5 do’s that will help embed a data driven culture

I recently spoke on the panel at a wonderful Social Media Leadership forum event hosted by Founder Justin Hunt, on the theme of how to embed a data driven culture. Whilst by title, the focus was on social media, it was inevitable that we leaked into all kinds of areas where data impacts, beyond marketing where often the “social media” conversation sits. I have explored more on the leaky behaviour of social media in a recent post “the future of the social media department”.


Toni Kasparek, Global Head of Sales & Marketing Programs at Thomson Reuters delves into the challenges & opportunities presented as a truly data driven business. 

One of the best questions I heard on the day was “what do we mean by social data?”. My fellow panel member Gareth Mitchell-Jones from IBM, answered (not a direct quote) “any piece of data created by any person through any device anywhere”. Now, as I said, don’t quote me – but the point I want to draw upon here is this; essentially we are talking about harnessing data created through the “social behaviour” of today’s consumer/buyer/average human being. Unstructured open web conversations on social media, engagement data, content consumed, web pages visited, mobile app downloads, products purchased, shopping baskets abandoned, emails opened, emails clicked, in-store purchases, sales reps spoken to, customer service complaints made on phone, customer complaint made on social…

…you get the point. But the reality is that most businesses are at the very start or are in the thick of the learning phase when it comes to harnessing this data. Most learning is isolated within departmental silos, and is not widespread or common business practice. I liken the reality of how brands are utilising the potential of social data to consumer space travel, we just aren’t quite there yet! The sky is the limit, the theory is there, its definitely doable, it is not just not quite accessible enough.

How do we get there? How do we embed a truly data driven culture? Here’s my take with some learning of my own from the SMLF session:


Myself @tomball1985 making typically over-the-top hand gestures when in storytelling mode.

1. Aim to join the dots. But make the most of what you have at your fingertips already
It is vital to set out all of the data sets you would like to join up. Ultimately, you want to understand your customer, how they interact through the journey to purchase and beyond. What are the data sets that would help understand this journey? Who owns them? What data is already available?

Now, it is more than likely you will come up against technology challenges along the way. No doubt one system or another is legacy, out of date, not configured to measure what you need etc. Be part of this process by all means, be the champion that helps bring better technology into the business but don’t let it stop you learning from what you have. Look for quick wins and insights in existing data sets. There may even be some very cost effective tools that will help bring together a suite of consistent metrics which will provide the heartbeat of insight and learning over the coming months (quite often the case in social, especially when you benchmark cost against a new CRM or data architecture).


2. Hire smart people. Technology alone won’t solve the problem alone
Technology is an enabler and will help to process and surface insights that matter to the business. The trouble is, quite often, the real business value and true insight which drives change comes to life when you apply context to the data at your disposal. And, more often than not, this is applied by people, not by machine. It is people who take the insight and turn into action, instigating change. It is people who help tell these stories and contextualise the insight within the business to the stakeholders that matter. And it will take smart people to do this effectively.

If you want to read more on this – take a look at another recent post the 3 P’s of social media – people, process & people.


3. Get the right technology. Smart people alone won’t solve the problem
Story time. Approximately 2 years ago we used Radian 6 to pull social media insights. The problem with Radian 6 is that it cannot categorise conversation effectively, there is no NLP technology or similar built into the tool. The context we applied was manual, creating a taxonomy which we applied over the top of the data, taken out into Excel and pivoted for effect. We produced fantastic insight, with incredible context! The problem? It was an incredibly manual process, and we could not scale this model effectively. We now use Crimson Hexagon, we still apply our smarts using taxonomies which help contextualise the insight we gather effectively but the tool helps us dramatically with the heavy lifting.

Sometimes the technology is just not fit for purpose, or the smart people outgrow the tool set. Our move as an agency to Crimson Hexagon is a great example of getting the right technology to match the smarts of our geeky lot!


4. Break down the silos. Share knowledge, insight, learning and failures
Social media is leaky. It effects multiple departments. Data is leaky too, there are useful data sets managed in every department. So go about finding the champions in these departments who see the value in using data effectively. Draft these people together and create a small working group or virtual team. Meet regularly, share insight and look to solve problems. Share your successes with the wider business. Go to industry events together, share articles and useful resources with each other to generate ideas and instill best practice. It all starts with identifying the people who can help and engaging them regularly.


5. Seek buy-in. Test and prove models
Set out to tackle a key business challenge, solving the problem or improving the output utilising a data driven approach. We see this commonly happen in social media of late; aligning social media campaigns to common business metrics such as lead generation, uplift in sales or direct conversion. Seek the buy-in of senior team members (the senior the better) and get them brought into the initiative. Play back the results, learning, successes and failures. Prove what works and crucially what doesn’t and optimise the approach.

Remember, this is about creating a shift of internal mind set, behavioural change which takes time! But have faith, when you gather your case there is wealth of knowledge which justifies the shift in how the average human behaves and the trail of data they leave at scale provides businesses with huge opportunity.


And one more for free…
As the champion of data, social data, or social media within your organisation accept you can’t do it all alone. You also can’t perform a transformation shift overnight (related reading: 5 reasons why social media should be at the heart of your digital trasnsformation initiatives). Like I remember repeating in the room in relation to a brand at the beginning of their social media journey – asking how to tackle big data challenges – don’t bite off more than you can chew, defining your social media strategy alone can be complex enough in a large organisation. Take small steps, create small wins, share your knowledge and successes and bring others onto the journey to gain momentum. The revolution will come, you will one day rule the world!!!

For more on the SMLF event please do read the lovely Rebecca Owen’s (Senior Social Media Strategist @ IBM) summary on her blog.

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