Can brands really learn anything from social media?

Richard Lees, chairman of the Database Group, explains how brands can use data gathered from social media to create better targeted campaigns and drive sales.

Richard Lees
Richard Lees

Across the breakfast table my daughter “facebooked” me to tell me she has a tennis lesson that evening, I get a message from one of my partners via LinkedIn that he will be late for our lunch meeting and our marketing director retweets a comment I made in a recent article. It is only 8.10am.

You’ve been hibernating if you’ve missed the hype – social media is everywhere and marketers are scrambling to get involved and tweet about everything and anything. There is a sea of sites, blogs, forums and networks where information on your business, customers or market could be lurking. And there are countless tools ready to track and record it all for you. But so what? What can it tell you? Is all this chat actually useful information or is it all digital hot air?

The challenge most marketers are facing is the sheer volume of uncategorised data that social media presents them with. Some data sits in the domain of public relations – comments on the brand, opinions or ratings of your services – and this is best left to those in PR. But some data can be constructive in terms of direct marketing.

The main advantage direct marketers see from social media is the unknown viral aspect which provides access to a mass audience. Brands can exploit this “free” access to large volumes of individuals and use networks as an opportunity to collect names onto a database. There have been countless examples of brands running promotions to increase their social media following and in turn their database; but examples of results and what this equates to in terms of revenue are few and far between. Once this online following is built organisations need to track revenue from this new audience to evaluate the value of the medium.

The next step is trying to decipher meaning from tweets, postings, consumer opinions and comments – gathering useable data. The key here is to treat the data just the same as other digital data and extract elements that you can use to profile or target consumers via other channels. For example, if you send an email campaign to your database with the option to retweet or “share” on facebook you can track and measure those who take this action. If you link this data to individuals that go on to purchase the offer, you can segment those who are engaged to a level to endorse your offer via social media, brand ambassadors, and purchase. Those who endorse you via social media but do not purchase, brand fans, can be segmented and remarketed too. In this way data can be used to drive offline marketing campaign activity and drive sales. Where data is available, you can incorporate this intelligence into your database, adding to customer insight.

But be warned – use the data with caution. Although consumers openly put information out there about themselves they can be sensitive how organisations use this information. If someone changes their status on a site to “engaged” they might accept being served advertising on wedding venues or cake, they know this is a clever use of data and technology serving them relevant ads. But if brands go too far and use data inappropriately then the reaction can be negative and outcries of “big brother” can be heard. Data might be in the public domain, so to speak, but brands need to be careful not to be intrusive.

Translating social media data into something useful is not a priority for many who simply want to be seen to be social. But brands should evaluate why they are engaging with social media and what they are looking to gain and take advantage of the data that is useable, not just take part to keep up with the Jones’. Setting up a facebook page or twitter account that is then ignored for months is more dangerous than having nothing. If you’re putting your brand out there you need to monitor what’s being said. Those who will thrive and make social media a profitable activity as well as a good public relations exercise are those who try and extract value from the mass of data it provides.

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