Social media are the intelligence powering modern marketing. Not only is the Twittersphere dominated by marketers keen on the promotional power of social channels, but it seems everybody in the marketing profession everywhere is obsessed with this new world of ubiquitous chitchat.

Everybody comments on social media analytics, so what I’m saying here isn’t news to most of you. But I recently stopped to ponder what’s truly disruptive about social media’s role in the modern economy. And then it hit me. From the dawn of marketing, we’ve always hunted and gathered customer intelligence, using massive amounts of sweat equity to bag the beast. Before social media emerged, market research was almost always labor-intensive. No matter who you were — enterprise, agency, consultant, analyst, etc. — you had to put your nose to the proverbial research grindstone. You conducted panels, surveys, focus groups, interviews, field studies, usability testing, case studies, literature searches, and the like. Most of the intelligence-gathering burden was on you, with the subject of your studies — the customer — either putting in less effort or not having to lift a finger at all.

Social media changed all that by shifting much of the “work” of intelligence-gathering to the customer. Essentially, social media made a heretofore second-tier market research approach — diary studies — the centerpiece of the new economy. Social media analytics is diary studies embedded in the global culture of the postmodern world. Social media — founded on “user-generated content” — are diary studies gone ubiquitous, proactive, and continuous. In this new scheme of things, more and more of us — through Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc. — continually self-report our feelings, experiences, preferences, activities, etc. This ubiquitous social-centric culture has opened a new world of open-source customer intelligence that is there for the taking — or harvesting.

Essentially, social has pushed the marketing intelligence field from the olden days of hunting and gathering to the new age of sowing and harvesting. Social intelligence listening engines, integrated with a growing range of customer relationship management applications, are simply powerful harvesters. We sow the seeds of the continuous intelligence harvest by reaching out to customers through the wide range of social media. And we optimize our marketing campaigns around social media, both on the intelligence-harvesting analytics and on the customer-engagement ends of the equation.

There are plenty of best practices that marketing professionals have mastered to harness social media analytics for business advantage. Catch me next month speaking on this topic at the TDWI conference in Las Vegas.