Social media presents a balancing act for marketers

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After several years of marveling at the wonders of social media as a cost-effective tool for driving buzz around a brand, companies are now realizing that all that consumer-generated online chatter can be a double-edged sword.

It's good when online word of mouth through blogs, social networks and other consumer-generated content sites spur sales without a massive ad spend. But there have also been companies who have suddenly found themselves scrambling to dig out from under a flurry of negative postings and comments.

Now, there is a slew of companies prom­ising to at least enable companies to better quantify and respond to what's being said about their brand by consumers online, if not bring some order to social media.

“At the end of the day, companies are realizing that social media is the voice of the consumer and they need to have a mechanism in place to listen to that voice,” said Blake Cahill, SVP of sales and market­ing for Seattle-based Visible Technologies, whose TruCast technology, including the recently launched TruCast2.0, is being used by Dell, Microsoft. Hormel Foods, Panasonic and other top consumer compa­nies to track online consumer chatter.

Much like the dashboard software used to track how traditional media are report­ing on products, companies, executives and whole consumer categories, these social media monitoring tools are keyword-based. But many have advance features that add context to online conversations and sort out what is truly impactful to a brand both positively and negatively.

“We have ways to determine whether these conversations are good or bad,” explained Cahill. Companies shouldn't try to confront and squash negative com­ments, he added; rather, “it's about being present and engaged in every meaningful conversation.”

Brooke Aker, CEO of Expert System, adds this is a lot more than just protect­ing your brand online. “You may find that consumers are pairing your product with something else and the total exceeds the sum of the parts,” says Aker, whose company's technology adds semantics in its keyword monitoring so that brands can better understand what's being said about their product on blogs.

All these new tools are adept at alerting companies to what's being said about brands on social media sites and also in helping to identify who among this online chattering class are the true influencers that can drive sales.

But Cahill said that is really only half the battle, and companies also need to develop strategies to make sure the right person in-house takes the next step and engages with that consumer online.

“Some companies are struggling with who [is responsible for this among] market­ing, customer service or PR,” he said. “But most recognize that they need to engage and be present where consumers are hav­ing conversations.”

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