So how well is the brand doing? What are people saying?
Intuition and approximation used to answer those questions. Today, a marketer has the tools to know for sure. And they all know where to look — inside social media. This may seem folly, as social media is filled with far more noise than signal. But with the right tools, one can find the insights. And the data adds certainty to the decision.
Social media tools go by various categorical names, like social relationship platforms (SRPs) or Social Media Management Solutions (SMMS). Only two years ago, Forrester Research recommended that clients stick to “best of breed” point solutions. But now the trend has shifted to more comprehensive platforms that can allow a collaboration of capabilities to reach — and listen — to various social platforms, as well as gathering and analyzing data to help execute smarter marketing moves.
Different starting points
The makers of social management tool-kits all had disparate starting points, but arrived at the same destination because of the same need: to drive insights from the social conversation. Keyhole started because there was need to track comments on Twitter. Brandwatch spotted the need to listen and understand what people were saying about brands in social media. Buffer began life as a tool to share material on pre-set dates and times. Sprinklr‘s angle was “social listening”—not only discerning what was being said on social media, but turning that insight into action.
- Social media “is a a new venue for brand perception,” said Eric Zaworski, market leader at Keyhole. “Everything you (users) do on it leaves a trail in one way, shape or form.” And that data trail can be analyzed. “You can make more data-driven decisions on social” as a result, he added.
- “The company understands not only the use of social as a large focus group but as a radar out there,” said Paul Herman, VP for product and solutions enablement at Sprinklr.
- “Social on its own is becoming more important to the brand,” added Venu Konda, vp for channel and partnership at Brandwatch. Companies are more sophisticated. They need to know what people are saying about their brands, understand it and organize it. “Now a business will use social to create an operational feedback loop.” That means using that knowledge to feed that preference back to the business.
- There is no single strategy, no standard tactic that a company can use to analyze and actualize a brand on social media, noted Halley Griffis, communications specialist at Buffer. The playbook is that there is no playbook. You have to use the toolkit to “diagnose” the brand’s presence in social, finding out what works and what does not. “Things change for every different account” Griffis said.
Different platforms have different traits. Speed and reach varies.
Take Facebook as a starter. Analyzing the clicks on photos or video revealed that posting material frequently did not build up customer engagement, Griffis noted. “Posting less on Facebook got us more engagement.”
Facebook is not the fastest platform for “getting the word out,” Konda observed. The platform is built in personal networks, so stories do not get shared very quickly. “It takes time to spread from network to network,” he said. But this platform has the most activity by volume. “It has a more private data set with some public access.”
Since Facebook is algorithm-based, “it is slow for brands,” Griffis added.
Instagram is highly curated. People are talking about their photographs. “It’s driven by thoughtfulness,” Konda said. The access rate is limited, but a judicious marketer can identify trends on this platform, he said. A message on Twitter, on the other hand, travels faster than a rifle shot. The timeline is “now,” Griffis said.
Which leads to the metrics.”We built our product to be an Internet listening platform as well,” Keyhole’s Zaworski said. “We can track any social media content, whether you own it or not
Indeed, listening is more than crisis management. It can be a marketing tool by itself, just as powerful as engagement. “We have machine learning and artificial intelligence sitting on top of it,” said Sprinklr’s Herman. With the correct filters in place, the highly noisy data stream can be refined to yield a useful signal, which is then routed to the correct person in the organization who can act on it, he explained.
Listening gives the user knowledge of how a message plays. It is no longer a blind proposition, like advertising in mass media. One can’t listen to how an e-mail interacts with a prospect, Herman noted. Past campaigns have already “benchmarked” social media buzz. It is now possible to have a good idea of how well a message will play in a product launch, given that data-documented previous experience, he explained. “Social media is the world’s largest focus group.”
Brandwatch relies on Boolean search to seek out pre-defined words and phrases, even layering geography and author URLs to develop a very granular picture of how well a brand is being received in the social universe, Konda explained. A data management rules engine can also sift through the data stream, looking or relevant clues.
Getting ahead of bad news
Companies can suffer bad publicity on social channels, either self-inflicted by an executive or employee, or by circumstances that cannot be controlled. Either way, companies want to get ahead of bad news before it goes viral.
“Social media monitoring can act as a distant early warning system for brands,” Zaworski continued. “If enough people engage negatively, public relations can look into it.”
“We need access to information faster and we need to investigate faster,” added Konda. “We are seeing more invested in pro-active alerts. Negative stories have a lot of momentum and can perpetuate,” Konda said. How do you use social media’s velocity to undo the smudges?
Key to building this capability is AI, or machine learning. It is not humanly possible to scan the entire Internet, looking for bad publicity. But this can be automated, provided the automation has been taught what to look for.
“There’s a lot of junk in social media,” said Sprinklr’s Herman. “A lot of companies are looking to make sure they are not subject to any malicious (attacks).”
Perhaps the most beguiling potential for social media tools is the ability to identify and recruit “influencers” —people who have a small or large, but above all focused, presence in social media, and who can drive a message through their circle of followers.
The metric for this is “earned media value,” representing the value of advocacy by influencers (as opposed to paid media messages).
One Keyhole client compared the media cost of pushing its cosmetic products via a celebrity like Beyonce compared to 50 influencers on Instagram, Zaworski recalled. They went with the influencers, “with a very engaged audience who will eat up everything they do.” he said. “It’s legitimacy by association. If the influencer is a fan of the product, the marketing team can connect with the influencer to push the product.”
Sprinklr acquired a firm called Little Bird, which specialized in tracking influencers, and integrated the capability into the Sprinklr platform. Now an influencer can be identified, and the user can now understand what the influencer is talking about, and who he or she is talking to, Herman explained. That conversational trend can be monitored to spot a trend over time, turn that into an insight, then provide content to the influencer to see how it plays out. A user can even benchmark one influencer against another, he noted.
Brandwatch does much the same, fishing in a pool of 300 million Twitter authors to find the influencers who drive conversations, Kinda said, measuring how far their tweets travel and how many people they reach. All this can be measured and charted to provide metrics of efficacy.
“It’s pretty hard to boil that ocean,” Konda said.
But the ocean can’t be ignored.