How Social Media Will Transform Brand Management

Social media suffers from an image problem today.

Most people in the enterprise tend to think of social media as a collection of delivery devices: New channels of increasing importance that marketers use to help reach current and prospective customers. In marketing speak, the emphasis is on owned media.

This perception of social media should come as no major surprise; it’s a natural marketing instinct to improve the reach and portability of our messages, and to latch onto any new media that helps to efficiently achieve that purpose.

But what about the media brands earn on social?

As marketers, we will never be able to control how consumers engage with these media—but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of influencing their behavior. We can observe and learn from these social activities every day.

Imagine if you could analyze all of this public data under the lens of one critical strategic question. What answers would you find?

I propose that brand managers begin thinking of social media as a massive data repository, a digitized focus group with millions of unpaid participants. This repository consists of huge amounts of unstructured data, which hold valuable insights about customer shopping habits, lifestyle interests, product use cases, even aspirations. Today, we can parse this data for research on countless subjects. It’s the social scientist’s digital mecca.

In many ways, brand managers are in the business of social science. They’re in a constant search for new information about customer needs. They want to create new brand experiences that will build and foster profitable customer relationships. Social media analysis is incredibly useful as a tool to that end, but it’s still drastically underutilized.

Here are some innovative ways in which brand managers can use social media analysis to drive business decision-making:

Aggregate view of trends and conversations

I tell the people I interview for jobs at Crimson Hexagon that every day will be different. We’re a startup, so there is, of course, some inherent unpredictability to what someone may be asked to do on a given day. But even more so, as a social media analytics company, our fundamental raw material is social data—and social data is always changing. New social conversations are happening right this second.

If someone tweets at 1:00 p. m. that he or she is “craving a cheeseburger,” that individual is probably hungry at that exact moment in time. The need for a burger is made explicit. It’s probably also safe to assume that the person will tweet about something completely different later in the day. These comments in isolation, however, have limited utility for brand managers.

Certain analytic tools can help us to accurately scale these interpretations. What if you analyze these conversations, and the people behind them, in the aggregate?

With the example above, we know from a single tweet that this person wants food at 1:00 p.m., particularly a burger. But, notice: There is no brand mention attached to this post. Does this author prefer Burger King or McDonald’s? Until recently, we never had a way to figure out what these consumers want and like outside of the context of individual comments on social media. Now, brand managers can quantify different segments of online conversation and even look to new audience analytics for answers.

Cross-promotion and product strategy

Earlier this year, I published a study on the worldwide sponsors of the 2014 Winter Olympics. It was my goal to one, understand the psychographic composition of these brands’ social audiences, and two, to determine whether any unexpected audience traits could give rise to new product and promotional ideas.

Among the brands I researched was Panasonic [Panasonic is not a client]. One of the most surprising findings of my research revealed that the top affinity of consumers who tweeted about Panasonic since January 2014 was Keurig. Yes, the coffeemaker. In fact, these people were more than 3,000x more likely to have an affinity for Keurig compared to the overall Twitter population.

Interesting, right? The brand managers for Keurig and Panasonic might want to consider joint marketing of some kind. But this unanticipated connection between the consumer electronics manufacturer and homebrewed coffee wasn’t the key finding of the research.

Among other lifestyle interests, I also uncovered evidence of a strong childcare affinity. In particular, these consumers were 100x more likely to be interested in parenting and more than 500x more likely to prefer Pampers diapers. To me, these affinities both point in the same direction: What if Panasonic introduced a baby-monitoring device?

Based on this initial research, there may be an opportunity for Panasonic to appeal to parents by extending its brand into this new product category. Panasonic could also try persuading Procter & Gamble’s Pampers brand to be a co-marketing partner. After all, both products would target the same audience.

The scary thing is that Panasonic and parenting represents just one finding. Imagine all of the other white space you could uncover by analyzing social media data on brands or topics that are specifically relevant to you.

Preemptive positioning strategy

Brand management can also analyze social data to help craft successful positioning strategies. By placing a new lens on the broader online conversation about childcare and parenting, or baby-monitoring devices, you can uncover the key discussion topics, demographics—and even psychographics—of the conversation participants are having right now or over any specified time period. For example, you could determine the product qualities that are most talked about over the past six months by these consumers, and then emphasize the most favorable ones in your product’s new messaging.

Similarly, brand management can perform competitor product analysis to understand the appeal of other products that are currently on the market. These insights may help provide guidance on the frame in which you position a new product relative to the competition.

To recap, the key findings from this study were derived purely from exploratory research of social data. What if every brand manager approached social media in this manner? What if every sponsorship decision and celebrity endorsement was informed by unbiased, quantitative data on consumers’ social activities? In that case, social media may just become a bit more entrancing—and your brand along with it.

Jehan Hamedi is the senior manager of strategic market development at Crimson Hexagon, where he leads the development of vertical-specific solutions in digital and social media analytics.

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