Analyzing the buzz

For companies planning product launches or evaluating existing lines, online monitoring is more important than ever.

For companies planning product launches or evaluating existing lines, online monitoring is more important than ever.

Many new media proponents advocate that, for a company to be successful in the future, it must cede its obsession with control. While this axiom usually relates to communications strategy, Screenlife found it also applied to the rules of its popular games.

The company's Scene It games, which consist of a board game and DVD, are often co-branded with pop culture entities like Disney, American Idol, and James Bond. However, Nancy Jenkins, Screenlife's PR director, says the company noticed early on, from both online and offline monitoring, that consumers made up their own rules by eschewing the board and playing solely with the DVD.

"Some people take the DVD out of the games and bring just that on vacation," Jenkins says, adding the company saw this phenomenon through online chatter and YouTube video postings. "It's very helpful for us to see that sort of thing."

That information resulted in the creation of Blast, a new product offering that eschews the board game for the popular DVD.

Screenlife is five-year-old company that is just one of many diverse organizations that now view online monitoring as a high priority. The company hired Evan Wight, director of e-Marketing, in May 2006 to pay closer attention to the space. Wight was a senior producer at a local advertising agency.

"The range of companies looking at social media in general as a way to launch companies and build brands and community ambassadorship are very broad now," says Todd Parsons, chief technology officer and cofounder of BuzzLogic, an online monitoring service that counts Screenlife as a client.

Wight has immersed herself in social media monitoring, setting up both broad and narrow BuzzLogic query strings for products. For Screenlife's American Idol All-Star Challenge game, it looks at posts with multiple permutations of brand phrasing, such as "American Idol," "American Idol Auditions," and "American Idol All Star Challenge."

"By running both broad terms, as well as honing in on our specific title, we are able to catch general fans of the show and focus in our specific conversations about our game," Wight says. "Through queries, we can find out where fans of American Idol and fans of the American Idol Challenge are. We can find out what they like about American Idol and parlay that into marketing programs. It really is a cost-effective tool for us."

Keeping up in real time

The ability to keep up with the changing nature of popular entertainment in a real-time manner is especially important for such a brand-dependent company.

"Our company is at the forefront of pop culture and the trends we see in society," Wight says. "I'm able to have broad entertainment queries that I do look at - such as making comparisons of The Simpsons versus Pirates of the Caribbean - to inform us as to what we should do next."

Screenlife uses BuzzLogic not just as a PR tool, but as part of its holistic marketing function. It also helps to better target online ad spends. Wight even sends along the best blog posts to the company's marketing and sales teams.

"Blog monitoring not only allows [us] to keep our finger on the pulse of what our consumers are saying regarding their game-play experience with our products," says Dave Long, CEO of Screenlife, "but it also provides us with a valuable tool to research  the level of buzz surrounding potential new licenses."

Whereas Screenlife's use of BuzLogic made sense for its needs, social media experts will say that different vendors are right for different situations (see below). When it comes to blog monitoring, the one thing that unites the vendors is that they can help marketers best understand the buzz (or lack thereof) around an upcoming product launch.

"Consumers are doing extra due diligence," says Pete Blackshaw, Nielsen BuzzMetrics CMO. "I don't think you can responsibly launch a new product without listening to what the influencers are saying. There's too much insight in brand intelligence."

Nielsen BuzzMetrics measures, analyzes, and provides reports on consumer-generated media.

"Especially with a new product launch, if people are badmouthing the product early, you might want to dial back your spending," he adds. "[Advertising spends] won't break through cynicism from consumers. If the hard gamers are badmouthing the game before you've dropped marketing, you'll have to spend five times as much to get the [positive message out]."

Wight is now a pro at using the BuzzLogic tool, setting aside two to three hours once a week to feel confident that she's getting her finger on the pulse of the social networks and blogs regularly. When Screenlife launched a new Blast game called Banzai a few months ago, the PR department set up new search strings.

"When we release new titles, I'm more active in the tool," she says. "I will set up new search strings and tap into the audience more regularly. BuzzLogic will be used going forward as part of product launches, and also to identify additional marketing opportunities."

Selecting A Service

Curtis Hougland, cofounder of social media agency Attention PR, and the former new media lead at Middleberg & Associates and Ruder Finn.

PRWeek: What advice do you have for PR pros looking for blog monitoring services?

Hougland: You need to try to recognize your client needs - whether they're looking for intelligence, whether they're looking to go in and engage a discussion, or whether they're trying to quantify a discussion. One or two services actually let you have your fingers on the console, whereas other services are, "Here's the answer you were looking for."

PRWeek: How often should people be using a blog monitoring service?

Hougland: If you're paying every time they submit a report, you may want to have something that's weekly or monthly. [It's different] for products [where] you can keep your hands on the console. The same way that you look for clips in the morning and scan for articles during the day, you should keep that same level of engagement in looking for things in the blogosphere. For us, it's a daily engagement.

PRWeek: What is the PR justification to the executive team as to why it should lead any blog monitoring strategy?

Hougland: PR pros [should have the] first discussion. They should [tell executives] that not all customers are created equal. I do believe [blog monitoring] is PR because you're engaging in one-to-one discussions. These are conversations.

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