There’s a social media conundrum, according to Malcolm de Leo, chief evangelist at NetBase, a SaaS solution company with capabilities to read billions of conversations from social media sources.

This story first appeared in the February 28, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“What we’re seeing about using social data to run a business is that we have a cultural problem. As consumers, we use this behavior every day of our lives [when picking a restaurant or going on vacation], but in our business we are afraid to make decisions with this data because it is not quantifiable for many other reasons,” he said.

But with the explosion of the Internet and smartphones, that needs to change, he said. Power in the marketplace has shifted to consumers who now “control the conversation,” said de Leo. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine are venues that have given consumers the means to be in charge. Using “social listening,” marketers can reach consumers efficiently.

Information gleaned from social networks yields speedy results before and after campaigns, aids in crisis management and even helps track companies that could be merger or acquisition targets. “How many people are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a brand tracker you get every six months with outdated data?” asked de Leo. “With social [media] you can do it every day.”

Counting mentions isn’t enough, de Leo told attendees. Data has to be collected to yield insights. “We’re all businesspeople who gather data, but then we make decisions and if you are doing it only by the numbers, you are missing some of the picture,” he said.

Using cosmetics as an example, he noted there were more than 68 million social mentions of cosmetics over the past year. He was able to identify the passion and love consumers have for MAC’s Viva Glam campaign, even charting when Rihanna’s involvement was revealed and then executed.

He called for the industry not to focus solely on the tool being used, but to comprehend the why behind what’s happening.

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