Get More Value Out of Social Media Brand-Chatter

It’s becoming commonplace for consumer companies to listen to what their customers are saying on social media, but the big question is: What do they do with the results? In a lot of cases, managers merely circulate them within the marketing department—after marking them with a prominent “FWIW.”

That’s because they don’t know what this information could be worth.

Companies don’t realize that with proper care and handling, insights harvested from social listening can become as robust a source of strategic inspiration as any must-have diagnostics on the dashboard.

Social listening is inexpensive too, in the sense that it has a high insight-to-dollar ratio. That’s because you don’t have to survey or interview anyone—unsolicited comments from engaged customers are already out there, waiting to be analyzed. And social-media data are continuous—you don’t have to depend on quarterly or annual consumer surveys that are out of date before they’re even analyzed.

To tap social listening’s potential as a source of strategic inspiration, think like a market researcher and follow these sensible steps:

Make sure the quality of your social-listening data is good. Like all data, the information you glean from social media should be subject to market-research protocols for reliability and validity. Ask the same kinds of tough questions you’d ask about any research project. Are the data drawn from the entire social-media landscape? Is the sampling of comments statistically sound? Is the system of data classification, in terms of topics, themes, and sentiments, accurate? Does your automated coding allow for idiomatic meanings, as in “This brand is the s—t”? The insights you get from social media are only as good as the data set you create.

Don’t make your social-media data stand alone. Information from social listening must be correlated with other streams of data that the company is using. For example, in an analysis we performed for a transport company, we found that complaints shared on daily Twitter feeds tracked 90% with the content of customer-service comments registered by phone or mail. Linkages like this go a long way toward speeding the adoption of social-media data as a valid strategic-insight source.

Sometimes the correlations are low between what you think you know and what social listening reveals. But that doesn’t mean you should jettison the listening data; it just means you need to consider both sets of findings simultaneously to decipher the true story.

In collaboration with a beer manufacturer, we conducted a brand-positioning analysis of three leading brands. Conventional wisdom at the company dictated that differentiation based on taste was not an option. Studies had demonstrated, time and again, that consumers could not pick out their favorite beer in blind taste tests. This finding had underpinned positioning and communication decisions for years.

But online comments revealed a different picture: Consumers went deeply into stories about the taste and sensory experiences of not just the beers they loved, but also of those “watered-down, hangover-inducing” beers they disdained. It turned out consumers thought they could pick their favorite beers out of a lineup. And perception, not reality, was what mattered in this space. The social-listening data allowed a marriage between the quantitative and the qualitative. Customer stories illustrated the insights, and the raw numbers (thousands of online statements) validated the insight, allowing the company’s conventional wisdom—and the branding programs guided by it—to slowly change.

Think about “impact” and not just ROI. Marketing managers tend to take too narrow a view of social listening, seeing it merely as a way to measure the return on investment of specific marketing campaigns. For example, an electric-toothbrush maker that had launched a campaign to woo “non-electric” brushers was dismayed to learn that the resulting burst of social-media activity came mostly from existing users. It branded the campaign a flop and moved on.

In so doing, the company overlooked the value of what it had found on social-media sites. Users were sharing positive stories, advocating electric brushing, and in some cases expressing their love of the company’s brand. The company was getting a rare unfiltered look at how consumers were living the impact of the company’s strategies and brands.

Be sure your social-listening analyses make their way out of the marketing-research department and into the wider organization, including leadership circles. Don’t let the information stay bottled up in the departments that collected and “own” the data. That means establishing a common analytical currency and language throughout the company so that managers can take action and be held accountable. One company we worked with created a Center for Digital Excellence to coordinate data on a vast brand portfolio. The company tied the digital indicators to bonus compensations, signaling C-level commitment to the program. It’s that kind of high-level integration that enables companies to focus efforts and resources effectively, creating value for the firm.

It’s not simple to turn large volumes of unstructured data into analyzable formats and insights. But it can be done. And it must be done—social listening is too valuable to be relegated to the “for what it’s worth” category.

Read Original Post from the Harvard Business Review


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