Many self-proclaimed experts say the actual social media revolution began around five or six years ago. How exactly they determined that is up for debate, but I suspect it involved grandfathers and great aunts starting to populate their respective Facebook walls with funny pictures they got in one of those chain e-mails. Probably one of those that ended with some obscure warning – that if you didn’t forward it to at least ten people, someone was going to spray your cat with rattle-can paint.

Around that same time, big corporations started considering social media to be a legitimate marketing channel and gave it a proper budget to work with. It wasn’t too long prior when marketing teams were given million dollar billboard budgets and a $500 “banner budget” – or however much was left over after the billboards were booked and paid for. These days it’s pretty much the other way around. Unless, it seems, you are a personal injury lawyer, or if you’re in Indiana and you want to get a distinct spiritual message out to all the motorists.

As of today, there are effectively no businesses without some kind of social media presence, even small local shops use it in some regard – to gather reviews, encourage people to follow them on Twitter or a Facebook page for special holiday deals. And it’s easy to make the assumption that the more followers you have, or the more activity you have on there, the more successful you are.

Except that’s not really true. A business with 50.000 followers isn’t necessarily more successful than a business with 50 followers. Followers don’t put food on the table. A retweet doesn’t pay the rent. One person who buys your product is better than ten people liking a photo of it.

The true measurement of success on social media is how you leverage the information available to your advantage. This is where you probably start thinking how this doesn’t apply to you. You’re too busy, your market is too local or you’re not big enough. And this would be where I say – nonsense. The smaller you think you are, the more this applies to you.

Alongside the social media revolution and the ever growing fear of robots eventually taking over the world, we have seen some truly amazing technological advancements in data intelligence over the past few years. Data Intelligence may sound like a bunch of strange people in a bomb-proof Cold War-era bunker somewhere staring at green code as they talk to some crew up in space, but in reality, it is nothing like that. One of the more established definitions of Data Intelligence is “Use of data to analyze operations, workforce, customers or sales and marketing efforts to make better decisions in the future” – and that’s exactly how this can be applied to a business.

The concept of data intelligence is to provide a little bit of information and get much more in return.

The concept of data intelligence is to provide a little bit of information and get much more in return. Someone’s Facebook profile can turn into an entire overview of that person, and someone’s email address can tell you what their hobbies are. There are many providers of data intelligence platforms these days, and we are one of them. In the context of social media, data intelligence can be applied to learn more about who follows you, and why. Assuming you have a little bit of critical mass to analyze -let’s say 50 followers or page likes- there are some truly incredible information you can get out of them. How about a psychographic profile? Which is fancy-speak for their interests and hobbies. You could also get a behavioral map – or demographic. If one of them is into model trains, that doesn’t tell you much, but if 25% of them are located within the same zip code and it correlates with a shared interest in camping – that gives you some actionable data you can use.

Why not compare your sales data with your data intelligence data – where are the strongest buyers located? Or what their social media profile breaks down to in terms of platforms? If 10% of your customers are on Twitter and 85% are on Pinterest and Houzz, perhaps that’s where you should put your effort?

I’m trying hard not to quote a greedy 1980s yuppie protagonist here, but information truly is the most valuable commodity for any company, big or small. There are no limits as to how you can apply data intelligence in your business. It’s an unbelievably clever solution to a problem you didn’t even know existed, and can help answer everything from “Who is my average customer?” to “What specific sales or marketing efforts should I focus on?”.

And best of all – the cost of acquiring this information is negligible with most providers. As for ourselves, we charge $15 per month, or roughly the equivalent of two mugs of low fat, mocha latte pumpkin spice with no carb skimmed milk down at the coffee shop, and nearly all of it is automated and tailored around you.

Quite possibly a better return on investment than if you had purchased Apple stock in the mid-80s?

Source: Source: Pew Research Center surveys, 2005-2006, 2008-2015. No data are available for 2007.