ANALYSIS

Finding Out What They’re Saying About You Is Worth Every Penny

Social media monitoring is a new business endeavor, with relatively few companies able to boast a significant track record of achievement. In fact, according to the new Aberdeen benchmark report, “The ROI on Social Media Monitoring,” only 27 percent of Best-in-Class companies have engaged in social media monitoring activities for more than two years, while 44 percent have put their toes in the water only within the past 12 months.

It’s no surprise, then, that there remains significant confusion in the marketplace regarding the value of social media monitoring.

“There are a lot of people, especially in the research bowl, who still don’t fully understand social media monitoring and its implications,” says Frank Cotignola, customer marketing analytics manager at Kraft Foods. “They don’t pay attention to what customers are saying online. In some cases, the volume of information is just too overwhelming. ‘You expect me to read 30,000 posts about Oreos? At the end of day, I’ll read three good ones, three not-so-good ones and three that basically just mention the product. So what am I supposed to do with this?’ And that’s the problem. Companies need help in discerning what it all means, in trying to make sense of it.”

Making sense of consumer generated content in a systematic fashion requires access to specialized technologies and analytics capabilities provided by a vendor landscape that is rapidly evolving. This past year has been marked by consolidation (e.g., Alterian recently acquired Techrigy, which previously acquired Andiamo Systems), new partnerships (e.g., Radian6 and Attensity last month launched Attensity Cloud), enhanced capabilities from well-established players (e.g., Visible Technologies, Converseon, TNS Cymfony and Nielsen Online) and growing market traction by new technology entrants (e.g., Scout Labs and Crimson Hexagon). Last month, Microsoft announced that with the upcoming launch of a solution called “Looking Glass,” it too will get into the social media monitoring game.

While social media monitoring and analysis solutions are generally designed to deliver a similar set of benefits, the underlying technologies can vary dramatically. For example, different solutions take different approaches to the types of social media content they index, the types of live data they serve in the application, their sentiment scoring algorithms, and their analytic and performance reporting integration functions.

Different solutions screen consumer-generated content through different lenses. While some are focused specifically on brand reputation management, others are designed to serve the needs of a public relations or market research. Some solutions rely heavily on natural text processing, semantic indexing and sophisticated algorithms to derive actionable insights from unstructured data. Others place emphasis on the “human analysis” component for interpretation, with knowledge domain experts scouring for insights delivered via a PowerPoint presentation rather than an automated digital dashboard.

Generating Consumer Insights

One of the key benefits of social media monitoring is consumer insights generation. Ongoing analysis of consumer-generated content can produce a vast array of strategic options, including insights into what products and services should be developed, what marketing messages should be communicated and what partnership opportunities should be pursued in order to maintain social currency. The insights can be used to enhance and inform a company’s positioning and to extend its overall strengths and capabilities.

One company that can point to significant success in generating consumer insights from online conversation is Intuit. With US$3 billion in revenues and more than 8,200 employees, Intuit is the dominate provider of financial software and related services for small businesses and individuals. The company’s recent growth and high customer satisfaction ratings can be largely attributed to social media monitoring, which includes listening to the voice of the customer in its popular online communities for users of QuickBooks, Quicken and other products.

According to Scott Wilder, general manager of user created content, community and social media, Intuit strives to integrate “community” and “social” into all of the company’s desktop products and Web sites and to provide in-product, contextual help powered by tens of thousands of small business owners and experts. “We want to make it easy for customers to engage in the conversations,” he says. At the same time, the company is keen to pay close attention to the conversations and learn from them.

While the social media monitoring initiative is owned by the marketing organization, the insights are used by all different parts of the organization. “Customer care, product development and customer relations all need to have access to the information,” says Wilder. These teams rely on the information to inform their day-to-day activities and drive business success.

Probably no group benefits more than product management. “Monitoring social media is a great way to spot trends in terms of future product development,” says Wilder. A good example relates to the introduction of a new feature in the latest release of QuickBooks. While software operations were performed solely in U.S. dollars, Intuit discovered that more and more small businesses were now outsourcing overseas. “The drumbeat got louder on the Web,” says Wilder. “It got to the point that a multicurrency feature was something Intuit needed to address.” With the new feature, businesses can track sales, purchases and banking activities in more than 100 world currencies. “The need for this feature is just one of the things we learned from online conversation,” says Wilder.

“Intuit’s social media monitoring services inform us of emerging small business trends and help us keep a pulse on what people are saying on the Web, alerting us about potential customer service issues,” says Wilder. “The services enable us to respond quickly to customers needs, reinforcing our brand attributes of being accessible and putting the customer first.”

Improving Customer Service

The ability to identify potential customer service issues speaks to another key benefit. In fact, for many companies, the starting point for building an effective ROI model for social media monitoring may lie not in the marketing department but in customer support.

Consider StubHub. Founded in 2000 and acquired by eBay in 2007, StubHub is a leading online marketplace for buyers and sellers of tickets for concerts, sports events and live theater. In early 2009, StubHub implemented a systematic solution to monitor and analyze consumer-generated content.

From a service recovery perspective, the customer care department not only monitors consumer sentiment on a passive basis but also actively engages with customers who may have had an unfavorable experience with the brand. “We try to turn that experience around in a public manner,” says Jackie Tichner, executive customer care manager. “We’ve had a lot of success with resolving open issues. Some customers are genuinely pleased and appreciative. They in turn tell other people that we’re paying attention.”

StubHub prides itself on its strong service commitment, and social media monitoring has helped the company to better enforce that commitment. In fact, as a result of online monitoring, the company has implemented several policy changes and has even modified partner agreements. One example relates to negative sentiment that surfaced with respect to a third-party fulfillment issue that prevented tickets from being electronically delivered to customers in a timely manner.

The customer care department works on a day-to-day basis to identify exception experiences and then influence change, primarily from a quality and training perspective. “We want to see if we’re driving any repeat behavior or repeat purchases over time,” says Tichner. Tracking those changes, however, can be a cumbersome process that involves mapping online conversation to user account information.

For its part, the marketing department uses the solution to gain insights into how to better message to target audiences. Meanwhile, the PR department pays particular attention to capturing consumer sentiment as it relates to national StubHub-sponsored events and campaigns. Both departments have implemented alerts based on multiple keywords.

While there isn’t yet a coordinated effort between the marketing, PR and customer support departments when it comes to social media monitoring activities, the company aims to move in that direction. Ideally, it would also like to integrate customer survey feedback with consumer-generated content in a centralized data warehouse where the data can then be sliced and diced by the internal BI group to gain additional insights around the voice of the customer.

Meanwhile, says Tichner, there’s enormous value in a dashboard that enables HubStub to make sense of all the noise in social media with respect to concerts and sporting events. The solution provides a clear picture of the competitive threats, and where the company is falling down. It also points to opportunities for future business growth.

Taking a Broader Perspective

In the end, it’s clear that the consumer insights derived from social media monitoring and analysis can benefit multiple parts of the organization. Companies that monitor social media only to gauge consumer reception to a new product launch or sentiment around a new marketing campaign are failing to take full advantage. By the same token, companies that disseminate the insights gleaned from consumer-generated content only to the marketing department, the public relations department or, for that matter, the market research department, may one day look back on a litany of missed opportunities.

The good news is that a growing number of companies are coming to view consumer-generated content from a broader perspective. They are systematically analyzing the endless flow of unstructured data to generate actionable insights. They are working to ensure that the insights reach the right decision-makers, wherever they may reside, in a timely and contextualized manner. And, importantly, they are tracking and measuring the results to drive continuous performance improvement.


Jeff Zabin is a research fellow in customer management technologies at the Aberdeen Group.

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