When social media first hit our screens in the new millennium, it was simply about connecting with old friends, sharing stories and collecting a few “likes” along the way.
But in the past decade, the online social boom has delivered much more than links and connections: with every status, share, like and comment, it oozes valuable marketing information that’s highly-prized – and utilised – by businesses and organisations.
The ability to extract ‘external intelligence’ from social media platforms – such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest – can be used to help organisations make informed decisions and is the theme of Dr Maral Mayeh’s recently-completed doctoral thesis.
Maral says that the ‘mass global adoption’ of social media platforms has emerged as a new source of information that helps organisations better understand, and communicate with, its stakeholders.
‘Given that social media data is often equally available to all competing organisations, the ability to leverage this intelligence in business decision-making is crucial in today’s competitive business environment and it’s a potential source of competitive advantage,’ she explains.
Maral’s study offers several contributions to the existing social media research – which is still in its infancy - by developing a model of social media monitoring capability, its components and the potential impact on organisational competitiveness.
‘Social media intelligence can be used for a broad range of operational and strategic business decisions and can also contribute to organisational competitiveness. For example, business decisions can be triggered by either a social media comment – such as a Facebook wall post or a tweet - or by the aggregated analysis of a large volume of social media data’.
Social media monitoring, she explains, is one of the simplest ways that an organisation can identify information about its stakeholders or clients.
‘Social media users share a variety of demographic and behavioural information including gender, age, education level, geographical location, marital status, even their political views. For organisations, this information is highly valuable especially when making marketing decisions such as determining personalised products or services, and targeted online advertising.’
But online social information is more than pointing an organisation in the direction of growth – it can also be used to identify and defuse potential damage to a business’s reputation, share value or sales.
‘Because of the highly-networked structure of social media platforms, negative issues, comments or customers dissatisfaction can spread quickly in social media. Careful monitoring and managing of an organisation’s social media is very useful in identifying the early warnings so that remedial action can be taken to address this situation or protect reputation,’ says Maral.
However more importantly, she adds, is the ‘advanced analyses’ of the conversations and activities by social media users.
‘These offer strategic insights, such as emerging consumer trends, competitor moves, and new developments in technology and emerging markets. Timely access to this information enables organisations to identify new product and service opportunities before their competitors.’
Originally from Iran, Maral first completed an undergraduate degree in software before a six year-tenure with a leading software development company.
‘I was involved with, and led, several projects. Working with clients from diverse industries, I gained experience in analysis, design and implementation of enterprise applications, business intelligence and analytics solutions,’ she says.
In 2008, she moved to Malaysia to complete a Master of Business Administration (MBA) before accepting a scholarship from Deakin to undertake a PhD in information systems and business analytics.
‘I was offered admission from seven universities in Australia but I chose Deakin because of its generous scholarship program and reputation in business analytics,’ she explains.
Although acknowledging that writing a doctoral thesis is a journey ‘full of challenges’, she says it’s also the challenges of a PhD that make it a unique experience.
‘For me, one of the biggest challenges was that I couldn’t imagine what the end was going to look like until I got there. That kept me quite uncertain until the very end of the process … you cannot believe that there is an end to a research project until it really finishes.’
Maral hopes her research will now assist organisations in the implementation and understanding of social media analytics. She says that despite the social media explosion, there is still a significant knowledge gap about how social media monitoring can affect organisational competitiveness.
‘My research is an attempt to better understand this and it will be useful in this early era of social media adoption. Depending on an organisation’s capability to capture, analyse, and utilise social media data, social media intelligence can make an important contribution to its function and competitiveness.’
Now working as a senior anti-crime analyst for one of Australia’s major banks, Maral says that the research skills she developed during her PhD studies assists her in the role of detecting and preventing financial fraud.
‘This particularly applies to my analytical thinking and the confidence I have in exploring a new phenomenon and tackling unfamiliar problems. I always describe my PhD as a joyful journey and I know the skills I developed during that time could not be gained in any other setting.’