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Sharon Crost on five ways Hitachi Data Systems uses big social data to map the customer journey

This is a post from my company,’s blog. Check it out for more profiles and stories about the people running social at really big brands.

For this case study, we dove into a presentation by Hitachi Data Systems’ Senior Social Business Lead, Sharon Crost, at our Brands-Only Summit in Orlando.

Like most BtoBs, Hitachi has a difficult time mapping out their buyer’s journey.

“It’s really difficult to say what our buyers actually use to make a decision and how we attribute that to revenue,” says Sharon Crost, Senior Social Business Lead for Hitachi Data Systems in her Brands-Only Summit presentation.

She’s describing a problem that’s familiar to a lot of social media marketers: collecting data that tracks the customer’s path to purchase and turning that into actionable insight for their stakeholders.

But just because it’s really difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

In her presentation, Sharon explains how Hitachi Data Systems is learning more about their customer’s journey and how they can be a part of it by asking five questions about big data:

  1. Who’s out there?
  2. Is anyone influential?
  3. What content is relevant?
  4. Can we get any intelligent insight?
  5. How do we get business impact from the data?

Question One: Who’s out there?

When one of Hitachi’s SlideShare presentations earned 20,000 views, Sharon and her team took notice. This was a big jump from their normal reach, and it was tempting to pat themselves on the back. But they only wanted to continue relationships with the viewers who were actually considering buying their stuff.

To narrow down that data, they placed a simple registration form at the end of the presentation. It was important that the form didn’t interrupt their experience — that it was polite.

“It’s a tricky balance to try to give viewers information without being obtrusive. This was very simply asking for permission, ‘If you’re interested in our products and solutions, give us your information.'”

Question Two: Is anyone influential?

Sharon and her team dug into their Twitter data to plot all of their followers from various Hitachi Twitter accounts, including those from employees and non-corporate accounts. She says it was worth the effort.

“What we found amazed me,” says Sharon. “Here I thought my job was to get the message out from our corporate Twitter account. But that wasn’t it at all. Our corporate Twitter handle only accounted for 13 percent of the conversation happening about Hitachi.”

Hitachi’s employees, friends, and families accounted for the other 87 percent of the conversation. That’s 87 percent of the conversation Sharon’s team was not a part of. But instead of trying to siphon those followers away from the other accounts, Sharon’s team helped boost their influence.

“We wanted to make them the heroes,” Sharon says.

They shared content with the accounts outside of @HDSCorp using a simple Excel spreadsheet to explain what topics they planned to talk about for the week. They also created an internal platform to help employees share top content.

According to Sharon, “It costs so little to be generous with your content.”

Question Three: What content is relevant?

Sharon explains that they pay attention to the content their customers view the most and give that content a boost with paid promotions on social networks.

“With all of these peaks and valleys in the number of viewers, you can see some stars emerge. We let our customers define which content is relevant to them. The marketing team doesn’t get to decide what content is out there. It’s our customers who get to decide that.”

Question Four: Can we get any intelligent insight?

Like most companies, over 50 percent of the data Hitachi collects is unstructured data — the stuff that’s harder to get specific insights from. They call it “dark data.”

To shed light on that dark data, they created a process to combine categories and look at the numbers in different ways. They started with pulling in things like sentiment analysis, industry event calendars, competitive information, and key search terms. Then they put them together to come up with insights for content, buzz, and competition.

For example, to find their share of voice, Sharon’s team took key search terms and mashed it up with competitive information. They also compared event calendars with the volume of conversations to see when people in the industry were talking and how Hitachi could become a part of those conversations.

Question Five: How do we get business impact from the data?

Sharon’s team not only had to share their data insights with 52 stakeholders, but also had to do it in a way that was interesting. They used to give stakeholders a report each week, but after a while, fewer people were actually looking at it.

“Now we make it more interesting for them. We share things like the tip of the week or the statistic of the week, spoon-feeding the data,” she explains.

In fact, Sharon’s team shares data internally using a similar model to how they share content externally. They’ll send insights to all of their stakeholders and wait for their responses. Based on what each team finds interesting, Sharon’s team will give them more information.

Sharon says, “It’s a win-win when you communicate with your stakeholders. When you bring them good news they say ‘Wow, let’s look more into this.’ When it’s bad news, they ask what happened. We can then tell them the story and explain that we need more information. Then they’ll give us a bigger budget for it.”

Watch Sharon’s full presentation at our Brands-Only Summit in the video below.

You can download her presentation slides here.

Say hi to Sharon on Twitter or check out her case study presentation on Hitachi Data System’s shortcuts for generating leads at our Member Meeting in San Francisco.

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