Monday, October 10, 2011

The Social Media/Database Connection

This post was originally published last week on and in the National Arts Marketing Project newsletter.

The cardinal rule of communications is “know your audience”.  But on social media, it’s sometimes easier said than done.

Last week in the Arts Marketing Blog Salon I wrote about keeping your social media activity direct, targeted, and focused on return-on-investment. In it, I briefly touched on how difficult that can be, because you often can’t track users outside of social media platforms. One of the lingering questions for arts organizations—really, for all companies which thrive on direct marketing—is how to connect interactions on Facebook and Twitter with your database.

Why connect?

The primary benefit of connecting social media interactions with your database is the capability for tracking, and ultimately re-contacting those who use social media.   Tracking your social media users pays off in a number of ways.  You can:

Learn who you‘re talking to on social media. Facebook analytics and a variety of third-party Twitter analytic tools provide some demographic data and a little behavioral information.  With a database connection to Facebook and Twitter, you can recognize subscribers, members, donors, or board members who are following you.  And, you can interact with them – specifically.   Would you communicate differently if you knew, based on the evidence in your database, that a big segment of your followers were donors, or that most had never bought a ticket?
Tracking followers in this way will only become more critical with the new Facebook changes.  As social media becomes less passive and oriented towards “liking” a page, interaction will be more oriented toward specific social actions.  The upside about the changes is that you should be able to pick up more information.  For example, Ms. Eleanor Moneybags might update her status to read “Eleanor Moneybags donated to Typical Theatre Company.”  The downside is, actions are self-reported and it’s still unclear whether you will be able to export action information and to connect it to your existing database.  Still, you’ll get more actionable information than you get now.

Identify and reward your loyalists.  There are a few ways to identify key patrons and other influencers who are loyal to your organization, described here.  Of course, you still have to do this on a one-off basis—it’s not automated, and takes some effort. The pay-off is that you can tailor your communication based on what their interactions with your organization are, making your direct interactions more meaningful. My colleagues and I put a high priority on investing this time and effort in cultivating loyalty among patrons.  Our ongoing analysis of patron behavior has consistently shown that the payoff is those patrons’ higher lifetime investments in your organization. 

Expand effectiveness of direct marketing campaigns to include social media.  The most effective marketing campaigns are direct and targeted; they put the right offer in front of the right person at the right time.  Tracking ROI on direct marketing—through response reporting, for instance—is a well-established practice for traditional channels like mail, telemarketing, and even email.   For most organizations, social media interactions currently exist in a silo separate from the database. Connecting the two would be potentially very powerful, especially if you have a robust social media presence with individual interactions.

Imagine if you were able to compile an “engagement index” based on ticket and donation transactions coupled with brand interaction on social media.  You could use analysis of this sort to more effectively target who got what offer.  You also could segment your contact list better, ranking those who are engaged on social media as better prospects. For example, say you have Ms. Patron who regularly shares your posts or tweets and engages your org’s account in conversations.  By tracking Ms. Patron through her email address, you can see her recent and past ticket and other transaction history.  Let’s say, she was a ticket buyer or member at one time but hasn’t made any kind of investment recently.  Maybe it was long enough ago that she’s no longer on your radar to contact again. Clearly she is still interested, so you include her in your next mailing and she buys a ticket.  That patron relationship has just gotten a boost from connecting social media to your business intelligence system.

So close, yet so far away

To those of us of us who have been looking into this for a while, the significance is clear: Sustaining revenues will result from connecting patron databases with social media.  Yet, the technology for making the connection is just not there yet—or is too expensive for the average arts organization to afford.

To get the job done, technology must easily and cost-effectively collect patron contact information from social media.  Once collected, the next steps are easy and can be managed by almost any ticketing or CRM system on the market today: social media contacts go into a database and can be matched with existing contacts, creating fields for additional interactions.  From there, it’s standard database operating procedure—you can analyze who is interacting with your social media presences and how—and you have the ability to re-contact those people in a more direct, targeted way except with limitations imposed by spam regulations for email.  

This is where “easier said than done” comes in.  As I mentioned above, right now the collection is usually something can needs to be done on a “one-off” basis—logging interactions or followers—but it takes a lot of time and energy. Many of the tools I’ve looked at help with some of the work, but they virtually all have drawbacks.  Here’s a survey of what’s currently available:
  • can help by allowing you to retrieve the names of your followers in convenient Excel format. However, the most contact info you can get is name and city—not enough to make a sure match.
  • Non-profit tech provider Convio collects email addresses on some of their clients’ Facebook pages. When a user first visits the page, they are asked for their email address. While this helps build a list of fans that you can analyze, it’s an opt-in system, so the list might be biased and will not be comprehensive.
  • After reading about Flowtown on Devon Smith’s blog last year, I was extremely hopeful that importing Facebook contacts might be possible. Flowtown helped companies discover & manage the social side of their email lists by telling them which of over 50 social networks the people on their email list use. However, earlier this year, Flowtown announced that they were changing format amidst privacy concerns.
However, the drawbacks I’ve described in each of the tools bring up an interesting point. No one seems to have found a way to satisfy the need to consider user privacy concerns and to collect patron information easily and seamlessly. With new technology solutions on the horizon, we’ll celebrate the day when it’s affordable to make this important connection between social media and data, while respecting users’ privacy. 

So where does that leave us now?  Tracking social media interactions in your database is a best practice in the making. It may be too elusive for many organizations now. However, the more demand we create for having social media integration, the faster it will become available. 

If you have connected (or attempted to connect) social media data with your database, please leave a comment below, or plan to attend my dine-around on November 12th at the NAMP Conference about this subject, “The Social Media—Data Connection”.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts. Database and social media integration is a great idea. It does require a lot of time and effort, both of which many companies or individuals do not have. I usually recommend people to try anything social media on their own, because it keeps it more genuine and personal, but something like this may require the help of a social media company. Thanks!