Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tracking "word of mouse"

It’s been proven time and time again, that the most influential marketing tactic in a brands tool kit is positive word of mouth. Whilst marketers are aware of this fact, the challenge until recently has been driving word of mouth at scale.

Social media has shifted the communication landscape on this front. Of course people still have many one to one conversations; however, they also now have the ability to wax lyrical about a brand/product to virtually hundreds of their ‘friends’. And this ‘word of mouse’ is proving, (like off line WOM), to be very influential.

From a brand perspective, this represents a huge opportunity. If you were a brand wouldn’t you want to listen to what your consumers were saying about you? And, as a consumer; wouldn’t you welcome that brands response to your feedback? Enter social media tracking!

Today, even without a social media strategy in place, all ‘brands’ can harness the opportunity to listen to what consumers are saying about them online. And if a brand REALLY listens to what consumers have to say (and respond honestly to their feedback) there’s a strong chance ‘it’ can expect a deeper level of loyalty (or if loyalty is not the goal, potentially even, sales, awareness, or more word of mouth).

So, it’s clear that tracking/listening to social media (ie online conversations) can offer brands the power to capitalise on, or at least learn from digital conversation.

To really take advantage of the digital social space, however, brands are required to start a conversation with their target market. Or in other words employ a social media strategy.

A social media strategy is designed to open the dialogue between the brand and consumers and in doing so to deepen the relationship. That’s right, not talking to/at, but real two way dialogue.

Once a social strategy is in market, tracking consumer response is critical for success, as it provides the brand fast access to where and what is being said, important tools for continuing this dialogue.

So how do you track social media?

Technology providers and research companies have rapidly responded to the markets desire to listen/track online conversation.

As a result, there are many tools available to facilitate this need, ranging from the simple (shallow dive) to the complex (deep dive).

From a shallow perspective, all brands can (and should) embrace free tools that are readily available on the internet. For example, manual and regular searching of social sites for fan pages, daily brand twitter searches, and ongoing Google trend analysis. This is social tracking in its most basic form.

To more fully take advantage of the social media space, however, a robust (deep dive) tracking solution is recommended. This typically requires a monthly investment from the client to engage a social tracking specialist. These specialist solutions use technologically sophisticated programmes to trawl and report on activity across the www and report back in real time.

Further, the right solution will do more than simply track conversation it will also analyse that conversation providing enabling us to answer questions such as:

- Is anything being said?

- How much is being said?

- Are there geographical conversation skews?

- How does the brand compare ie ‘share’ of mentions to the competitor set?

- How are mentions trending over time?

- What is the split between a brands positive/neutral/negative sentiment – how does this trend over time?

- How can we understand what the conversation means in relation to the brand?

- What are the implications for how the brand communicates?

- What conversation warrants a response from the brand?

- Are there negative comments? Should & how can the brand respond?

- How can we take positive dialogue and share with more potential customers?

- From a consumer perspective, what is the brands position in the market?

In selecting the ‘right’ social tracking company/solution, its important to have a clear understanding of the relevant market dynamics ensuring the solution can deliver the subsequent required depth of response/analysis.

Of course, ultimately, a brand/s digital social activity should be designed to integrate with overall messaging and advertising initiatives. It should therefore also play a role in delivering to the brands over arching objectives (eg sales). Hence, tracking and levering social media or ‘buzz’ in isolation is only part of the picture. To complete the picture requires a much deeper understanding of how that online conversation then influences overall performance. But I believe, that’s a subject for another time.

(written by Yvette Mayer for the MFA education newsletter)

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