This week’s guest post is by by Marie Wallace. She blogs at allthingsanalytics.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @marie_wallace. Contact us if you would like to be one of our guest bloggers.
About 18 months ago I wrote a blog post entitled “Wake up Enterprise, the Internet is kicking our ass!” where I was bemoaning the lack of progress companies were making in really leveraging social networking within the enterprise; specifically when it comes to applying analytics on these networks in order to better inform business decisions. Today I’m glad to see that the focus has started to shift and at last we are starting to see a wide range of social solutions which are firmly targeted at the enterprise.
Crowd-sourcing of enterprise product reviews is just one example of this shift with specialized social networks like IT Central Station leveraging community and crowdsourcing to completely transform how companies make product licensing decisions. Making an enterprise decision is a completely different proposition to that of buying a consumer product. Frequently millions of dollars can be at stake since product decisions are not just about the purchasing or licensing costs; these decisions can impact business processes, organizational efficiency, legal, compliance, security, risk, finance, reporting, customer or employee sentiment, etc. So when companies look to get recommendations on enterprise products and services they need to ensure that these recommendations are based on accurate, reliable, and contextually relevant reviews from a review site that they trust.
Companies also need much more granular feedback about a product from many different perspectives in order to accurately align their decisions to the needs of their business; these needs may be characterized by their type of business (retail vs. financial), location (European legislation vs. US), size (SMB vs. multi-national), organizational culture, business processes, products, industry, etc. As crowdsourcing captures more characteristics of the products being reviewed, the people doing the reviewing, and the companies they come from, the knowledge graph becomes richer as does the type of analytics that you can apply.
Now I know you are probably asking yourself “How the heck is Marie going to bring this back around to social analysis?” I know I tend to sound like a scratched record, but I firmly believe that, to borrow a variation on James Carville’s 1992 Clinton campaign slogan, “It’s all about the people, stupid”. Unlike consumer product reviews you cannot consider a review in isolation of the person who gave it. The person may have a close affiliation to the product in question putting a review into question, they may be a competitor which means a negative review has to be taken with a pinch of salt, or they may come from an organization with a very different set of business objectives. For this reason the network (more of a knowledge graph than a pure social graph) is critical in order to capture all these connections and allow you to apply the appropriate analysis.
So we can all agree that individual reviews are totally inadequate and wading through masses of reviews painfully time-consuming; we need reviews to be analyzed and synthesized so that you can get the answer, “which product is best for me?”, without the pain. And since these types of social solutions are capturing a very diverse set of data it allows very personalized recommendations to be generated. I know privacy is a growing concern around social media these days, but that is in fact one of the reasons I really like enterprise (B2B) solutions in that they aren’t trying to grab your personal (non-business) information. They don’t care whether you were partying last night or just broke up with your boyfriend.
Just one final comment, or challenge, that I believe is worth posing is “How do we get people to want to share their data and feedback? This is where I believe community site like IT Central Station can help through providing reputation analysis and allowing this reputation to feed into Internet-level reputation systems. However should we also look to the product companies themselves to step up to the plate? Today most companies like to control customer feedback within their own systems; releasing success stories through Marketing and hiding failures within Customer Support. I think it’s fair to say that this model is crumbling and that social media is giving everyone a voice and incentivizing them to use it as often as possible.
Therefore, should companies be incentivizing clients & partners to share their thoughts on these external crowd-sourcing sites? As the song goes, “if you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were” 🙂