Taiwan Institute for Information Industry: social media trends with Tableau

The Taiwan Institute for Information Industry (III) is a non-government organization focused on driving the advancement of information and communication technology (ICT) sector and building an information-rich society. The institute emphasizes cross-disciplinary environment, university-industry collaborations and techno-cultural co-development. It also plays a key role in helping domestic industries within Taiwan be more competitive and supports the local ICT industry with advanced technologies and international links. Serving as a think tank on ICT policy and consultant to the government, III is regarded as a source of vision, innovation and technological excellence.

From the Tableau visualizations, we are able to see spikes and troughs, and by connecting the dots, we are able to gain an understanding of preferences of social media users. Businesses are then able to see from our reports what works and what doesn’t, and plan their products, services and activities accordingly.

Seeing social media trends

Taiwan has one of the highest rates of Internet penetration in the world. Nearly 82.5 percent of Taiwanese households have Internet access. Internet users in Taiwan are also very active on social media, with over 63 percent of Taiwanese maintaining social media profiles. This is just a glimpse of the Internet and social media landscape in Taiwan from III’s research.

Behind all these information is William Shyu, section manager and his team of more than 10 researchers at Foreseeing Innovative New Digiservices (FIND) at III. The team dives into large amount of data, and using Tableau, extracts interesting patterns and trends, and presents an analytical view of behavioral trends and lifestyle preferences among social media users. The team also connects to Google analytics to discover web traffic and Internet usage trends.

Through the research, the III-FIND team aims to understand which social media sites are popular with Taiwanese, and what activities they use these sites for. Incidentally, Taiwan has 14 million active Facebook users in a typical month making it the biggest Facebook user base in Asia, according to Central News Agency in Taiwan in a September 2013 report.

The III-FIND research is an invaluable resource for many business owners and marketers who are trying to connect with Taiwanese consumers online. The findings allow them to make informed decisions and plan their offerings and promotions accordingly.

“From the Tableau visualizations, we are able to see spikes and troughs, and by connecting the dots, we are able to gain an understanding of preferences of social media users," explained Shyu.

“Businesses are then able to see from our reports what works and what doesn’t, and plan their products, services and activities accordingly,” he added.

Delivering insights with visual impact

Generally, III-FIND offers a macro view of the social media scene in Taiwan. For example, according to their research, more than two thirds of Taiwanese are prepared to spend a significant amount of time on social media to find out about the reputation of products or services that they are considering or purchasing. More than half of them, or 50.3 percent, would share their experience with others on a social media site once they have purchased the item.

Shyu commented: “We believe it is better to present our findings in a visual manner as visualization helps people better understand the results. Most likely, we would need to have a computer programmer help us create the visual presentations if not for Tableau. The III-FIND team is made up of researchers and we don’t have anyone with the programming skill sets.”

At any time, the III-FIND team may be going through a few gigabytes of data. They present their findings in charts, diagrams, tables, etc. using Tableau. These are then exported on to slides for easy presentation to III management, industry audience or the general public. Very often, over 100 different visualizations are used in one report. Different information would be presented using different kinds of charts or diagrams to best bring the point across.

“Tableau helps us deliver our findings with visual impact, and it allows us to come up with impressive presentations in a very short time,” said Shyu.

“Compared to using a traditional spreadsheet or visualization tools, Tableau saves us about half the time and we get the same or better results. Coworkers from other departments have been asking me what tool are we using and how did we get such impressive visuals,” he added with a laugh.

Freedom to explore data

Furthermore, III-FIND uses Tableau to ‘explore’ data. As Tableau allows users to retrace their steps, users can freely explore different approaches with the same set of data. Shyu’s team often looks at the same data set from different perspectives without determining beforehand what they are searching for. They switch from one visualization to another in a matter of seconds, and the process often helps to reveal surprisingly interesting findings and insights.

When asked what recommendations he has for people who are first experiencing Tableau, Shyu said that that it was best for someone to first familiarize himself with the tool and its interface as it is different from most traditional tools. He added that once the person is past the initial phase, he will find Tableau to be a powerful tool that can help him achieve much. He also said that Tableau is suitable for anyone with data to analyze.

Moving forward, the III-FIND team plans to dig deeper to understand the Taiwanese social media psyche. The team will also be taking on more special assignments, working with different commercial companies, and doing targeted research to cater to specific needs and requirements.