do with it next.

The Big Boulder audience had the pleasure of hearing from panelists Gloria DeCoste from Nestle, Beverly Jackson from MGM International Resorts, and Brad Ruffkess from The Coca-Cola Company about how exactly such large global brands are using social data to improve their product experience for their customers.


When it comes to social data, it can be difficult to determine how to best analyze it in order to move forward and provide consumers with a more pleasing brand experience, especially for CPG brands such as Coca-Cola and Nestle. Do social fans arrive because they already love the products, or are they made aware of the products because of an existing social brand presence?

“It’s difficult for CPG companies to say, ‘We did this online and then a sale happened,’” said DeCoste. Due to the quick turnaround conversion nature of CPG brands, those attribution events are hard to properly document and understand. As the brand was able to scale and grow their penetration inside of the social sphere, they did eventually see the data tied to it: impressions online were converting to offline sales.

Jackson spoke from a different industry experience entirely, with a much more limited and targeted audience: “We saw that the people who were most likely to like or engage with our content also were not actually the people who were able to afford our brand or would ever book with us.” Jackson said that this led the resort chain to expand their thinking from “beds and heads” into a more fully developed portfolio approach: what are the other things we serve and sell and how can we leverage our social presence to increase awareness and conversions on those things?

A notable connection between all the panelists was their management of an actual portfolio of products as opposed to one singular product brand. “If a person drinks eight beverages a day, I want for them to drink products in our portfolio as many of those eight times as possible,” said Ruffkess. “Social data can give me the information I need to try and put those products in front of you, based on your other behaviors.”

These brands also attempt to harness the power of influencers by utilizing user-generated content. These kinds of posts are essentially “free content,” saving the brand the trouble of creating additional content, while also allowing the brand to reap the benefits of engagement or A/B testing: if this user’s photo of a fountain played really well with social followers, it can be used in other capacities to increase interest and engagement. When social listening produces insights about slang terms or phrases being widely used across the internet, brands can capitalize on this by implementing such phrases into their own campaigns, like Coca-Cola’s #ThatsGold campaign executed during the last Olympic games. Brands should, of course, be cautious about using fleeting slang terms, either inappropriately or too long after they’re “cool”: no one wants to be the brand using “Netflix & chill” incorrectly.

Examining social data can also help with knowing how to provide more personalized experiences for individual customers: does a customer love to bake cakes, but not cookies? Brands like Nestle can use these social insights to provide more highly targeted content toward customers who prefer one or the other, resulting in a higher conversion rate because of more accurately targeted content.

Product research & development seems to be an area shockingly left untapped by social data & insights. All of the panelists agreed: it would be an incredible move forward to begin using this data to determine what their customers like about their products, along with what they don’t like, in order to create new products for their portfolio. Unfortunately, none of the brands seemed to, as of yet, be implementing these social insights to this advantage.

“Marketing has always been about understanding your customer very deeply, at their core,” said DeCoste. The data brands are able to mine from their customers has seemingly unlimited potential, and even major brands are only truly scratching its surface.

Additional Takeaways:

  • While agencies are common players inside of major brand spaces, it’s important to know what is lost when another party is responsible for collecting and scrubbing your data before you get a chance to see it. What kind of interpretations are lost in translation?
  • Social data is an incredible asset where users freely give of their information, unlike other spaces. “My loyalty card at my grocery store is actually tied to my pager number from 1989,” said Jackson. “I don’t want people to have my phone number!”
  • When a brand has a portfolio of products widely differing from one another, social data can help direct the right products to the right people: family-friendly resort properties versus party properties, for instance.
  • “Our instinct was to put our name in every hashtag,” said Jackson of MGM. “But you don’t learn anything from your customers by forcing yourself on them. Be on the outside and listen first.”
  • The gaming industry is having to entirely change the way they operate. If millennials don’t know Wheel of Fortune like the generation before them, they’re less interested in playing a slot machine themed after that game. Millennials are less likely to want to sit at a slot machine siloed away from everyone else; the industry is having to accommodate by learning about how this generation wants to play games.

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