How Do You Excel? : An Interview With Analyst Alex Snider
Last week, Simply Measured delivered a truly time-saving gift to anyone who knows they should incorporate Excel functions into their social media strategy and analysis, but is a little puzzled about where to get started and intimidated by the process in general. WHAT’S THE GIFT? WHAT’S THE GIFT? This is what I imagine you’re screaming in excitement at your computer screen.
I might not be right about your hysterical reaction – you’re probably a bit more laid-back than I am – but I am right about the incredible value of our new guide. Excel Functions Every Community Manager Should Know highlights key Excel functions and know-how from our team of expert social media analysts. It’s free, and it’s ready to take a prime position on your digital shelves immediately. Download the guide, and get to know Analyst Alex Snider – who builds our fabulous reports in Excel – while you’re at it.
What I Did Before Simply Measured:
Before coming to Simply Measured I was working as both a research and marketing assistant for an organization promoting absentee voting reform in the United States. In addition to handling everything to do with the digital marketing end of the organization, I contributed significant original research to the President Commission report on voting reform, and really fell in love in the process of finding insights in data to reach pragmatic conclusions. Simply Measured was a great opportunity for me to combine both of my loves and do something really special with analysis.
A Day in the Life:
Every day here is really different, so this is a tough one. For the most part, I help maintain and improve our reports so they are the best they can possibly be for our customers. You can usually find me digging around in our reports, addressing bugs, support requests, improvements, etc. It’s not unusual for me to have a handful of Excel files open across a few screens, making sure when a customer generates a report they are really impressed with the analysis we are doing.
Me + Excel =
I’ve used Excel as a basic user since high school, but I didn’t really become a power user until I got more into doing research and and needed to use it to keep track of all my data and make sense of it. I’ve used a number of statistical and analysis programs, but it’s tough to beat Excel for it’s ability to simultaneously be simple to use and extremely robust.
Almost everything you see when you first open a Simply Measured report, in either a web browser or Excel, is ultimately being calculated and displayed based off Excel calculations. That nice table of top tweets, or the map in a Facebook Global Page report are both being figured out right in Excel with very little other wizardry required. I think we are really pushing the boundaries of what such a seemingly simple program can produce. It’s really cool when you understand everything that goes into designing a report natively in Excel, and get to see a beautiful Simply Measured report come out the other end of the process.
Excel’s Super Power, IMHO:
I love seeing really dynamic and scalable equations at work. One formula that accounts for every possible data scenario is awesome to see in action when you start testing it with all kinds of wonky scenarios and it still works flawlessly. The most powerful thing about Excel is the ability to do calculations this complex in a relatively user-friendly and easy manner compared to a lot of other programming languages.
Something I’d Like to Learn:
I’m pretty young and still relatively fresh out of college, so learning and improving is still the name of the game for me in almost everything I do. I’m learning new things every day about the industry and about working with data, so all I can ask for is to end every day with something new learned and a skillset added to my repertoire.
Fellow Simply Measured Analyst I’d Like to Be Stuck in an Elevator with for 24 Hours:
Toss up between Agasthya and Vikram: Agasthya because he has a ton of great stories and a lot of experiences to learn from, and Vikram because we could probably fill the entire 24 hours talking about soccer.
Favorite Social Media Channel:
Hands down favorite social media platform is Twitter – hard to beat how much information is pumped through Twitter and how digestible it is.
QuizUp – it’s gotten me through many a boring bus ride!
Favorite Seattle Restaurant:
Brimmer and Heeltap
Favorite Musical Artist:
Favorite Simply Measured Memory:
My first Friday scotch toast when I realized what an awesome place I get to work at and how lucky I am to be here.
What inspires me:
Risk-takers – anyone who puts themselves out there to do something different, and encourages me to be more of a trail blazer in my own life.
Most-Used Excel Function(s):
We build all of our reports natively in Excel, so we have to use every tool in Excel’s workbench to make our reports as robust as possible. One of tools that we use constantly is the function combination INDEX/MATCH.
If you’re familiar with the VLOOKUP function you already basically understand how INDEX/MATCH works. It looks for a value in one column of an array and finds the user-defined corresponding value in an adjacent column. However, this where the similarities end. The primary difference between the two operations is that INDEX/MATCH is really two combinations rather than one, and in almost every case INDEX/MATCH is superior to either VLOOKUP or it’s Luigi, HLOOKUP.
Let’s start with the syntax of a typical INDEX/MATCH operation. Array is the column that you want to return data from, and row number will be the MATCH function. Lookup value is the key of the thing you are using to find corresponding information for, and lookup array is the column or array where that key value resides. The match type is optional, but usually we set it to 0 to specify we want an exact match.
When we replace the row numbers argument in the INDEX function with MATCH, the result looks something like this:
=INDEX(array, MATCH(lookup value, lookup array, match type))
The MATCH function will return the row of the key that we want to find corresponding data for, and the INDEX will take care of actually moving across the row to find the corresponding data.
This can be a bit confusing but TRUST ME, once you understand INDEX/MATCH you will never go back to VLOOKUP again! Let’s think of an example.
Imagine a spreadsheet with two columns: in Column A are all 50 of the United States in alphabetical order. In Column B we have the population is of each state. Now let’s say we want to know the population of Washington, but we are feeling particularly lazy today and can’t be bothered to scroll all the way down the page to fifind Washington so we want to use INDEX/MATCH perform the work for us. The function for this problem would read:
The important thing to remember is that you always enter the column of data you want back FIRST.
So why is INDEX/MATCH so much better than VLOOKUP if they essentially perform the same function?
First, because INDEX/MATCH typically only looks at two columns to find the lookup data rather than an entire multi-column array, it can substantially lower the processing load on Excel.
Another benefifit is that, unlike VLOOKUP, INDEX/MATCH can work in any direction; you don’t need to have your identifying key on the left and then your lookup data on the right. INDEX/MATCH can work left-to-right, right-to-left, inside-to-outside, across space-time, etc. All you have to do is follow the rules (put the data you want returned FIRST) and it should work like a dream.
Finally, because INDEX/MATCH doesn’t rely on the static column number arguments inherent in VLOOKUP, you never have to worry about adding/subtracting/rearranging columns and messing up your lookup argument. INDEX/MATCH couldn’t care less about the space between your key and what you’re trying to find, it just hones in on the data you want like a shark to blood.
We use INDEX/MATCH extensively in our reports in a ton of different ways. A good use-case example that could be useful to a community manager is to help find the Tweet with the most engagement. Assume we have a column of all of our Tweets and a column with the engagement numbers of each Tweet. The function for this example would be:
By working in a MAX function into the MATCH element of the function, we can return the text of the Tweet that had the most engagement.
If you really want to be an Excel baller and step your data analysis up to the next level, INDEX/MATCH is an absolute must know!
To learn more from Alex and our other awesome analysts about how Excel can make your daily social media management go more smoothly, check out our guide Excel Functions Every Community Manager Should Know – it’s downloadable for free right here, right now.
I’m the Head of Marketing Communications here at Simply Measured, where I'm responsible for our content program, social media marketing, PR, and comarketing ventures. I love yoga, The X-Files, peaty scotch, hiking, and poetry. If I were a social media channel, I’d want to be Instagram, but I think I’m Twitter.