Tableau 8.1 and the future of social media analytics – Q&A

In the wake of the company’s tenth anniversary, Information Age spoke to Andy Cotgreave, social content manager at data analytics software vendor Tableau, about social media analytics and what we can expect from Tableau in the future.

How has the analytics landscape evolved over the ten years since Tableau came on the scene?

Traditionally BI has meant the use of complex products that could only be operated by the high priests of IT. The problem was that products were installed without the end user – the person in marketing, or in sales or customer service – in mind. Those that needed the insights in a business would have to put in the request for a report, which had to be put in a queue, and it was highly inefficient. As business has become faster and faster, that bottleneck was just a disaster.

But in recent years Tableau has been instrumental in putting drag and drop, easy to use tools in the hands of everybody, and data has effectively become democratised, freeing IT from responding to endless data reports and completely changing the culture around data. It is now regarded as a resource that everyone in a business can and should be making use of.

How has social media analytics changed the way companies analyse customer data?

In the past, listening to customer feedback involved expensive, time consuming and low participation surveys. But social media is about conversations amongst friends, broadcasting that information freely, and you don’t even need to ask questions, just instantly listen to what people are saying and respond there and then.

The next step is for companies to manage social media as a team. Connecting raw data sources together in a visualisation dashboard should inspire more questions and allow anyone to explore and make connections for themselves. It’s no longer enough to say ‘we gained this many Twitter followers last week’ – who are those followers? What are they saying? What can we learn from their conversations?

With the worldwide launch of Tableau 8.1 last week, what feature updates can customers expect?

The theme of Tableau 8.1 is ‘you asked, we delivered.’ We implemented thirty new features as suggested by people on the ideas forum on our website.

The main things we’ve introduced are based around statistical integration and ease of use, making handling data a lot smoother and improving performance. For instance we have introduced integration with open-source statistical analysis platform R and we’ve got the capability to copy and paste worksheets, dashboards and connections between workbooks.

We’ve moved the whole suite to 64-bit and vastly improved mobile editing. We have introduced a new chart type, box plots, which traditionally has been very hard to do in Tableau but is now available with a couple of clicks – these are just the few of the functions and upgrades we took on board from users, and the feedback from social media after the beta release has been overwhelmingly positive.

What will be the main hurdles for companies wishing to gain insights from social media conversations in the next few years?

One of the big hurdles a lot of companies have is they don’t have the tools to ask questions of their data as quickly as those questions arise. This means they can’t track where customer service issues are happening and engage as quickly as they need to.

There was an example in the news recently of a British Airways customer complaining about lost luggage over Twitter. When the company failed to respond straight away he paid for a sponsored tweet, which was seen by tens of thousands of people. Whenever they mentioned BA the tweet would come up saying their customer service is terrible.

If BA had a decent data tracker they’d have flagged someone not happy, had a policy of rapid response in place, and wouldn’t have had the publicity disaster they did. So this is going to be one of the big challenges that will only become bigger in years to come.

Another big hurdle will be privacy. It’s going to be interesting in the next few years. With the arrival of private social media channels such as Snapchat, are the younger demographic perhaps moving away from more public platforms such as Facebook? The new generation of social media users will have learnt from the niavite of the past around their data privacy, and will choose platforms based on those issues. This is great for individuals, but not for companies trying to learn what their customers are saying.

How will companies successfully navigate this new environment?

It will help for compaies to be very open about what they’re doing – transparency is key. To use our own example, we track Twitter looking for customer feedback and product issues, listen to Twitter and respond to them. We will always acknowledge when we’ve heard their tweet and respond as to whether we will be implimenting the change.

If companies are honest about the monitoring they’re doing I don’t see it as a problem, as long as people are on a platform where they’re aware they’re talking publicly anyway. 

But it’s a fine balance between creating a positive experience for people with brands, and not making people feel as though they are just a number and not truly valued – companies have a responsibility not to go in too heavy with their social media campaigns and tracking.

As data analysis matures, companies get more value out of it there’s a big risk that people using social media channels start to feel as though they’re only valued as bits of data, and they’ll simply walk away, causing companies to lose out big time.

What’s in the pipeline for Tableau 8.2?

Tableau 8.2 will see the launch of Tableau for the Mac, so a lot of people, particularly in media and creative industries, will be able to access dashboards from their desk for the first time.

We aim to integrate data sets more directly – one of the main challenges with social data is finding it in the sea of social media out there. So we will add more and more cloud connections so people can quickly and easily access massive stores of social data from Amazon Web Services, Google BigQuery, or even if they store social data in Hadoop, connecting to multiple data sources live and blending them together in the view.

See also:

>Tableau shares jump by over 50% after IPO

>Medway Youth Trust tackles unemployment with visual analytics

Avatar photo

Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

Related Topics