Guest Blogger Jeff Zabin: Social Intelligence -- Why an 80-Year-Old Concept Is the Next Big Thing in Social Media Monitoring

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The term <I>social intelligence</I> is being used to describe the next big thing in social media monitoring and analysis. Zach Hofer-Shall of Forrester Research deserves credit for popularizing the term. Several leading technology solution providers have come to embrace it. So, too, have a growing number of industry practitioners and observers.

The term social intelligence is being used to describe the next big thing in social media monitoring and analysis. Zach Hofer-Shall of Forrester Research deserves credit for popularizing the term. Several leading technology solution providers have come to embrace it. So, too, have a growing number of industry practitioners and observers.

I count myself among the latter. Social intelligence is a terrific way to describe the next rung on this evolutionary ladder. That rung maps to some key technology innovations. Foremost among them are capabilities related to the integration of voice-of-the-customer data with customer feedback, CRM, transaction, and other data. It also speaks to an emerging corporate mind-set regarding the strategic importance of consumer-generated content. Social intelligence conjures up all the right images. Consider the anatomy of the brain. The different lobes of the cortex are associated with different higher brain functions. One lobe is associated with reasoning; one is associated with visual processing. Another is associated with memory and speech. Yet another is associated with recognition and perception of stimuli. The different parts of the brain perform different functions. Yet they work together cohesively.

The same can be said of an enterprise. What's more, both the brain and the enterprise need to react to environmental stimuli, to sense and respond to what's happening around them. Of course, much of what's happening around them now resides in social media.

For the customer service department, social intelligence means improving performance in terms of the speed of problem resolution. For the marketing organization, it's about understanding what specific messages will resonate in the marketplace and improving the customer experience. For product management, social intelligence can serve as the basis for developing, testing, and refining new products and services. For the market research department, it means identifying consumer trends and competitive activity. And so on.

This diversity of organizational functions and their differing needs begs the question: Which group or groups should take the lead on sponsoring, funding, and "owning" social intelligence? The challenge is one that tends to confront large companies whenever it comes to a new business initiative that cuts across multiple departments.

Ideally, social intelligence should be a coordinated effort. It should be championed, supported, and utilized by multiple departments as a shared services function, with resources pooled from across the enterprise. Success may mean launching a steering committee that can help break down the organizational silos to create cross-functional processes to not only collect, manage, and disseminate voice-of-the-customer data, but also to educate employees about why it should matter to them based on their specific areas of accountability.

And how should a company measure success? Here we can take a cue from the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould. His 1981 book The Mismeasure of Man traced the history of scientists' failed attempts to measure human intelligence. Craniology, for example, literally involved measuring the size of a person's cranium. Arguably, today's standard IQ tests are equally flawed. That's because human intelligence is multifactorial. The capacity to acquire and apply knowledge stems from any number of factors and influences. Moreover, intelligence can manifest itself in any number of ways. It can't simply be reduced to a single numerical score.

The same is true for social intelligence. The metrics are bound to vary dramatically from one department to another, depending on business objectives. Does any group other than the customer support department care about call center deflection?

Finally, it's worth noting that the word intelligence can mean not only the individual's ability to learn and reason, but also a body of information and knowledge. The Central Intelligence Agency, for example. Or business intelligence. Or customer intelligence, in which case the body of knowledge consists of consumer profile and other information stored in a centralized data repository.

The meanings of business intelligence and customer intelligence are invoked by the original concept of social intelligence, a term coined in the 1920s to refer to an individual's ability to understand other people and to engage in adaptive interactions with them. According to a 1933 issue of the Journal of Social Psychology, "Social intelligence is the ability [to gain] insight into the temporary moods or underlying personality traits of strangers."

This 80-year-old definition of social intelligence is equally applicable today with respect to the advances we're seeing in social media monitoring and analysis. It's the ability to gain insight into the temporary moods or underlying personality traits of strangers.

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About the Author: Jeff Zabin is research director at Gleanster

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