Social Mining: A Double-Edged Sword

Michael Vizard
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Companies are beginning to experiment with mining the social media activity of their customers as part of a proactive approach to providing customer care and generating sales leads.

A case in point is Zone Labs, a provider of diet supplement and life sciences products and services, which has begun using Cisco Social Miner software to track conversations on multiple social networks not only about the company, but anything related to dieting or nutrition.

Like most technologies, social mining is a double-edged sword. While proactively engaging customers can be beneficial, social mining can easily be abused. If a potential customer, for example, changes their social network profiles or posts to something about an upcoming trip to Mexico, that should not necessarily result in the person being inundated with offers from a hundred different companies.

However, if a customer posts a complaint or query, then the probability that an outreach from a company would be welcome, versus seen as an intrusion, increases dramatically.

Zone Labs CEO Petter Etholm says that companies will need to define rules for social media engagement, but he has no doubts that there will be plenty of examples of where the technology is abused. The good news is that social networks are giving users more tools to filter out that kind of spamming activity. Cisco is also making an API available for Social Miner that companies can use to layer third-party analytics applications on top of Cisco Social Miner, which should lead to more intelligent usage of the technology.

In the not-too-distant future, video will also play a bigger role, says John Hernandez, Cisco's general manager and vice president for customer collaboration. Customers will be able to record their potential issues and share them with customer support representatives. Conversely, companies will be able to resolve more issues by streaming training videos in real time to specific customers. And all of those conversations will be able to happen within a single Cisco Social Miner interface, versus requiring support people to separately log into various social networks.

Hernandez says that a major transformation in how companies approach customer care via the call center is now under way. And while it's unclear what impact social mining technologies will have on the overall business, the call center for certain is shifting towards being a proactive rather than reactive entity.

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