Social Media Analytics is not a software or technical problem

In the world of big data, vendors think the problem is about storage and processing.

So they write articles like this about the need for

If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Big data means big waste…. unless you have mapped the business goal back to the data elements needed to make a decision.

If you don’t know what problem you’re solving, does it really help you to collect more data, than collecting it in real-time?

The easiest way to spot a looming big data failure is when the IT executive is talking mainly about infrastructure. Cloud-related discussions in the marketing department are usually a dead giveaway.

If you’re a fresh IT or stats grad looking for a job, focus not on data mining techniques, but on your communication skills. Because how you define the problem is more important than how you solve it. Here’s how:

Assuming you have the basics that come with your degree, learning more tools (not even Content Factory) shouldn’t be a priority. Most businesses don’t have viable goals for social media. They may want fans and engagement, but don’t know how to measure the cross-channel impact or ROI.

They need a strategy. And you need to be consultative– to tackle tough questions.

The Rise of the Marketing Engineer

Yes, the engineer must think like a marketer.
And the marketer must be able to comfortable looking at data sets.


  • Your marketing department will just crank out a bunch of blue pens with your logo on them.
  • The IT department unionizes who hides behind his ticketing system so he can play video games all day.
  • Your SEO and social media consultants repackage PowerPoints sometimes forgetting to replace another client’s name with yours.

And then you have more data, tools, consultants, and costs to manage. But with what business impact made?

Nibbled to Death by Ducks

The analytics team for the longest time has been relegated to corporate report-making monkeys. I know, since I was one of them for a dozen years.

That monthly report soon becomes a weekly report, then a daily report. And soon your time is tied up grabbing a number here or making a chart there.

But to prevent this explosion of report-making nonsense, you have to be strategic.  Go beyond the face value of the reporting request. Get to the heart of what your business partner or client is really asking for. Hint: most of the time, they don’t know, so you have to be consultative (have suggested answers in advance).

For example, a request to know how many conversions are coming from social seems innocuous enough. You can look in your Omniture or Google Analytics to see how many referrals from Facebook resulted in a last-click conversion.

Reframe the Question

But what the VP of marketing is really asking is what is the impact of social and what specific actions can we take to optimize for more?

If you give her exactly and literally what she asked for (which you should the first time), then you’ll end up making all variations of reports with different colored pie charts broken out by different products and time periods. There is no escape from the green slime pit.

But provide insight into how many conversions had at least one social touch along the way or how a Facebook impression (even without a click) increased email open/click rates, and you have a more powerful conversation.

All of a sudden, you’re the trusted business advisor making recommendations that help her increase net margins, as opposed to the report maker asking for money to buy the latest whiz-bang tools.

So, are you a Report Monkey?

If that doesn’t make sense, then you probably are. Reading this should help.

So decide what level of the business you’d like to play in.  Do you want to make a strategic impact on the business by analyzing data or do you want to be a report monkey?  Eventually, it will drive you bananas.

Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu
Dennis Yu is co-author of the #1 best-selling book on Amazon in social media, The Definitive Guide to TikTok Ads.  He has spent a billion dollars on Facebook ads across his agencies and agencies he advises. Mr. Yu is the "million jobs" guy-- on a mission to create one million jobs via hands-on social media training, partnering with universities and professional organizations.You can find him quoted in major publications and on television such as CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NPR, and LA Times. Clients have included Nike, Red Bull, the Golden State Warriors, Ashley Furniture, Quiznos-- down to local service businesses like real estate agents and dentists. He's spoken at over 750 conferences in 20 countries, having flown over 6 million miles in the last 30 years to train up young adults and business owners. He speaks for free as long as the organization believes in the job-creation mission and covers business class travel.You can find him hiking tall mountains, eating chicken wings, and taking Kaqun oxygen baths-- likely in a city near you.