Listen closely to your social signals

The April 2011 issue of Direct Marketing News predicted that next year social CRM will take in $1 billion. With numbers like that, marketing techniques revolving around social listening will only grow to become more ubiquitous than they currently are. Monitoring what your consumers are saying about your brand sheds light on their associations, values and behaviors, and can inform new concepts, campaigns, messaging, pricing and packaging. Several companies, including Radian6, Cymfony and Jive Software, offer simple solutions for tracking this kind of information.

Social listening provides a fire hose of data that is used to develop marketing hypotheses around campaigns, pricing, branding and messaging. But knowing how representative the feedback, mentions, reviews and likes are of your target market’s sentiments can be tricky. Is the buzz around your brand cacophony, or is there a signal in all that noise?

Take, for instance, the case of restaurants and Yelp reviews as reported by Duncan Simester in the Harvard Business Review in May. Simester reported that while many restaurant owners focus on negative reviews by anonymous Yelpers, they aren’t always paying attention to whether or not the naysayers are even in their target market. “These people looked nothing like our customers,” he wrote. “They were a decade or more younger, and far more price-sensitive, than our target demographic.”

At a younger age and skewed purchase income, the insights gained from anonymous commenters was inconsequential to this particular restaurateur, and at worst misleading. Not all products and services are meant for everyone. Are the people giving your product negative feedback on Twitter even the people your product was made for? 

In order to leverage the undeniable value of social listening into validated feedback and actionable insights, researchers have to take the next step and test their findings on their target market. Doing this can be simple and cost-effective, as there is a new breed of real-time research tools available to hone in on a target market and gain real-time feedback. Tools like Toluna’s QuickSurveys and GutCheck’s real-time qualitative interviews can aid in testing hypotheses and bring the blur of social streams into focus. Leveraging these tools can take the guesswork out of social listening without throwing the benefits of the methodology away.

Whether it’s understanding a vocal minority or helping alleviate the concerns of your target market, digging deeper into the insights and patterns gained by social listening is important to maintaining a good consumer relationship and validating research hypotheses. Giving this kind of attention to a social media crisis shows consumers that a) you’re listening and b) they have a voice. However, discerning what’s noise and what’s losing your brand loyalists will mean the difference between success and expensive missteps.

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