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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Web 2.0 Rule #7: Social media programs are a choice, social media monitoring is NOT.

Note: This post is part of a current series for both B2Bs and B2Cs that explores 10 (Essential!) Rules That No Marketer Should Pass The "Web 2.0 Go" WithoutAll posts in the series are archived here. In this post we illuminate: 

Web 2.0 Rule #7: Social media programs are a choice, social media monitoring is NOT.

10EssentialRules_rule7 This may not be the sexiest rule in my series or the most exciting practice (though I certainly find the benefits of this practice exciting). But of all the social media practices, this one rules supreme: because this rule involves listening... to your CUSTOMERS... and to your POTENTIAL customers. While the set of social media programs and tools that companies will use to connect with their audiences will be unique to each company's specific goals, strategies and markets; monitoring the Social Web is a practice that ALL companies must implement. No matter the company's size, sector, set of offerings or target audiences.

I'm not talking about listening to a focus group of paid participants that match the "profile" of your target customer. Those individuals can only tell you what they think about a certain product or what they think they would do regarding a certain promotion. And they'll tell you that for a going rate of $50-$100 each. I'm talking about listening to actual customers on what they actually think and what they actually do, and are actually saying in public. For free.

You see, a key value proposition of social media is that the tools not only give people a way to express, share and connect around ideas, but the tools also give companies the ability to identify new markets, new opportunities, potential risks and needed improvements. But the Social Web can't give companies any of these benefits, or decrease their risk potential, if they're not listening.

The question, then, is what information marketers should be monitoring for across the Social Web. And the answer is a wide range of information that spans their own brands, competitive brands, their target audiences and the overall landscape, including:

  • Keeping abreast of brand mentions and remaining keenly aware as to whether the feedback is positive, negative or indifferent. You've worked mighty hard on building and protecting your brand's reputation, and now you're afforded the knowledge of what others are saying, thinking and feeling about it.

  • Identifying brand advocates and relevant communities with which you should be engaging and pinpointing potential candidates for your company's Customer Advisory Board. (No matter if you're a B2C or B2B company, in addition to monitoring all companies should have a Customer Advisory Board, too.)

  • Understanding if there are needed improvements to existing products, as well as demands for features and functions that could be used to architect future products.

  • Conducting market research on emerging wants, needs, trends and preferences of your target market, as well as emerging markets that might prove to be a viable new audience for your marketing efforts.

  • Tracking your competitors' brands, following how receptive audiences are to them, how active they are in online communities and the success and failure rates of their marketing programs.

  • Monitoring for real-time opportunities that enable you to "sell without selling." What do I mean by this? It is very common for people to ask questions in online forums or on a platform like Twitter when they have a need or need a solution to a problem--in these cases you can give them advice since they asked for information pertaining to your expertise and offerings... and you might just get a sale, start a relationship or receive a referral to another sale from that information exchange.
  • Understanding how well your customer service efforts are performing and when customer service representatives (or marketers) need to step in to remedy a negative situation or respond to a question or comment. This will be a case-by-case basis, thus you need to know of each case in order to properly assess and act.

  • Understanding which social media tools your customers are using, most comfortable with and most active in (some audience segments prefer blogs or forums, while others are more comfortable using social networks).
  • Identifying new products, services and solutions for your Research & Development Group based upon the aforementioned market research and feedback.

  • Staving off a crisis or turning a negative situation around. In a crisis situation, both the response (your message/actions/communications) and the timing of it are nothing short of critical--and the Web is already littered with many war stories on how the company was the last to know of its brand reputation being publicly crucified because executives didn't establish the simplest of monitoring feeds and alerts.

While the practice of monitoring applies to all companies, the monitoring tools that marketers will use (be they free, paid, or a blend of both), will vary from organization to organization. A simple Google search will point you to many monitoring tools and services and I advise that you ask your colleagues which monitoring solutions they're using and their specific experiences with them. Also, a terrific social media monitoring Wiki that objectively aggregates a host of tools, and adds more all the time, is located here.

But--and this is a BIG but--once marketers begin receiving the results from these monitoring activities, it's paramount for them to understand that the job of these tools is to alert them to the information in near real time and to provide an aggregation of raw data. And as any good marketer knows, information is not the end, it's merely the beginning.

To turn information into actionable intelligence that serves to improves business performance--which is a core part of a marketer's job--marketers need to establish a process (or, more likely, a set of processes) to further mine the data for insights, establish findings, identify next steps and communicate results and needed actions to all departments involved. Those next steps may be to optimize a particular program, launch a new program, create a new product to satisfy customer needs, develop a campaign to reach an emerging target audience or one of many, many other actions.

Thus, marketers' job is two-fold as it pertains to social media monitoring:

  1. Identify a set of monitoring tools/services and a thorough set of keywords with which to monitor the Social Web.

  2. Establish a set of processes to identify findings, implications and action points from the data that you can use to improve your brands and, in turn, increase market share.

All told, the irony that we mouthy marketers get the furthest not by talking, but in listening, is certainly not lost on me. Part of my role is to ensure that it's not lost on other marketers, either.

More posts providing insight and direction stemming from this rule:

  • Learn the importance of listening processes here.
  • Learn how bad feedback can be good for your brand here.
  • Learn how monitoring gives marketers more internal influence inside their organizations here.

Rule #8 comes your way next....

(Psst! all posts in this series are archived here)

Social Media Tips Social Media *Extras* Social Media Training Contact CK

Comments

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Thanks for this great post CK - you have eloquently expressed what we've been preaching for about 6 years now (yes, even before the current Facebook/Twitter explosion). I think your second point is (Establish a set of processes to identify findings, implications and action points from the data that you can use to improve your brands and, in turn, increase market share.) is sadly overlooked and is symptomatic of the concept that social media is "free" - i.e requires few or no resources....

Agreed, as always.

One thing to amplify: choosing the right set of keywords to monitor is not as basic as it may sound at first glance: like Google keywords it needs tweaking and refinement to make sure you're not overlooking anything and are getting the best results.

Wanted to point that out, because like so much in social media, what seems very basic, often isn't.

@Alan: Thanks. Hear you loud and clear--keyword selection and phrasing is paramount. And for companies this usually takes a good bit of tweaking and testing... especially if they not only want to understand feedback on their brand, but on competitors and their overall sector.

What can be so easily overlooked in monitoring is that marketers shouldn't only be keeping abreast of "What are people are saying about our brand--is it good or, gulp!, bad?" but they should also be laser focused on "What are our target audiences expressing that they NEED, want or find missing in current offerings?" The latter feeds new offerings and is especially prime to discuss with management and R&D. And it's why I wrote the post last week on how true "social media influence" is not just external with community influencers, but the new influence that marketers hold internally now that they are armed with actual data from actual customers.

And I can't agree more with you on this statement: "Wanted to point that out, because like so much in social media, what seems very basic, often isn't."

@Jonathan: Many thanks. I empathize with you on your long journey of educating the marketplace on why monitoring is important, and what all they need to be monitoring for. And to your point, perhaps the problem is that social media is valued so low due to being "free."

I am a HUGE advocate of processes as, otherwise, the data are just a report and only acted upon when "People are saying bad things!" As a result, far too many insights that can lead to truly improving business performance are overlooked (or ignored). Yet that equates to ignoring the very markets we serve and the ones responsible for our profits. Irony runs deep ;-).

Agree 100%. It is all about the tool (we use Wool Lab's WebDig), though it is an important part. Before these tools, our clients simply wanted us to "get them on" the social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. But now they understand how much deeper value being able to listen in. We've had amazing success in turning clients around on ideas after they've seen that incredible amount of data, and that their brand does not live the vaccuum they would like it to.

CK:

Couldn't agree more. (disclosure - my company MotiveQuest LLC is in the listening and analysis business.)

One obvious challenge is what to listen to. @Alan points to the tip of the iceberg above, and you respond.

In some categories (food) brand mentions are less than 5% of the relevant conversation. In others (Cars) it can be as high as 30% of the relevant conversation.

As PR person, listening for brand mentions may be enough. As a marketer, you better be listening (at a minimum) to an entire category conversation. You need to listen to what people are saying about you, your competition and your category. Brand monitoring is simply not enough.

This introduces a level of complexity (linguistic coding) that goes well beyond "keyword searching and analysis and I think this is where most brand owners hit the wall. Doing this well and acting on the information is complex and resource intensive.

But I couldn't agree more. SM Marketing is optional, monitoring is compulsory.

Thanks - TO'B

@Tom: thanks so much. I agree with what you say on listening to the broader convo (what I was getting at above and in the post). As marketer, I certainly want to bolster and protect my brand (positive/negative buzz) but I very much want to improve my brand (best security for current profits) and GROW my company through new offerings(best security for future profits). Can only do that if I understand what my customers want and need and the brand won't necessarily be mentioned in those convos, but those convos are vital for marketers to analyze.

And yes, it's time-intensive... which is why they need processes (read: a commitment) aligned against it. And as you and other vendors know, many companies will need outsourced solutions. But the monitoring needs to be a priority and that's where internal processes come in--not just for analyzing the data but sharing it regularly with all departments affected by it (e.g. research, customer service, sales, management, etc.)

CK:

Some great tips and conversation around the importance of Social Media Monitoring. Like most things, it isn't what it seems. SMM can be extremely beneficial, as you point out, but only if done well. Simply signing up to use a tool, inserting your brand name, and starting to read results isn't enough. A true SMM program needs a plan behind it (keyword/phrase strategy), conversation typing & categorizing and as Alan pointed out, it often requires tweaking in order to really focus on the appropriate conversations.

There can also be vast differences between the various tools (free and commercial) in the marketplace today. How they source their data, where they source it from, how they filter, cleanse and tag it also varies from vendor to vendor. They all have a secret sauce, and some excel at covering different parts of the social web than others. One may have more depth in blog coverage while another in twitter coverage for example. Researching and learning about the pros/cons of each tool can be cumbersome.

We've (Adam Cohen and I) started a community wiki project to try and make that task easier for marketers/companies. Feel free to take a look at http://wiki.kenburbary.com and let me know if there are any other tools you think need to be added. We're working on adding more detailed data behind each SMM tool, but as of now it is still a solid centralized resource to get started with. A nice compliment to a resource like your post here!

@Ken: MANY thanks for posting a link to the amazing (and very beneficial) Wiki you've started. I'm also going to link to it in my blogroll and post a link to it over at BusinessWeek's Exchange and will refer several professionals to it going forward. Thank you, truly.

I completely agree that SMM is a complex process and I'm sure that many tools (free and paid) have their redeeming qualities and their drawbacks/shortcomings. The point of my post was three-fold, really: (1) to emphasize that SMM is mandatory for all marketers regardless of which SM programs they implement--regardless of whether they even launch SM programs at all! (2) to cite what all they're monitoring for/benefits of the data culled (more than just "brand mentions") and (3) to underscore that internal processes need to be instilled around SMM as it's not just a case of getting a report or checking findings. There is further work required on the part of the internal marketing department.

All that said, I'm glad to have a terrific new resource (YOUR Wiki!) to turn to when it comes to the "What is the universe of tools/solutions available to marketers?" question--as well as finding out which one is right for their needs.

NOTE: if any executive from a SMM service or solution is reading this post, I highly suggest you check out Ken's Wiki at: http://wiki.kenburbary.com to ensure your tool/service is included; it's obvious how much work Adam and he have put into compiling that data.

This introduces a level of complexity (linguistic coding) that goes well beyond "keyword searching and analysis and I think this is where most brand owners hit the wall. Doing this well and acting on the information is complex and resource intensive.

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