Make trends and influence people

Internet-savvy consumers post, blog and tweet about everything – including the products and services they buy. It’s an information goldmine – if you know how to listen.

Social media is now firmly established as a channel through which brands can win ’friends’ and see if people ’like’ what they are doing as well as discover if their conversations are worthy of a ’follow’ and a ’retweet’.

While such metrics can be flattering, brands are now discovering that if they are a part of this conversation on social media channels, the real advance can be gaining a better insight into their customers and their peer groups. By listening in to, and being active in, social media conversations, brands are realising that there is a lot more to market research than standing in a shopping mall with a clipboard or emailing recent purchasers a list of questions about their likelihood to return online.

Kate Whittaker, strategy manager at Debenhams, is typical of marketers at the cusp of using social media, and is building on the GoRecommend service the retailer is currently using to secure positive Facebook posts.

“We do a lot of online market research with our customers to find out where we have done well and where they think there may be room for improvement,” she says.

“We’ve started allowing those who enjoyed their last visit to the store the option, at the end of the online questionnaire, to automatically post a message about their good experience on their Facebook page. It gets us around 650 posts a month that have the potential to be seen by, we estimate, around 100,000 people.

“What we now want to do is go a bit deeper and look at the conversations people are having about Debenhams unprompted by conventional market research.”

The work will bring the retailer in line with many leading-edge brands and organisations that are discovering that by moving away from questionnaires and participating in more natural conversations they can reveal aspects of their services and products they might not have otherwise discovered.

Visit Wales is a case in point. Visitors to the newly redeveloped Welsh Assembly tourism site will find a special section on dog-friendly holidays. Visit Wales’ social media agency, iCrossing, discovered people were interested in taking pet-friendly breaks but the site did not have appropriate content, as Jon Munro, digital marketing manager at Visit Wales reveals.

“We used our Facebook and Twitter following to ask people what they wanted out of holidays in Wales,” he says. “We knew we were popular for niche activities such as walking, but the really big feedback was that pet-friendly holidays were popular. So we tested through search campaigns to see if it would provide traffic that would convert. This all worked well and now it’s a section of the Visit Wales site.”

Listening to online conversations and getting feedback from its team of social media customer services experts has proved successful for Dell, too. The computer manufacturer uses lessons learned from customer feedback as well as suggestions offered through social media and its own website to refine products and decide what new lines should be launched. Maribel Sierra, director of global social media and communities at Dell, points out this has led to many product and customer service improvements.

“We had a recent issue where we were able to listen in to social media buzz about a laptop that was getting hot,” she says. “So our engineers managed to find out it was because of a hinge that was turning off a fan, and we fixed the problem and put out guidance for our users within a couple of hours.

“We’ve also picked up on social media suggestions on Facebook, Twitter and the Idea Storm section of our website to launch our Product Red line of computers.”

The Product Red range comprises a laptop and a printer that include a donation from Dell to the Product Red campaign to eradicate HIV/Aids in newborn babies in Africa by 2015.

“We’ve also improved connectivity on some of our machines and started pre-installing Linux,” Sierra says. “By listening to what people have been telling us, we can improve our range.”

For leading tea brand Tetley, social media has been a new means for marketers to check that their assumptions about the core brand are correct, and even led to the company amending the timing of its communications with key followers. Anand Gandesha, Tetley marketing manager, reveals that the brand wanted to work with its agency, MediaVest, in social media to ensure that its recent decision to bring back the Tea Folk in television adverts was correct.

“We’ve reached out and engaged with Tetley’s target audience of housewives aged 25-55 and Tea Folk has attracted 115,000 Facebook fans, of whom 75% are active users participating on the page in the last month,” he says.

“We’ve been asking for ideas around content, merchandising and PR, and it’s great to have them so willing to participate. This showed us we were right to bring back the Tea Folk and we’ve even seen people picking their own favourite characters and defending them from criticism in chats.

“We’ve also learned through our social media work that the nature of tea breaks has changed. They tend to be taken online now, so we’ve been planning updates of Tea Folk’s media content around tea break times of 3-4pm in the afternoon and 10-11am in the morning.”

This idea of listening in to social media buzz has gone a step further at Rentokil. The pest-control firm is not only offering advice on how to deal with pests mentioned in conversations, but is utilising reports to literally map out bug infestations. These conversations, which are picked up by listening and tracking services from Sentiment Metrics, are not only bringing the brand closer to its customers, but are also encouraging enquiries for pest control services, according to Alicia Holbrook, social media manager at Rentokil. “We don’t ever push our services through social media, we offer a lot of advice but we never give an overt sales message,” she says.

“We can use tracking of social media sites, forums and blogs to get a really good idea of what people are discussing and where pests are becoming a problem – there’s a really big problem with bed bugs at the moment, particularly in New York.

“One of our really popular pieces of social media work has been, where people can add locations of nests so we, and users, can build up a picture of where infestations are at their worst. Although we’re not pushing our service it actually led to a 146% rise in enquiries to deal with nuisance nests.”

The conversations that social media marketing can lead to, then, are not just about improving brand engagement. If done correctly, those most active in social media are reporting an impact on the bottom line as web users, understandably wary of their personal wall or Twitter feed becoming too commercial, identify a leading voice in a field and seek out its products.

Dell already claims to have sold more than $6.5m (£4m) worth of computers through Twitter in the past two years. Considering this social media channel has also ensured its latest ranges took on board customer feedback, there appears to be a virtuous circle developing, of which other brands should take note.

figure focus Q&A

What is social media, how big is it?
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to have conversations with online contacts, conversations that brands are keen to be a part of. Facebook has more than 500 million people signed up and there are more than 50 million tweets sent every day.

Is there more to social media than Facebook and Twitter?
Absolutely; this is why so many brands use social media monitoring services to keep an eye on conversations. The number of forums
and sites that accept conversational posts is mind-boggling, though, and normally amounts to several million. Hence the
requirement for software to do the scouring.

How big can brands get on Facebook?
Coca-Cola (after Facebook itself) has the largest number of fans on Facebook – more than 23 million. To get in the top 50 a brand will need to get more than 3.7 million followers. Considering how many friends these fans have, the potential reach figures can escalate greatly.

Conversely, Twitter’s big names tend to be celebs (Lady Gaga is the most followed) but CNN is the top company with nearly 4 million followers and the New York Times is not far behind on nearly 3 million. According to Twitter Counter, only one brand (excluding news providers or sports bodies) is among the top 100 list, Whole Foods Market in at position 97 with 1.8 million followers.

brand in the spotlight



Naked Wines was set up two years ago by former executives at Virgin Wine, including Rowan Gormley (left) and Francesca Krajewski, to harness the power of social media, enabling fans of particular wine makers to tell one another about their favourites and rate them.

However, the brand has gone a lot deeper than posting about popular wines and encouraging people to rate their latest purchase. As founding partner Francesca Krajewski points out, the brand uses social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to research the wines it exclusively imports.

“Ratings are obviously a great way for customers to find out what other people have thought of a wine and if a rating goes low, it rings alarm bells with us and that line is stopped,” she says.

“Where social media has really come into its own is allowing us to listen to our customers. We recently noticed there was a lot of interest in Slovenian wines which we have to admit, we hadn’t really thought of before. So, we asked our community which were good wines, got leads to go over there and bring in four wonderful new wines to the website – which have gone down really well. We also look out for opinions and posts from bloggers for ideas, such as a great new Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from a small vineyard we’d never have heard about otherwise.”

Naked Wines also uses its Facebook and Twitter presence to monitor who among its followers are the most influential and active and has formed tasting groups so it not only gets the opinion of customers, but also taps in to their followings. The problem of multiple people using the same Twitter identity is managed by software, in this case CoTweet, which provides multiple feeds on to one screen to ensure a consistent view of conversations in one shared, central location. “We always seek to get a tasting group of customers so we know we’re getting honest
input and we also know that if they like the wine and we start selling it, they’ll be the ones who can influence the most people to try it out,” she says.

“We call it a ’clout’ score and we’ll normally look to take something lke 50 top influencers to a tasting event or trade fair, it leads to so many discussions it’s a great way of extending the reach of our brand.”

top marketing tips you need to know

  • Give a common voice to tweets and posts, and maintain a consistent tone.
  • Find out what followers are interested in and generate conversations. Do not be too controversial but do ask questions which will spark a debate.
  • Encourage customers to follow the brand and post about their experiences – a simple call to action to post about a purchase or visit to a store can build (hopefully) positive comments.
  • Keep a look out for complaints because just as conversations can help brands, bad comments can spiral. Be polite, address the issue and hopefully a positive outcome will then be shared.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions of followers, they will feel empowered by being asked for service or product improvements.
  • Consider appointing a social media agency to monitor buzz around your brand. Facebook and Twitter are easy to watch yourself, but an agency will monitor millions of forums also.
  • Beyond measuring sentiment or buzz, consider going deep and researching the topics where your brand is being mentioned, it may give an insight into areas where you can extend marketing reach.
  • Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are great places to get qualitative feedback from fans and followers. So be proactive in asking questions of your engaged customer base.
  • Look out for when people are most active on your Facebook and Twitter page, it may give a good indication (as Tetley has found) when messages are best received.
  • Don’t feel the one-to-one nature of social media means there is no room for questionnaires; an online following can be a fertile ground for longer-form feedback.
  • Consider approaching your most active social media followers for face-to-face research. Those who have shown the most interest in your brand could well be a source of inspiration for improvements and future product and service developments.



Rachel Adams
Marketing director

Brands are increasingly discovering people talking about their products and services online. The question is, how should they respond?

One way is to create their own branded “communities” to support these discussions. Not only will this meet customers’ need to be heard and to discuss brands with one another, it will provide companies with customer insight on tap.

A key, and increasing, element of our work is creating such online communities. For example, Royal Mail is using its branded community to hear what its customers are saying, using that information to drive change and then gathering feedback. In fact, the dialogue offered means Royal Mail’s customers can often set the agenda for research.

The reality is, many companies are already tracking what’s being said about them online, so an online community is the next step. However, for a community to be successful, a number of important factors must be considered up front.

The first thing to think about is whether your customers will be happy to talk online. In the B2B space, for example, people simply won’t spend much time talking. B2B online habits are different, and B2B brands tend not to generate the same connection with customers that B2C ones do.

Then, you need to identify your objective. An online community is not a replacement for other research approaches. Marketers will want to use it to test campaigns, whereas researchers will want to use it to send out surveys. Other departments may want to be involved.

So who will manage the community and disseminate the results? All departments must work closely together because an online community is a two-way street/ customer insight and marketing.

Finally, it must be acknowledged that an online community is an ongoing process. Your audience needs to be engaged with relevant topics that change frequently. You need to be prepared to sift through irrelevant information and respond quickly to negative comment.

And don’t forget to benchmark against your competitors and what they’re doing.

If you get all these factors right, your online community will give you unprecedented understanding of your audiences and brand sentiments.

future trends – options

Craig Barry
Retail operations manager for multi-channel and loyalty, Homebase

Currently, through our media monitoring agency, Summit Media, we do a regular listening exercise across all social channels. We also take direct feedback from our online community via customer product reviews on Customer reviews have opened our eyes to a new level of insight and the positive impact ratings have. Using the Bazaarvoice Workbench reporting tool, our trading teams use product reviews to help improve ranges and product selections. Some of our suppliers now use our customer feedback too, and we are looking to share more of this insight.

Jenny Smith
Brand manager,Regis UK

On a day-to-day level we expect to carry on using our agency, Photolink, to monitor our hairdressing brands so we can measure sentiment in real time and deliver more of what our customers want. In February, for example, we found the most popular search query on our hair blog was by women wanting more information on the ’Roxy Mitchell bob’. We created a voucher enabling blog followers to get 25% off the ’Roxy Mitchell look’ at any of our 153 UK salons. It’s gone down a storm.

Craig Landry
Vice-president of marketing, Air Canada

Social media is going to remain an integrated part of Air Canada’s overall communication strategy. Through Facebook, Twitter and online forums, we will continue to build an Air Canada community. This is where we tested our new eUpgrade programme and, working with our social media monitoring provider Radian6, we were able to measure sentiment and tweak the programme in response to customer feedback. Using social media we were able to establish a dialogue around potential areas of concern and to make changes to the programme in just a few days after launch to address customer concerns.

Sam Dolan
Senior brand manager, Cravendale

Social media is a great way of having a constant stream of chatter about your brand online and engagement in consumers’ own time is far more valuable than any questions you could ask either on a stuffy questionnaire or in a false focus group environment. We will continue to measure brand engagement and have found, so far, that 80% of consumers who have interacted with us online will recommend our brand to a friend.

Paul Shires
Executive director of marketing, Health365 We’re expecting to see brands use

social media to get people talking about their business in a more positive way. Insurance is one of those areas where quite often people will only talk about it in social media when they’ve had a bad experience. So we’ve built the ’ouchmap’ where people can tweet which part of their body is hurting and why. It’s a bit of fun that we’ll enjoy making into regional. The main thing is it’s getting people to talk about health insurance online in a fun, engaging way.



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Maeve Hosea

Email may no longer be the only digital channel for brand marketing, says Maeve Hosea, but it still packs a powerful punch when integrated effectively in the new media sphere