Social Intelligence Trends for 2013
Kristin Muhlner

The explosion of online feedback we witnessed in 2012 has forever changed the way businesses and customers interact. Even before customers pay their check, check out of a hotel, or exit a store, many broadcast their review in a post or tweet for the online world to see. While some are still striving to get their heads and hands around this “word of mouth on steroids,” we at newBrandAnalytics are seeing savvy businesses using the intelligence embedded in online conversations to transform how they deliver a quality customer experience.

Based on information analyzed from 2012, we have our finger on the pulse of the key social intelligence trends we predict will unfold in2013:

Good-bye surveys: In 2012, organizations witnessed a 25% increase in online customer reviews. With a consistent, reliable and free source of feedback coming from the web, social intelligence has rendered solicited surveys pointless, and businesses will start to eliminate spend on solicited surveys in 2013. Many of the more progressive brands have already decided to eliminate surveys and instead focus on social feedback as their primary source for customer experience information.

Industrial espionage is now legal and free: Forget old-school normative assessments and anonymous data. Smarter companies will use social intelligence to dig into their competitors’ performance. They will not only benchmark competitors’ social data to try to outperform on operations, but also as inspiration for product creation. In 2012 we saw the hot brands using competitive data in new, previously unimagined ways. We predict that more than one-third of businesses adding products or menu items will be inspired by their competition’s online customer feedback.

So long traditional performance evaluations: Social intelligence will drive the real-time 360° performance evaluation system of the future. Forward-thinking companies will see the value of using online feedback from customers, guests, and co-workers to assess performance, make hiring/firing decisions, and motivate staff. Says Randy Stanley, Vice President of Parasole Restaurant Group, “Sharing online feedback places psychological control on employees. They recognize and accept that everyone is a critic and that they can read about their performance online daily, good or bad. They see now that they have to be ‘on’ all of the time. Every experience counts. That’s powerful.”

Social media, not just for marketing anymore: As brands expand their myopic view of social media and position it as a strategic business function, social media will break through the walls of the marketing department. Operations, human resources, customer service, and product development teams will have their own personal views into the intelligence. Ultimately, disseminating the information to more individuals ensures that investments in new locations and product offerings have the desired results in revenue and profitability. Last year we helped several organizations save new locations from the brink of disaster by enabling them to make swift changes in management and operations based on social intelligence. This trend is sure to take off in 2013. As Burton Heiss, CEO Nando’s Peri-Peri told Fast Casual Executive Summit attendees, “We push our data to store leads, as they know what best to do with it.”

Star ratings are so yesterday: Consumers and businesses alike will start ignoring the once-coveted star ratings as they are proving to be misleading, unreliable and not actionable. Instead, they will flock to online review analysis tools to gain the meaty insights and details they’re looking for. Consumers will seek verbatim reviews in making their purchase decisions; businesses will decipher the true meaning and uncover important themes discussed in these unstructured reviews to drive improvements. Ultimately, star ratings will be rendered useless.

Everything’s local: Companies will move from trusting brand level intelligence delivered by solutions such as Radian6, to wanting location-specific intelligence. The conclusion—it’s no longer about the brand. Tip O’Neill said. “All politics is local.” It’s no surprise: all customer experiences are local, too. Savvy companies will use location-specific social reviews and alerts to quickly pinpoint trouble spots and react in a way best suited to deliver the best possible customer experience in that location or store.

Kristin Muhlner is CEO of newBrandAnalytics [acquired by] , a leading provider of social intelligence that helps more than 4,200 customer locations, for companies including Five Guys, Hersha, P.F. Chang’s, Ruby Tuesday, Darden, Washington D.C. government, and many more drive continuous operational improvements at the brand, region and local levels resulting in a superior customer experience. A recognized standout in leading high-growth technology and services organizations, Muhlner has more than 20 years of expertise building mission critical technology solutions used by Fortune 500 companies.