The Complexity of Collection: A Slew of Recently Released Web Analytics Products May Advance the Collection of Customer Data from Social Networks

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Intelligent businesses have been collecting and analyzing Web traffic data for nearly two decades now. After all, what company wouldn't want to understand how and why a customer visits its site? The difference between success and failure could be as simple as identifying the site's key performance indicators and quickly adapting to customer need.

Until recently, this process was limited to a brand's own site, since that was the only source of data available. But the explosion in social media has forced companies to expand the reach of analytics, thereby opening up new sources of (and new ways to employ) information. Recognizing this opportunity (and perhaps responding to market demand), several major vendors of Web analytics platforms recently launched social media tools within weeks of one another.

"Increasingly, marketers are finding social media to be an effective way to build brand or product awareness," says Matt Langie, senior director of product marketing at Web analytics firm Omniture. Social media, Langie adds, allows companies to address customer support issues, promote and sell products, and engage customers in the online conversations that are already happening. "Measurement and analytic tools help [marketers] better understand aggregate trends and ultimately optimize their online business with the social media sites and channels that are most effective ... By combining social media analytics with a broader online marketing suite, marketers are able to gain a 'single version of the truth' to determine what marketing investments are performing best and achieving their objective."

Omniture recently forged a deal with Facebook intended to provide online marketers with solutions to optimize the network as a marketing channel. Webtrends, another Web analytics firm, has also turned to Facebook, and offers services such as social media measurement, paid-search optimization, and integration of online and offline data silos scattered throughout organizations.

Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, vice president of marketing at Webtrends, says that analyzing a Facebook page is essentially no different than any other form of Web analytics. The true value of these new tools, he says, is in how the data is captured.

"Facebook doesn't allow you to do a lot of the data-collection methods that are pretty traditional within the analytics space," Kaykas-Wolff says. "On Facebook, you can't execute Javascript, and on a lot of the different areas you can't drop cookies and tabs. We've developed some patent-pending technology that allows us to capture data from Facebook and to do that within the terms of service Facebook mandates for its users. …