Creating Social Media Dashboards

The act of being alive today creates an immense stream of social data. A whole industry has developed around creating social media dashboards for monitoring social conversation, but the reality is that social media dashboard solutions are fairly cookie-cutter and all utilize the same data sources.

What if I want to create a custom visualization of my own data combined with everything else? If I choose one of the existing dashboards I’m pretty much limited to what ever that monitoring company believes is important to the general audience.

Free is nice, but you generally get what you pay for. When it comes to discovering competitive business insight through data analysis the devil is in the details. You need to think about your social data and business impacts from a thousand different viewpoints before you discover your epiphany.

+If you are like me, I generally don’t fall in the cookie cutter category. I am constantly asking the questions that matter (to me.)

Some of the right questions…

How much budget do I have to work with?

You should be thinking about the entire process you need to complete. Creating your own social dashboard or getting a license for an existing one is only a fraction of the project. You should make sure that you have enough budget set aside for research, strategy, training, integration, and business conversion. My general rule is that a dashboard should generally take less than 20% of the project budget (it is an important piece, but not the only piece.)

How much time do I have?

Creating a socia media dashboard requires you to understand some of the cogs that are going to be built into the visualization. You either have to spend time learning these cogs or set aside budget for having a consultant help you.

How accurate does it need to be?

One of my biggest grudges about most of the cookie cutter solutions out there is accuracy. I’m amazed by the ‘fluffy’ data that originates from platforms ranging in cost from $20 to $10k a month.

Who is using it?

The larger your organization, the more people who will probably need access to it. You need to develop a list of the who, where, why, when, and how people in your organization are going to access and act on the information in your social media dashboard.

Where can I promote the data?

It is essential that this data is seen. The saying goes “out of sight, out of mind” – you need to make plans to actively display your social media dashboard in a manner that keeps the data front and center with the people who it matters to.

What is data privacy?

A lot of people in the industry don’t want to talk about this part. Many of the cookie-cutter SAAS solutions out there service competitive accounts and don’t really keep things properly contained. Account managers are often looking at SAAS clients and examining what types of data are being tracked by what types of clients. This data is used to help other clients make changes to their tracking solutions and eventually used to make upgrades to the platform. *If I assumed my organization was an industry leader, I’d rather not have my data insight be used as a tool to help a dozen competitors.

(if you want to read more about questions you should be asking, check out my article on 40+ Social Media Dashboards)

Tools for creating Social Media Dashboards

I’m not going to lie.

There are a million tools to create social media dashboards.

I’ve seen enterprise level social media dashboards that look like they were drawn on napkins and freemium ones that were delightful user experiences.

The real trick is identifying the right tool for the right job.

Just because it looks pretty doesn’t mean it works well. It also doesn’t mean it is accurate, consistent, or even worthwhile.
You have to think of your social media dashboard from both a functional and a design perspective.

– Starting with completely free web code like HTML and PHP, you can create some pretty simple web dashboards. I wouldn’t recommend going into the realm of site coding unless you have someone on your project team that is comfortable playing with these tools.

– Open sources solutions like WordPress and Drupal. While both of these systems are traditionally thought of as blog platforms, they both operate as effective methods of posting and collecting information with the right plugins. I’ve personally developed several whiz-bang dashboards on WordPress.

– I also rely on Microsoft Excel and Access. These are the easiest tools to examine some basic data conclusions and are readily available to most users. Using some of the built-in charts allows me to quickly compare a few sets of data to help refine my end target.

– Microsoft Powerpoint is also a commonly overlooked tool. Create a few basic objects in Powerpoint and create mock-ups of what types of data should be where. This process generally lets me share a half dozen visualization samples so that I can get input from the working team to move cogs around.

Getting more advanced…

When working with web data I commonly show examples. Google Images is critical for this. Simply doing a search on Google Images for “industry + dashboard” gives me some ideas to how other people visualize data.

When I’m done with my basic strategy I turn towards a list of tools

These tools each have some useful applications. There is no magic bullet or one size fits all winner.

User Analytics

Don’t forget to monitor who uses your dashboard.

One of the most important qualities to my social media dashboard is whether or not anyone will use it.

I want to know who, when, where, why.

I want to know what matters the most to that user and what role they play in the company.

If my data is useful and is presented properly, I will have a repeat user who consistently returns for more.

If I don’t have a repeat user I need to figure out why. I may have to change the presentation of the data, use different data, or train the person on why the data is important.

How does data impact your business?

What visualization and dashboard tools do you use to track social media? Do you think there are any inherent benefits or flaws associated to using an existing ‘social media dashboard?’