Digging Deeper into Social Data: Interview with Michael Walton, Senior VP of Marketing & Product at Simply Measured
Michael Walton of Simply Measured explains how marketers can use social data to understand the why and the what next for their social marketing campaigns. Rather than passively "listening" to social, Simply Measured believes marketers need goal-driven insights around social impact, marketing impact, and business impact.
What is Simply Measured’s value proposition, and how was it developed?
The history of Simply Measured set the tone for how we think about things and how we deliver solutions to the market. In 2010, the three founders had a vision about making marketers’ lives easier. But they honestly had no product idea at all. At the time they named the company UntitledStartup.com. Their premise was to get talented people together, deeply understand customer needs, then build a remarkable product and turn it into a remarkable business model.
It wasn’t long before they understood that giving marketers access to social data in tools they can use was really key to marketers’ goals. That was the seed. Since then Simply Measured has turned from a tool focused just on Twitter measurement, into what we believe is the market leader in in-depth social analytics across a range of social networks. We deliver value up and down the marketing stack. It’s a cool founding story, because it shows our core investment in understanding the needs of marketers specifically, rather than just a broad understanding social analytics, which can be relevant to a broad set of personas.
What are the major pain points you address for marketers?
Marketers have a need to be results-driven—they have to show ROI and metrics for their activities—but at the same time they struggle to get access to data. This is mostly because they don’t have access to the databases, and they don’t have the skills to parse big data. Most tools on the market are too sophisticated for marketers’ needs; they’re built for data scientists or engineers. Or, they’re too basic. They show a calculated metric, which will tell you what happened but can’t answer the question of why. To get that answer, marketers need to get one level deeper in the data.
We try to be that middle ground for marketers. Simply Measured provides data for decision making. Social data grows exponentially every year, and giving marketers access to that data in a format they can read and use is key to our development.
What do you consider to be the core capabilities of a social analytics tool?
The marketing cycle starts with research into opportunities, then moves into execution, and finally measurement. But then the marketer loops those learnings from measurement back into research. In our belief, a social analytics tool focuses on the research and measurement phases of the cycle. Specific to the research phase, a social analytics tool needs to allow marketers to understand conversation, including trending topics, as well as the behaviors and interests of their audience, whether it’s prospects or influencers. Marketers also want to research competitors—what’s working, what’s not, and where are the gaps? Those are the research use cases. On measurement side, a social analytics tool should provide a complete picture of the brand’s activities and audience engagement around those activities, as well as a measurement of the activities’ impact on the business.
The ideal tool will be able to collect of data from all different social networks, including owned data, earned data, and paid data. It needs to take that data and enrich it for specific marketing use cases. For example, adding demographic data, or influence data, or even web analytics data. After the collection phase, the tool needs to have a set of capabilities that will allow marketers to deeply understand the data. They need to provide analysis across both the measurement and research use cases, and across social channels. It needs to go beyond calculated metrics. After the marketer understands the data and can use it to make decisions, they should also be able to share their findings broadly. In some cases this is a general reporting use case. If you need to prove the value of social, you report up the chain in a business report. At the same time, you might also need to share insight about a market segment or a particular type of customer. You want that spread across the organization or the marketing team, not just stuck inside the social metrics silo.
What is the benefit of using a single analytics solution like Simply Measured vs. having analytics rolled up into your SMMS tool?
This is the best-of-breed vs. the monolithic solution stain. It’s not specific to social; it’s something people are asking across marketing tech. A single one-stop solution is generally believed to be the easier approach. The simplicity and generalization is valuable, but it comes at expense of depth and specificity. We find more sophisticated customers choose best-of-breed solutions, because they have more specific needs. Since we take the best-of-breed approach, we can focus on developing maturity in our area. The downside is potential integration challenges. But in the social space this is somewhat minimized, because we see mostly cloud solutions and open APIs that integrate very well together.
What does your customer base look like?
Simply Measured has solid traction in the market. We cover more than 50% of the Interbrand 100 companies. Overall 100,000 users are using our product. We also have a very large set of agency customers. We’ve seen wide adoption across multiple industries. For example, we have a lot of success in retail, financial services, and BPG areas where businesses are making heavy investments in social media.
Where are your customers in terms of their social media maturity?
In terms of maturity, our customers span the spectrum. Since we’ve been doing this for five years, we have a deep expertise in social. So customers on the less mature end leverage us for best practices. They might still need to figure out what KPIs to set up in order to measure a certain campaigns. Our account managers and services can help those users learn how to use Simply Measured and get better at social in general. But our tool is really well aligned for the most sophisticated, expert social marketers. Mostly this is due to the level of data access and the depth we provide on analysis. We support 45 different use case scenarios. In more mature companies, social teams will have different roles that span from Community Manager, who deals with engagement and communication on the networks, to Social Marketing Manager, who focuses on social campaigns, and some teams even have a dedicated Analyst or Strategist. We work mostly with the Social Marketers and the Analysts, but also with the Community Managers to help them understand their performance. These more advanced customers are the sweet spot for us.
What are the most common advanced use cases?
Certainly the aspect of tying your social activities down to business impact. This is complicated, because people have different perspectives on how to define social ROI. Some think the benefit of social stops at engagement. At the other end of the spectrum, some feel that social has to be a direct response style channel with a hard business return. We’ve learned that the method for determining ROI needs to depend on a company’s primary goal. Depending on which part of the funnel a marketer is focused on, they are going to need to tie social back to a certain level of impact.
Simply Measured built a framework for success reports that drive to the different levels of depth. For example, if someone is focused on branded activities at the top of funnel, we say they are driving social impact. They need to know: did my message get received? We have reports that allow them to tie back to share voice, general impressions, and reads. One level deeper we have a set of analyses that drive marketing impacts. This might be if they’re trying to use social to drive the audience to a landing page, or to create UGC like a review, or download something, or fill out a form. It’s not necessarily impacting hard dollar return, but there is a specific goal. We have reports that allow the marketer to tie social effects into their analytics systems and conversion systems. The last level is hardcore business impact: tying social directly to revenue. We have the capabilities to do that, but we don’t provide it out of the box. It’s part of our customized tier, for specific use cases when our customers need something more in-depth.
Where do you think the market stands in terms of maturity, and what does that mean for growth for you?
There is a wide swath of maturity across market. Some companies are very mature—they’ve been using social for 10 years, and they know how to tie social metrics to their business impact. Other companies haven’t even identified how they want to think about that. Companies are all across the board.
The market right now is a great place to be, because it’s changing so much over time. New networks and new channels are coming up all the time. How can you wrap up video sharing on applications like Periscope or Meerkat into your activities? How sophisticated can you be when the market is changing underneath you all the time?
Because we’re so focused on social data (rather than on other features like publishing), we can be at the forefront. We have access to the data, and we know how to translate it. We want companies to recognize that they can drive results with social media. We see ourselves as thought leaders who are trying to push the market to become more mature.
Who are Simply Measured’s main competitors?
It varies based on company size. We see some competitors in the analytics space. But many address only the measurement use case and fall short on research. They also generally target the low-end of the market; they’re more for SMBs and individual users. They don’t really focus on the needs of the mid-market, enterprise companies, or more advanced use cases.
At a higher maturity level, we see indirect competitors. There we compete with social suites—the big boys who usually started as publishing tools and are now trying to expand into analytics, too. But we believe those are two different sets of expertise. In the publishing system world, it’s about knowing how to do curation and workflow. On the analytics side, it’s about extracting, processing, enriching and storing data, which is completely different. Some people might be willing to experiment with those all-in-one solutions, but once they become more mature they come to us because they need something deeper.
You could even argue that social networks have their own native analytics tools. But we see those less as competition and more as substitutes for what we provide. We’re able to differentiate because Simply Measured does a lot more cross channel and in-depth use case analysis.
Do you compete with social listening tools as well?
We think there’s a problem with that category, because “listening” is such a passive term. Just listening isn’t what marketers want to do; they need to listen for a reason. Most listening tools don’t provide enough sophistication on the research side. Knowing how many times your brand was mentioned doesn’t drive insight or tie back to impact. They also have a strong focus just on earned media, and don’t have systems to handle owned or paid data.
So we do run into them, but we think they’re trying to solve a different use case. If a company needs a listening tool, they are probably doing a PR activity. For example: if someone is talking badly about our brand in a particular area, we need to go respond.
Is sentiment analysis important to your customers?
It’s key for both research and measurement, but the way a customer needs to think about sentiment varies based on the use case. For example, the word “sick” means something very different to a hotel manager versus a video game designer. So sentiment analysis is difficult. There is a lot of sentiment technology emerging in the market, and because we’re a best-of-breed we can hook and tie into APIs for a range of different algorithms to get that sentiment data. We are also working on some of our own for specific and advanced use cases.
Do you integrate with publishing and other social tools?
Most of our integrations are around additional data, allowing you to enrich your social data with sentiment data, conversion data, demographic data, etc. For example, we integrate with Google Analytics out of the box. Our more advanced analytics solutions require custom play.
Workflow integration is on our roadmap. You’ll see that coming up soon. We do already have some existing partnerships, such as a deep integration with SHIFT Communications. They do publishing and advertisements for agencies. That was our first foray into workflow integration, and we will have more coming up in the future.
Are there any other key areas for product development?
In the measurement area we are working to provide access to new popular networks, both in US and internationally. We are also working on innovations around business impact, to drive even deeper levels of impact at all three levels. We are also innovating to measure video and content performance across social networks.
You will also see a lot of use case and purpose-driven innovation on the research side. We want to allow users to understand and identify information in terms of topical conversations that are relevant to their brand. We’re really strong in competitive analysis, and we are going to double down in that area. Lastly, we’re making a big push on audience analytics. We are working on a broad set of integrations to understand the people behind activities and engagement.
Megan champions research at TrustRadius. Her mission is to ensure we gather the highest quality data from authenticated reviewers, and provide useful curated reports for prospective software buyers. Prior to joining TrustRadius, Megan was Director of Sales and Marketing at a media company. She holds MA degrees in Journalism and Latin American Studies from the University of Texas.