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By Mindy Charski
XO Communications wants to know when someone online speaks well or poorly of its company or its competitors. In fact, the communications service provider for businesses monitors how that sentiment changes month over month and whether it’s neutral, positive or negative. It also answers customer service questions it finds online and, separately, listens for what people are saying about its overall customer service over time. Social media sentiment is one metric of many XO uses to measure the results of its efforts to bolster customer service quality, says Ronan Keane, social media marketing manager at XO.
Social media monitoring for the purposes of reputation management and customer service are the two most common use cases, according to Stephen D. Rappaport, director of knowledge solutions at the Advertising Research Foundation and author of Listen First!: Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage.
But the value of such monitoring reaches further into the marketing function. By analyzing conversations on social networks, blogs, review sites, public and private communities, and other digital gathering places – and watching what content people are sharing – analysts can answer a number of practical marketing-related questions. Consider, for instance, these five discussed by marketing practitioners working in retail, manufacturing and telecommunications:
Why did my multichannel promotion perform the way it did?
When a women’s apparel retailer runs a back-to-school campaign, people talk, and they may not always be full of praise. Maybe they say the promotion was better last year; maybe they say they can get a better deal with an online-only retailer; maybe they say money is too tight to purchase anything new for school; maybe they aren’t thrilled with the product selection.
These are the kinds of conversations the media and marketing services company Valassis will be listening for when it launches a sentiment monitoring effort for the retailer that runs from mid-July through early October. By starting in July, Valassis can get a baseline understanding of what people are saying about the retailer and its products each week leading up to launch of the campaign in early August and after it’s completed.
As the campaign launches on various channels including television, print and in-store signage, Valassis will also try to understand the impacts of the different media. “It gives us the ability to see what channels are producing what chatter with what attitude,” says Dan Sherr, general manager of the Valassis marketing innovation and technology group.
What improvements can I make to my next campaign?
Valassis monitored chatter about a promotional campaign the apparel retailer ran last year, which offered 30 percent off purchases. Valassis was able to uncover useful insights that it can consider this year in the development of a new campaign. For instance, conversations revealed the client faced strong online competition. There were also early indications that with free shipping and free returns, customers will now buy clothing online even though they can’t touch and feel them first. Sherr says his firm will do social media monitoring for the same client this year “to begin to confirm and better understand” lessons learned in 2012.
In addition, those insights from last year could influence the media mix for this year’s promotion. “What we’ve been saying [to the client] is maybe we should at least be testing a more aggressive campaign with display advertising in order to make sure you’ve got a strong voice on the Internet like you have a strong voice with TV,” Sherr says.
Evaluating ROI on Social Media Listening
Social media monitoring can be a useful tool for marketers, but is it possible to measure its return on investment? Well, that’s complicated.
The act of listening “is not an outcome by itself – it contributes to something else,” says Stephen D. Rappaport, director of knowledge solutions at theAdvertising Research Foundation. “That’s why I feel really strongly that in order to understand the contribution it’s making to the business, you have to understand, ‘What did it generate? How is it applied? And what was the impact of that?’”
Listening produces insights, but those insights only take on value when they’re applied to something, he says, and it’s the application that can generate ROI. Finding a new customer segment through monitoring doesn’t mean much until a company does something with that knowledge like launch a targeted direct mail campaign at the segment, for instance. That campaign is what can be measured.
Rappaport says the ROI of listening is easier to measure, however, when the task is sharply defined and there’s a business process around it.
Take monitoring for customer service, for instance. There are ways companies can determine the impact of answering customer queries and solving their problems through social channels.
Some measures of performance, according to Rappaport, include: What is the overall service volume we’re handling? Are calls that would go to other channels like the 800 number being reduced? Is the complaint handling time being reduced? And, is customer satisfaction increasing or decreasing?
What topics should I cover in my content marketing?
XO monitors how visitors on its social media platforms engage with posts about topics like cloud computing or hosted security to better identify the content its customers and prospects are most interested in reading and what questions they are asking. In addition to understanding what to keep posting about on social networks, the company can also use the insight to create digital assets like whitepapers or e-books on popular topics. When people download the content, they can become leads for XO’s sales staff.
How can I make customer emails more relevant?
The online shopping site Rue La La considers sharing activity on its website when creating targeted emails. The flash-sales site requires shoppers to sign in with an email address, so it has that valuable information along with data about which fashion, beauty and other goods catch users’ interest enough to share with their friends.
“If a consumer who has never purchased with us before shares Tory Burch or shares Cole Haan frequently, that’s a good marker for interest in that brand, and we may be able to customize email communication to them as a result,” says Michael DiLorenzo, Rue La La’s vice president of audience development.
How can I harness user-generated content to promote my business?
Roofing manufacturer GAF monitors Facebook and other Web sources for positive comments about its company and pictures of its installed products on recent roofing jobs. It rebroadcasts both on its social media channels including its Facebook page, which is followed by an audience of primarily roofing-related professionals.
“There was some research we did a while back and one of the key reasons people didn’t install certain types of our products was they weren’t familiar enough with them,” says Brian Baker, senior manager of e-strategy at GAF. “We wanted to create familiarity with these products. We wanted to create this perception that these products are standard – this isn’t a new thing, we’re not asking you to take a risk.”
Likewise, though contractors buy GAF products and sell them to homeowners, the company also promotes its products directly to consumers. Says Alyssa Hall, GAF’s marketing communications manager, “There’s definitely a credibility factor when you’re posting images or testimonials that are coming from other people.”
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