Measuring the Impact of Social Media

United Stationers uses IBM SPSS Predictive Analytics to track success of social media initiatives

Published on 06-Apr-2011

"IBM SPSS Statistics can really help us see the effect of social media on the business. " - John Hassman, Director of Analytics

United Stationers

Wholesale Distribution & Services, Retail

Deployment country:
United States

Business-to-Business, BA - Business Analytics, Customer Relationship Management, Digital Media, Smart Work, Smarter Commerce, Smarter Planet, Deep Computing: Business Intelligence, Information On Demand

Smarter Planet:
Smarter Media, Smarter Solutions for Retail


United Stationers Inc. is a leading North American wholesale distributor of business products. The company stocks approximately 100,000 items – including a broad and deep selection of technology products, office products, office furniture, janitorial and breakroom supplies, and industrial products – from over 1,000 manufacturers. Its customers include more than 25,000 resellers, which in turn serve many geographic markets and have a diverse end-consumer base.

Business need:
United Stationers needed to interpret the data collected in two separate pilot programs that leverage social media: an internal initiative aimed at enhancing two-way communications through the use of an innovative social business platform, USSCo Connects; and an external “listening” program aimed at capturing mentions of the company in tweets, blogs, Facebook postings, and the like.

The company uses IBM SPSS Statistics to analyze, correlate, and interpret data from these pilot programs, making it possible to leverage results for improved internal communications and enhanced business outcomes.

Understanding user behavior has helped United Stationers put the right content and features on its internal social media site to reduce one-off communications, increase group participation, and deliver a consistent marketing message to sales.

Case Study

United Stationers Inc. is a leading North American wholesale distributor of business products. The company stocks approximately 100,000 items – including a broad and deep selection of technology products, office products, office furniture, janitorial and breakroom supplies, and industrial products – from over 1,000 manufacturers. Its customers include more than 25,000 resellers, which in turn serve many geographic markets and have a diverse end-consumer base.

Already a high-performance organization that delivers exceptional value through innovative marketing and logistics services, United Stationers prides itself on embracing change and continuous improvement. The company’s website states: “We believe in always doing our best. We then look for ways to make our best even better.”

One way in which the company is making its best even better is by building a social media strategy, including running a pilot program with USSCo Connects, an internal website that leveraged social business software to promote effective, two-way communications within the company. USSCo Connects was designed to support the sales force with information about marketing programs. IBM SPSS Statistics was used to analyze activity on the site for continuous improvement.

A new way to communicate with employees
“We got information on who’s using the USSCo Connects platform, and how they were using it,” says John Hassman, director of analytics at United Stationers. “We matched users with departments and tracked their overall usage of the tool in terms of time. We saw how many users were connecting with other users, how many messages they were sending, whether they were replying to messages, whether they were downloading documents from blogs, and much more.”

All of this data was imported into Statistics for analysis, and some interesting results surfaced; for example, correlation analysis shows that people who posted blogs also tended to upload documents. Similar analysis of potential users who did not take advantage of USSCo Connects will be used to refine the communications strategy.

At the outset, Hassman and his team had specific goals for USSCo Connects, including sustained participation, fewer one-off communications, and consistent messaging to sales. They also hoped to effect a broad change in behavior, such that employees would search for

information themselves before sending email queries. More than 15 years of personal experience gave Hassman the confidence to choose Statistics as the analysis engine for the new social business platform.

Statistics showed that USSCo Connects truly did connect with United’s sales and marketing organization. The participation level over time reached 60%. More than half of the active users were in the sales group, suggesting that these employees were leveraging the sales strategies and marketing tools available on the site. And 90% of users were consuming content based on searches that they initiated themselves.

Hassman offers a specific example to highlight the value of USSCo Connects. “Last year we had a major revamp of our customer programs, prompting a lot of questions and dialogue,” he recalls. “Our marketing group was answering the same questions repeatedly, even when multiple salespeople were copied on the email replies. With this platform, the answer is immediately visible to everybody. This eliminates a lot of the repetitive communication.” What’s more, the information is searchable, instead of being buried in an email chain. Says Hassman: “USSCo Connects represents a real productivity boost for us, and Statistics will continue to help us track, measure, and improve our social media efforts moving forward.”

Ear to the ground
In parallel with USSCo Connects, United Stationers piloted a second social media–based program as a way of “listening” to external commentary on the company. “This gives us a chance to look across all the social platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, to see what people are saying about us,” explains Hassman. “As a wholesale distributor, we don’t really have a big consumer face. But we still like to know what’s being said about us out there, because obviously any negative post can quickly mushroom out of hand.”

For the listening initiative, the company focuses on four main areas: brands, competition, leadership team, and business units. “We’re definitely interested in hearing what the outside world is tweeting and blogging about our private-label brands,” continues Hassman. “We also track what our competition is doing – not just new products and promotions, but even things like hiring practices – so we can stay ahead of them.”

As a result of the listening program, for example, United Stationers knows that its competitors are posting jobs on various social media sites with good success; this finding has been shared with HR. The software also reveals the type of external public relations information that is being picked up. This input can be used to fine-tune the company’s PR efforts and more effectively tailor communications for the intended audience.

“We monitor comments on presentations that our leadership team gives at conferences and other events,” Hassman says. “We also want to know the word on the street about our business units. There’s quite a bit of chatter from suppliers who do business with us and Statistics helps us interpret it to improve our business.”

Greater productivity, richer insights
With the internal pilot completed for now and the external pilot going well, United Stationers is looking to grow its usage of social media to enhance communications and improve business outcomes. “I’m taking the listening data that we get and actually starting to combine it with some of our own internal information,” says Hassman. “This interconnected data will help us answer questions such as: ‘If the mentions on Facebook and Twitter go up, is there a correlation with sales?’ IBM SPSS Statistics can really help us see the effect of social media on the business.”

Separately, the company is starting to use Statistics to identify at-risk customers based on purchasing behavior and patterns, in order to develop appropriate action plans to retain them. Long-range sales forecasting with Statistics is also in the works. Future initiatives may take advantage of the software’s text mining capabilities.

“Ultimately, the aim is to combine competitive forces and employee perceptions to gain a 360-degree view of customers and what they’re looking for, using Statistics for integration and analysis of the business data,” Hassman concludes. “When you couple that with the increased productivity we expect to gain through enhanced two-way communications within the company, it’s easy to see that United Stationers will benefit significantly from the intelligent use of social business analytics. IBM SPSS Statistics is the linchpin in this effort, because it helps make sense of the data and deliver real business value to our company.”

About IBM Business Analytics
IBM Business Analytics software delivers complete, consistent and accurate information that decision-makers trust to improve business performance. A comprehensive portfolio of business intelligence, predictive analytics, financial performance and strategy management, and analytic applications provides clear, immediate and actionable insights into current performance and the ability to predict future outcomes.

Combined with rich industry solutions, proven practices and professional services, organisations of every size can drive the highest productivity, confidently automate decisions and deliver better results.

As part of this portfolio, IBM SPSS Predictive Analytics software helps organisations predict future events and proactively act upon that insight to drive better business outcomes. Commercial, government and academic customers worldwide rely on IBM SPSS technology as a competitive advantage in attracting, retaining and growing customers, while reducing fraud and mitigating risk. By incorporating IBM SPSS software into their daily operations, organisations become predictive enterprises – able to direct and automate decisions to meet business goals and achieve measurable competitive advantage.

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

SPSS Statistics Server, SPSS Statistics Base

Legal Information

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