Measuring the Social Media Force: A New Revolution

When the social media revolution first dawned on the business world following the networking boom of websites such as Myspace and Facebook, companies were faced with the challenge of scraping through thick layers of ‘data dirt’ to make sense of whatever industry potential lay beneath. They quickly recognised the impact the revolution was having on their businesses, but no one was quite aware of the importance of being able to measure it.

Twenty-five year-old entrepreneur Florian Giudicelli, who forms part of a small handful of professionally qualified web analysts in France, set out to succeed on a career path tread by very few before him – one which drove him to launch his own independent consultancy business.

He said: “The profession of web analytics is still very much in its early days; I’ve seen several businesses looking for their first web analyst ever, and it’s challenging for them because they don’t find people with the right experience to take on board. On top of that, there are still a very small number of universities providing specific web analytics training.”

A web analyst for French online retailer Boulanger, Giudicelli first heard of this field of work after graduating from Nottingham Trent University in 2008 with a BA in Economics. It was during his final year of studies, however, that he discovered a passion for the thrilling world of informatics and online development. “When I was at university, I didn’t even know who a web analyst was or what the job involved, because no one really talks about them. I did realise how much I loved the internet though, and even thought of dropping everything to start a degree in software studies. In the end I went on to do a Masters in International Business and it was only when I had to choose a placement that I chose to enter the online industry.”

“When I was at university, I didn’t even know who a web analyst was or what the job involved, because no one really talks about them"

Put simply, his job consists of measuring, analysing and optimising websites. “I install statistical tools such as Google Analytics or Adobe Omniture to analyse the behaviour of visitors on a particular site, and then use the results to improve marketing performances and user experience for that business,” he explained. Google Analytics in particular has experienced a tremendous rise in demand in recent years; in fact, companies seem to have spent substantial amounts on the tools providing the data, while paying little attention to the work of the people analysing it. Giudicelli highlighted the importance of properly implementing such tools: “With Google Analytics, the owner is able to identify the number of visitors landing on the page, the length of their visit, where they come from – whether it’s advertising, emailing, a search engine, a networking site, and so on – and much more. This knowledge is essential when there is an online advertising budget to work with.”

Giudicelli began his career as project manager for a French e-commerce website through which he discovered the works of Google Analytics. He also began researching widely on the subject, reading books by famous web analysts such as Avinash Kaushik, an American entrepreneur, public speaker and Associate Instructor for the Web Analytics Program at the University of British Columbia.

“For the first time in my life I was sure of what it was I wanted to do; pursuing a job as a Web Analyst would allow me to use my studies in Economics as well as follow my passion for informatics, so it was a perfect combination of both.” There was still one problem, however: the lack of jobs. He explained: “Very few firms were looking for web analysts at the time, and although all of them seemed interested and keen to hire someone in that position, they were not ready to do so. I did not want to be discouraged by it, so it was then I decided to work as an independent web analytics consultant and run my own freelance business.”

“Creating a web analytics culture within the enterprise is not easy, especially when business owners are only just beginning to understand the importance of our job"

Giudicelli went on to describe how most web analysts currently in the industry are in fact self-taught professionals with a background in either informatics or marketing - many of whom are still trying to prove themselves and the importance of their position within an enterprise. For the twenty-five year-old, it is this challenge in itself that proves the most exciting and demanding aspect of his career.

He said: “Creating a web analytics culture within the enterprise is not easy, especially when business owners are only just beginning to understand the importance of our job; for example, often the marketing department of a company creates a new page and forgets to ask the web analyst for a tracking plan, resulting in there being no data to actually analyse. Raising this awareness takes time and energy.”

Fighting misconceptions, however, is a motivating step. “Still to this day, some people are convinced that updating a part of their website is going to help grow their business, when this is rarely the case. Recently, for example, our marketing department decided to change the shape of our shopping cart buttons; after trying a number of different versions, we were able to show them that the original design had the best conversion rate. I like this most: testing, analysing data and delivering unexpected results.”

Giudicelli described how working for an online retailer and as part of a team gives him more space to be creative as opposed to technical, making the job fast-paced and challenging. As a primarily marketing-orientated position, his success at the office lies in the accomplishment of one task alone: growing the business.

“My boss doesn’t want me to be able to code in JavaScript for him, he wants me to be able to grow his business,” he said. “If tomorrow the turnover doesn’t reach the required objectives, he’ll come straight to me to ask me what’s going on; whether it’s due to a technical issue on the website, or whether it’s our Google Adwords campaigns that are not working anymore, or whether it’s due to our prices being too low compared to competition. He relies on me to provide the right information at the right time, which can be quite challenging.”

Working as an independent consultant, on the other hand, is a whole different story. He went on to explain: “When you work on a freelance basis, you spend more time implementing the tool and less time actually analysing the data, which makes the job more technical. You need to build the basis by yourself, because there aren’t any development teams there to help you integrate the tracking code and so on.”

As with most jobs, organisation is key - especially when running a business at your own pace. When working on a project, Giudicelli breaks the work down into a five step process:

“First we define what the business objectives are - a step known as KPI Selection - and then move on to installing the tracking tool and making sure that the data being tracked is relevant, also known as Quality Control. This brings us to Dashboard, step number four, which consists of monitoring our KPIs periodically in one place. The last step, Analysis and Optimisation, is the final step in which we analyse traffic to the website to improve performance.”

Despite having little time to himself, Giudicelli enjoys the opportunity to make a difference to the growth of a business within the online spectrum. “Had I not become a web analyst, I would have probably become a traffic manager, with the primary task of driving more visitors to websites. The job is interesting because it involves a number of channels such as affiliation, emailing, price comparator, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Search Engine Advertising (SEA) and retargeting.”

He went on to detail how the two jobs are closely connected: “Traffic managers can’t work without web analysts because they need us to understand customer behaviour and increase their return on investment. On the other hand, I believe a good analyst must be able to master the basics of traffic management, using tools such as Google Adwords.”

Despite it being a job somewhat overshadowed by the cloud of criticism raised against the influences of social media technology, one cannot deny the positive impacts of a web presence to any company keen on developing new business. Furthermore, there are clear signs that what was once viewed as a purely web-based platform of potential has now expanded into a realm of multichannel opportunities.

For Giudicelli, this transformation is both a pathway to new possibilities as well as a challenging turning point in the online industry: “You can now go online from anywhere in the world with a number of different devices; the customer first goes online to view the products and then comes to buy them in the physical store. As the environment becomes increasingly multichannel-orientated, web analysts will be faced with some real challenges. Some people are even starting to suggest we stop referring to the business of ‘web analytics’ and start calling it ‘digital analytics’ instead.”

With plans of someday launching his own e-commerce website, Giudicelli remains positive at the prospect of a yet evolving social media era that will create space for web analysts to thrive in.

He concluded: “I have a feeling that today, most business owners are growing more aware of the importance of analysing and optimising their online performances; it’s more difficult to persuade the other stakeholders but I believe there is a real consciousness rising.”

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