The Secret To Engaging Your Next Million Customers: Q&A With Sparks & Honey’s Sean Mahoney

Shelly Dutton

Over 2.3 billion people are reshaping how we connect, communicate, and interact with each other – and that number is expected to grow by at least 25% each year. Our personal and professional relationships now established through texts, tweets, likes, rating, shares, Skype calls, photos, videos, documents, slides, and virtual game play. However, is it possible that this bewildering stream of content and information holds the secret to future business success?

According to the latest finding of The CMO Survey, conducted by Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, only 3.4% percent of marketing leaders believe that social media contributes very highly to business performance while a staggering 40% report below-average results. Meanwhile, social media spend is expected to consume up to 20.9% of the marketing budget over the next five years.

Is social media just noise, or are businesses missing out on a goldmine of insight that could help them get ahead of the competition? I had the pleasure of talking to Sean Mahoney, vice president and editorial director of Sparks & Honey, to discuss this very question. During our discussion, he shared why social data is valuable, how to unlock its predictive nature, and why every business needs this treasure trove of information now.

What is the real value behind social data?

Mahoney: Culture is the most important driver of businesses today. By looking at trends and events in the lens of every region, every industry, and every aspect of our lives, social data can help us see how they all interconnect and impact each other. If you look at what happens every day, patterns eventually form. And you will start to see things that people, and even machine, don’t see just by number-crunching.

It’s evident that social media is shaping and reflecting global society. What can this data tell us about the future?

Mahoney: People are, by practice, quantifying their social data. However, some of this analysis still requires a qualitative edge. By looking at all trends and removing the mindset that some of it is meaningless, we can better understand why things are happening and find connections. From there, we have the beginnings of a story that can help us see into the future – 1, 5, or even 10 years down the road – based on ideas and information we are tracking every single day. If you take a look and digest them fully, you quickly learn that we no longer operate in a bubble. Businesses are truly influenced by everyday events in seemingly disparate sectors.

What advantages do companies miss when they choose to ignore the data and science behind social media?

Mahoney: Every company must learn the importance of being aware of what’s happening everywhere – and not just in their own sector. Just because you’re not paying attention to these social trends, it doesn’t mean that the business won’t be affected. Essentially, you’re setting yourself up to fail and fall prey to your own message.

The consumer experience can change people’s perception of a brand. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in; you’re affected by “brand love” that encompasses a consumer’s entire life. Take the millennial generation’s influence in the banking industry. No longer are they looking at the giants such as Bank of America and Citibank – they’re looking at Google, Apple, and other tech companies instead.

Brands are now in a unique position to influence people, culture, and social attitudes. And with this opportunity comes the responsibility of progressive thinking when understanding human desires. The core business demands it. But more important, your consumers are relying on you to be their guide.

Learn how you can stay on top of trends for leading global brands. Watch the replay of the SAPPHIRE NOW session “Find Your Next Million Customers in the Digital World.”