The Marketer’s Guide to Social Media Monitoring

Alistair Leathwood, managing director of FreshMinds Research, explains how social media monitoring can open up new doors for brands to understand their consumers.

For some time now, many brands have been experimenting with social media. For some, this means creating a few Facebook groups and encouraging employees to start Tweeting; while for others, it means a fully fledged social media strategy, often with the assistance of a specialist digital agency.

Some of the most talked about campaigns of the moment have been conducted via social media – who hasn’t noticed the recent Old Spice campaign? But while such campaigns may become legendary for a brief moment, marketers are often left wondering how they can quantify the impact of their social media strategies.

One of the latest buzzwords to hit the marketing industry is social media monitoring. Once upon a time, social media monitoring was a highly niche activity undertaken in a rather ad hoc fashion by PR agencies and slightly paranoid brand managers keen to ensure that a blog by a disgruntled customer didn’t end up on the front page of The Times.

It was, essentially, a damage limitation exercise and a mechanism to ensure that anything that unpredictable consumers had to say could be appropriately managed and any potential dialogues closed down as quickly as possible. Now however, the holy grail of marketing is to engage customers in conversations wherever and whenever possible.

Within the last two years, there has been a huge increase in volume in terms of the number of conversations about brands online. And as the number of conversations online has increased, so has their significance for brands. Instead of just revealing the extremes of opinion of a small but vocal minority, online conversations now offer a wealth of rich data that can be mined for insights. Given the right tools (and more importantly, the right expertise) online conversations can be a continuous source of information for brands and a daily touchpoint with their customers. The challenge for brand managers is how to make sense of it all.

There is an array of tools available on the market that promise to help brands make sense of their online profile. At a very basic level, free tools such as Klout and Google Analytics can give some insight into what’s being said about your brand online. But if you want to get any level of detail, you’ll need to invest in something more specialised.
The next step up is to choose one of the many tools created by software vendors that trawl the internet for consumer conversations about your brand. These tools generally fall into two camps – data heavy tools that enable you to analyse virtually anything and everything; and those designed to be more user friendly with an emphasis on smart dashboards and reporting functions.

But brands must consider that their requirements will often cover a wide spectrum of needs. For instance, an insight department may find the most data heavy solution most appropriate while a PR department may prefer a simple dashboard interface that enables them to track sentiment hour by hour. So if they are going to work with an agency it’s a good idea to choose someone that offers access to a full range of social media monitoring tools and techniques.

When it comes to social media monitoring, one mistake that brands frequently make is thinking that bigger is better. Don’t be swayed by tools that claim to be able to index every single conversation on the web – chances are they can’t. And even if they could, it would be of limited use. Statistics that simply tell you how many conversations there are about your brand are likely to be of limited value. But if you know that 89% of negative comments relate to your service delivery, then that’s a very meaningful insight for your business.

A top tip for marketers is to think beyond communications and simply using social media monitoring as a way to manage buzz around their brand. Of course your main focus will be on how your brand is perceived and how to increase positive sentiment around your brand, but an effective social media monitoring strategy can achieve far more than simply tracking sentiment online.

In the hands of an experienced researcher, the opportunities that social media monitoring opens from both a qualitative and quantitative perspective are huge. You can use social media monitoring to help understand everything from category choices to the lifestyles of different segments and look at data on either an individual or aggregate basis. Many brands have been surprised at the insights that are just waiting to be uncovered. In a recent project for a mobile phone manufacturer we were able to give fresh insights into a range of social and cultural minutiae of daily life on and offline – insights that were nothing short of a revelation for the new product development team.

For all the excitement about social media monitoring, we are still at a very developmental stage. And while many brands are dabbling in the technique and creating new sets of metrics, these will only become truly useful for brands if the current thirst for statistics is met with an equal appetite for robust analysis and interpretation.

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