Harnessing social media data

When social media came on the scene, marketers used it mainly as an arm of public relations, but industry experts have found new applications, such as voice-of-customer research. Mike Cooperman, senior director of marketing and product development at J.D. Power & Associates, recently spoke at the Direct Marketing Association’s Digital Marketing Days Conference & Expo about new ways to harness the volume of consumer information being churned out by social media, and shared some thoughts with Direct Connect.

DirectConnect: How can marketers best use social media?

Mike Cooperman: It’s not ten ways to set up a great Facebook page or five rules to follow on Twitter. We see that sort of marketing as using 10 percent of your brain. There’s a whole 90 percent that we see as a huge opportunity that most companies have yet to take advantage of, and that’s listening to the voice of the customer.

Consumers are talking and they’re talking about what they’re passionate about. They’re talking about what their pain points are. You can, as a company, aggregate that information to drive product development, to drive your messaging.

An important thing to remember is there’s a social part of social media and a lot of companies are highly focused on the media part. There’s a bigger strategic picture that you can’t get from just reading somebody’s comment. You have to aggregate those comments.

There are a lot of companies that are following people on Twitter. But the reason they follow is to make sure that people are not talking badly about their brand. That’s important, but we see a much bigger strategic opportunity.

DC: What kind of opportunity?

MC: Customer segmentation would be one thing.

There are companies that are spending hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars to understand consumer segments that are interesting to them, or topics that are hot. And how are they doing it? They’re sending out surveys and listening to focus groups, when you have social media that are ripe with conversation from consumers giving you unaided feedback. But to aggregate it and see the big picture and quantify it, that’s hard.

DC: The tools exist to do all this work?

MC: Absolutely. We’ve invested in text analytics that allow us to take the text in the blogosphere — take the conversations and run them through our text analytics algorithms and identify age, gender, sentiment, key topics of conversation.

So we can look and say: OK, here are all the people talking about your product, about your brand. So here are the things that are important to them, here are the things they’re talking negatively or positively about and who generationally is speaking. So are you reaching your target audience or not?

DC: But if they follow you online, they’re already interested in your products. How do you reach people who are not?

MC: That’s where strategic, bigger picture thinking would come in. When you’re utilizing social media, at the end of the day you’re just listening to consumers, so that helps you inform all your marketing decisions that go beyond that.

Think about the world’s largest cocktail party — in essence that’s what social media is. The opportunity exists for companies to listen to those conversations and utilize those conversations in a more strategic way: What products are working and what products are not, what are the consumer needs out there.

So whether it’s customer services or product planning or marketing, social media is one more feed of phenomenal customer information

DC: How do social media level the playing field for market research?

MC: You don’t have to get 20 people in a room in Atlanta to have a focus group. We don’t have to look at 10 different markets, We don’t have to send out 10,000 surveys. The information is already out there. We just need to grab it and aggregate it and then analyze it.

For smaller companies that are looking for ways to leverage research, we see social media as a great opportunity

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