analytics-1024x683It all starts with the need to measure performance. Performance metrics have been much discussed in the business literature, and with the pervasive use of social media it is but natural to devise and understand ways through which online actions can be measured. Various online social networking platforms offer analytics tools to provide social media managers with a sense of what is happening. It is not only about gathering data but turning data into actionable insights and extracting intelligence.

Online data is being constantly generated. In fact, there is so much of it that most of it may not be utilized well enough to make meaningful inferences. Just as social media platforms are rapidly evolving in the face of changing circumstances and technologies, social media analytics techniques too are evolving to meet the changing needs. What may remain constant is collecting and analyzing data on social media platforms to know what people/audiences are saying and what it means for organizations and businesses.

It is also pertinent to explore the emerging trends in the overall field and how organizations can take advantage of such opportunities. One of the key goals is use the available analytics tools to review and analyze how effective a social media strategy is. Once this is known, it becomes possible to concentrate efforts on what matters most.

Social media analytics may be defined as:

“practice of gathering data from blogs and social media websites and analyzing that data to make business decisions.”  (Mencken, I., 2013)

“the art and science of extracting valuable hidden insights from vast amounts of semistructured and unstructured social media data to enable informed and insightful decision making.” (Khan, G., 2015)

“an analytics discipline which equips an organization to analyze and measure the impact of social media data on its brand value by examining data from various internal and external forums…” (Raj, Raman, Ragaraj, & Duggirala, 2015, pg. 371)

I would like to emphasize that the art digital storytelling remains central for social media analytics as well. It all comes down to elucidating what happened, how it happened, and what will happen next. An important facet of social media analytics is good data visualization which is the presentation of data in an easy to understand graphical format.

It must also be emphasized that analytics are to be based on the defining of a clear set of goals. It is only after having a clear idea about what needs to be achieved that strategies to measure such goals can be enacted. These goals can vary from building customer satisfaction, enhancing sales, increasing followers, to increasing brand awareness. Disparate goals need different set of metrics to measure performance.

In spring 2016, I will be teaching a social media analytics course in the School of Media Arts & Studies, Ohio University. Several students have contacted me and are interested in knowing more about the upcoming course. One aim of writing this post was to provide an idea about the kind of material that will be covered. Another aim was to bring to light how a social media analytics can be vital to a wholesome understanding of the world of social media.

Any social media analytics course would aim to produce independent learners who are able to problem solve. While the obvious objective of such a course is to explore the elements of social media, the emphasis is to analyze data both qualitative and qualitatively.

A simple Google search reveals a dozen or so schools that teach social media analytics as a course in their undergraduate or graduate degree programs. It is evident is that while there is considerable hype surrounding social media analytics, there is certainly a shortage of social media related courses.

Different freely available analytic platforms will be used as teaching tools and students will be introduced to a variety of other analytic platforms. Students will also be acquainted with different social research skills. While the syllabus is still a work-in-progress, the following broad topics that may be covered:

  • Social media overview
  • The case of measurement, goal setting, and objectives
  • Understanding big data–structured and unstructured
  • Metrics for assessing the effectiveness of social media strategies
  • Analytics frameworks: Google Analytics, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
  • Sentiment and text analysis
  • Data visualization techniques
  • Mobile commerce and analytics
  • Social media ROI
  • Geospatial social data mining
  • Predicting the future with social media

We will also be inculcating case studies and practical exercises that help understand the analytics techniques in the realm of social media.

Social media analytics as a field is exciting and ripe with opportunities for growth and professional development. For example, business and organizations in just about every field that have a online social media presence need to evaluate their performance. Analytics experts can apply data mining techniques, predictive analyses (what will happen) and other data science skills to better meet business / organization’s needs and build competitive advantage.

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