IBM is working with a Yale MBA program to give students practical experience with social media analytics, including some research projects undertaken for IBM customers.
IBM held a public forum on the program at Yale Thursday, and we spoke with some of the participants by phone. IBM also took the occasion to promote the introduction of Cognos Consumer Insight, an addition to its lineup of business intelligence and analytic tools.
Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City think tank, was at Thursday's meeting to reinforce the need for these analytic skills. "All sorts of sectors are needing these skills these days," he said. "I don't know if it's a shortage, but it's clearly a trend in the market."
Yale professor of management and marketing Ravi Dhar said the course providing students with hands-on experience using IBM software is being incorporated into the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management. However, for him, the software is not really the point.
"We are really interested in using the software to understand and address business questions," Dhar said. From a market research perspective, this kind of research is best at uncovering "the naturally occurring data from conversations people are having" as opposed to trying to tease insights out of survey data, he said. The trick is making sense out of the flood of data.
"Finding insights is a difficult business," Dhar said. "Are you even asking the right questions? Are you framing it the right way, looking for the right things?" Among the things that turn out to be important are not just what people are saying on social media or how they are saying it, but when they are saying it, he said. For example, one IBM client whose business is related to tax preparation asked the students to look at traffic in an online support community. Among other things, this allowed them to see how the types of questions being posted changed as April 15 approached, he said.
Graham Mackintosh, product lead for Cognos Consumer Insight, can make it easier to ask and answer the right questions. In a crowded field of social media and sentiment analysis products, he said one of the tool's strongest features is an ability to identify "evolving topics." These are themes that arise from trends in the data, rather than being pre-programmed in as keywords to monitor. For example, if a clothing brand detects that the words "zipper stuck" are emerging as a recurring theme in social media conversations, that could be a red flag about a product flaw consumers are complaining about, he said.
Cognos customers will also appreciate the fact that it feeds into standard business intelligence dashboards. "This is intended from the get-go to really be internalized and operationalized as part of a broader marketing management platform," Mackintosh said.