Monthly Archives: August 2014

Dealing with the unstructured

One of the major shifts we have seen in the past five years or so is that business models are under serious challenge from mobile technology, the Internet, and especially social media. This rapidly changing business model picture is happening because the way that organizations relate to their customers, their employees, and their stakeholders is changing, and social media is driving and shaping much of this. As a result, executives are on notice regarding the need for an urgent change of focus in organization capabilities and how these can help deliver greater business value.

One such capability is how to deal with unstructured data and information that is now permeating the Internet especially via social media. Not so long ago, we lived in a world that was highly structured and systematized. Data tended to be tightly organised into rows and columns and tables. Analysis was done by interrogating spreadsheets and using various formulas for interpreting performance in various areas. But advances in technology have caused massive amounts of unstructured data to be created on a scale never thought possible just a few years ago. Here are two examples to highlight the point –

(1) Growth in Twitter activity – from Twitter Q2 2014 results:

  • Average Monthly Active Users (MAUs) were 271 million as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 24% year-over-year
  • Timeline views reached 173 billion for the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 15% year-over-year.

(2) What happens in one minute on the Internet – from Intel September 2013:

  • One hundred thousand new tweets
  • Six million Facebook views
  • More than two million search queries on Google.

The above provides some insight into the massive amount of data that is being generated. But the key point is that it is largely unstructured data. With social media, the main type of data is commentary, text and photos that come in many different forms and languages. It is not information collected in a structured form that is easy to summarise and analyse. Organisations are therefore challenged in how their capabilities need to be re-shaped to make some sense of all the data that is relevant to them. Consumer facing businesses like airlines, banks and retailers have a vital interest in the patterns that are emerging in comments and chats on social media. How are these potentially impacting their brand, their products and competitor moves?

Recent growth in the field of analytics has meant that sensible conclusions and decisions can now be more effectively made from these large volumes of data. This is especially true for the analysis of information emerging from unstructured data from social media. Pattern recognition is a key capability and interestingly the use of some skills outside of the traditional technology fields is starting to emerge.

The issue is not whether these capabilities need to be re-shaped but rather how quickly they will change organizations as we know them. The winners will be those organizations and industries that strongly embrace these capabilities as truly new change initiatives and deliver them accordingly to add value.

For many organizations, this will represent a major challenge. It does require the discipline to take a reality check on future directions and priorities. For instance, a transport business would need to ask about its capability in managing, say, a growing pattern of customer frustration regarding their booking systems. As part of this consideration, it would also need to assess how quickly such a capability can be developed or acquired, and the cost of the investment.

Organizations need to consider four factors:

  1. Think of the building of new capabilities as a major business change initiative – not just recruiting a few more analysts
  2. Consider new capabilities in the context of real competitive advantage – not just a systems improvement or upgrade
  3. Drive the change from the C-suite – new capabilities need the right level of investment and commitment from the most senior levels in the business
  4. Build new thinking in the business – patterns in social media provide the opportunity for a new agenda for the future

As French author and Nobel Prize winner Andre Gide once said, “One cannot discover new oceans without the courage to lose sight of the shore”.


Are you more than a social media butterfly?

Diverse ways to use social media

One of the most interesting conversations in a group is to talk about how those people use social media. It is always revealing to see how broadly the conversation can roam and the wide variations in how people use social media. Some will say they just “love Facebook” or they are spending a “lot of time on Pinterest” and so on. But as we unpick those comments, we find there is enormous variation in what people actually mean. The use of Facebook for instance differs widely and there is no concept of one size fits all.

So how do we put some structure into the discussion about how people use social media? I have found it helpful to consider user behaviour in social media along two dimensions.

One is the frequency of use of social media, recognizing that some people are casual or infrequent users and may view social media as somewhat incidental to their personal or business lives. At the other end of this scale, some people are very heavily involved in the use of social media and may well be obsessed with it. For these people, it may be that they access social media in some form every hour of every day.

The other dimension relates to the type of use of social media. Some people may focus only on the personal side, such as connections and contacts with friends, the sharing of photos of their travels, and so on. Typically this is more conversational, and the main objective is the contact rather than the content. Others will be more content focused and use social media to access a wide range of information and knowledge on their topics of interest, whether news and current affairs, history, or hobbies. Communities of interest on social media form an important part of information and content sharing.

Four categories to consider – where do you fit?

The figure below blends these two dimensions and highlights four major categories of how people use social media.

Figure 1b

The first of these in the bottom left quadrant is the group labelled Social Media Butterflies. Their behaviour is focused on personal and social use, such as contact and conversations with friends, but with somewhat infrequent use. These users may access their social media sites on a very infrequent basis or may be quite passive in the way they participate. In other words, they may have a burst of activity when they have some spare time or when they go on holidays, for example.

The Social Media Fire Hoses shown in the bottom right quadrant of the matrix are also aligned to personal and social activity, but are high-frequency users. Their activity on social media is not only highly visible but also very intense in terms of frequency and profile. They are heavy users of social media that forms a significant part of their daily lives. They will be active through their smartphones and tablets, ensuring they can and do participate whenever and wherever they are. Frequent personal and social connection is vital to this group.

The top left quadrant of the matrix shows the so-called Social Media Pickers who are not frequent users of social media but will access particular information and knowledge when they require it. Their focus is more on content rather than contact. For instance, they may access the social media sites for certain magazines or journals, or they may explore information on specific areas of interest such as sport.

Finally, the top right quadrant shows the position of the Social Media Sponges. These users are frequently engaged with social media, but with the major focus on accessing and sharing content. They may have linked themselves to various media sites, journals, thinks tanks, consultancies, and so on, and spend considerable time on content by accessing information and knowledge across a range of topics and interests.

Positioning varies more than you think

One of the great features and exciting aspects of social media is its multitude of potential uses and how different people will approach the way social media is used. But there is no right or wrong positioning here. Everyone will work out his or her own positioning and balance, and this is likely to change over time. Those exploring social media for the first time may start tentatively as low-frequency users, but over time they may find they become high-frequency users because of contact with family and friends. Others may have a very different experience.

The positioning may also change depending on particular circumstances. For instance, when people are travelling, their friends could be in the category of Social Media Butterflies and be well engaged with those travellers, but then change to another pattern of use when the travel is completed. On the other hand, when those friends are planning their own trips they may well be Social Media Pickers as they scour sites for information and commentary on various places to see and stay.

The pattern may also vary depending on the tools being used. A person may be a Social Media Butterfly on Facebook and access photos or family contacts from time to time, but at the same time may be a Social Media Sponge on Twitter and follow many business and media sites that provide regular updates on articles of interests.

The above discussion focuses on individual use, but the same broad principles are important in organizations and how they engage in their social media journey. Organizations will need to think carefully about what they want from social media, and hence the type and frequency of social media use will become key elements of how that strategy is executed.

Here are some questions to ponder regarding your own experience:

  • Where are you placed on the matrix above and how has that changed over time?
  • What position in the matrix above gives you a real buzz?
  • Can you identify some missed opportunities in the way you utilise social media?


The above is drawn from material contained in Matt English’s book Grasping Social Media available online at