Users of social listening and analytics product may include analysts, creatives, content producers, communication experts, college interns, data scientists, marketers, public relations professionals, researchers, social account managers, strategists, marketing executives and more. It is quite a challenge to present information in a way that satisfies the needs of this diverse user base.

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Over the years that our team has developed MutualMind’s social analytics product, I’ve talked with hundreds of users about the display of social information, how they interact with it and how they want to get their hands on it for offline use.

The paramount goal for us as product designers is to hide the complexity that comes with large volumes of unstructured and structured social data, present the insights in easy-to-understand displays and empower the users to interact with the data to find what they need.

A recent blog post at HBR blog network about the value of data visualization caught my attention. Here’s an excerpt from the post that talks about the two major value propositions that the new data visualizations tools provide.

The first value proposition is the obvious one, which is enabling users to create better visuals that bring their data and their analysis to life. This is the value proposition that most people focus upon and that gets the most attention. It is also the primary reason organizations invest in visualization tools.

The second value proposition, which is often either overlooked or vastly under-credited, is that visualization tools democratize big data by giving users wide flexibility to analyze data within a self-service business intelligence environment. Visualization tools allow users to explore, summarize, and visualize data in the way they see fit as opposed to the way someone else saw fit to allow them. By having the flexibility to join different data sources as desired, view patterns on the fly, and iterate, users can discover important insights and trends more easily and more rapidly.

I have personally witnessed this empowerment — and the delight that comes with it — with many clients. At MutualMind we offer both pre-configured dashboard views and reports as well as provide plenty of ad-hoc interactions with data for power users. Drill-downs, check. Create your own tags and queries, check. Analyze a custom subset of data, check.

The industry is still adapting to the wave of social, cloud and big data and the new technologies that allow more sophisticated self-service business intelligence. A couple of related trends are emerging. First, the rise of mobile devices has a big impact on information display and consumption. Second, large screen displays, as in social command centers, are gaining popularity at a fast pace.

One thing is clear: the analytics vendors who get the data visualization and reporting right and provide an excellent user experience will emerge as winners.

Photo credit: FFunction / Flickr

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