“The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” Carly Fiorina, former executive, president, and chair of Hewlett-Packard Co. and current presidential hopeful. Social media generates data. Lots of it. To tap into the power of that data and the conversations people are having about your brand or your competitors, you have to collect and dig through loads of data.

Take Twitter. As of August 2015, there are about a billion people on Twitter. 100 million of them are active daily, and about a third of them log onto Twitter more than twice a day and tweet, apparently, as there are over 500 million new tweets or retweets each day.   That’s a lot of data, which needs to be curated and filtered to bring the relevant messages out of the mounds and mounds of data to be considered information.

But information alone, while important, isn’t the gold at the end of the rainbow. As Carly Fiorina observed, insight is.

Insights are the link to action, and action is the only way to drive results. Turning data into information requires solid data management at scale, with key metrics identified and tracked. But that’s as far as it can go until analytics are brought into the equation. The quest for consumer insight is driving a wave of interest in social media analytics today.

On Twitter #SocialMediaAnalytics is trending; everybody’s talking about it. Peter Sondergaard, senior vice president at Gartner, put it this way; “Information is the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” We all need to kick that combustion engine into high gear in order to find the consumer insights we need.

Analytics give us the power to understand what all that data is telling us, and even more importantly, who is behind it. If we don’t drill down into the people behind the numbers – the who – we may find ourselves celebrating the wrong milestones. Those retweets may not mean what we think they do if we haven’t a clue about who the re-tweeters really are!

In future posts I’ll dig into the types of analytics that are useful, and how to implement them for the best results. Today I’ll simply leave you with a short list of business objectives you can attack by analyzing whom you’re actually engaging with on social media.

6 Ways Social Analytics Can Boost Your Business:

1. Segmentation and targeting. On social media consumers tell you their interests directly by generating content, and indirectly by their following behavior. Combine their interests with audience demographics to form powerful segmentation intelligence. For example, Manchester United, the internationally popular soccer team, uses social media analytics on its nearly 6 million followers to improve its engagement with fans and tailor its services to regional preferences. According to Manchester United ambassador and former right back Dennis Irwin, this has improved the fan experience at the club.

“The vast majority of our fans can’t get to Old Trafford. We have to engage them also, and that is where we have to use social media. Games are on TV right across the world now, so in that respect fans get to see a lot more, engage a lot more, and the change has been unbelievable. Technology is a huge part of the game now – both for the players and the media and particularly for the fans.”

2. Competitive intelligence. Are your customers intently following what your competitor says? Are your competitors increasing their engagement with your audience? In our Insights Report one of the most popular visualizations is the heat map showing overlap between brands and competitors.

3. Message personalization. The most effective communication with customers and prospects centers on things they care about. Studying what consumers care about on social media can serve as a signpost for creative personalization.

4. Consumer research. The interests followed by your customers or other consumer segments can provide you with panels of consumers actively engaged in conversations pertinent to your brand. Social media avoids some potential pitfalls of consumer research like faulty recall or skews caused by the survey questions themselves to give you unfiltered, honest feedback on the real care-abouts of your targeted consumers.

5. Trend analysis. What happened after your last product launch? After your competitor’s last big marketing campaign? Did your brand’s expensive Super Bowl ad resonate with the right consumers and have the intended effect? Social media analysis contains those answers, especially when you can link it to offline intelligence, and look at engagement and sentiment before and after key events can lead to “aha” moments.

6. Product design and development. Let’s look at an example from a master. Lady Gaga, who already has over 50 million followers on Twitter, used her social engagement to drive enrollment in a private site to gather fan input on her merchandise designs. Sales soared 30%! She crowdsourced her product design directly with her customers and it sure paid off. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that war is ninety percent information. If he’d had access to analytics we might all speak French fluently today. Au revoir!