Master Class: Can you automate monitoring of your brand's social media conversations?

When Facebook starts having more traffic than Google, it becomes pretty obvious how big the social media playing field has become.

PANEL Carla Hassan

VP of marketing, PepsiCo Beverages Intl.

Lonn Johnston

Founder and president, Page One PR

Marcel LeBrun

CEO, Radian6

Manish Mehta

VP, global online, head of strategy, social media and community, Dell

Karla Wachter

SVP of insights and analytics, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide

When Facebook starts having more traffic than Google, it becomes pretty obvious how big the social media playing field has become. That means there is a tremendous amount of content and conversation out there about your brand - and you want to be able to see and hear all of it. It seems like an overwhelming amount of data, so you start looking for technology-based solutions for help. That is both good and bad.

Utilizing technology to help collect and organize the data can be a tremendous asset. The mistake that is often made is to look for automated solutions to help interpret the data. Almost like using a robot.

When you think about the social ecosystem, what you are actually viewing are conversations. Those conversations have subtleties and layers that can be very difficult to interpret using automated solutions. There is a great deal lost in the absence of human context, thus giving you a totally skewed view of the conversation.

Even more important, to succeed within the social ecosystem, you must participate. This means you must actually be part of the conversations. It doesn't mean merely watching and listening, but taking part. Trying to be a part of the conversation from behind an automated system is inauthentic - and it will feel that way to your consumers.

Imagine if you tried to have a personal conversation, but everything you hear is going through an automated filtering system. My guess is the conversation would be awkward at best. This is basically what you are doing when you automate interpretations of the conversations in the social ecosystem.

So while automation helps with collection and some organization within the social space, nothing beats actually being part of it.

Carla Hassan, VP of marketing, PepsiCo Beverages International

Most discussions around social media and monitoring have focused on b-to-c campaigns. We make a living in the b-to-b world. Presently, purchasing conversations have shifted to online peer discussions about dense technologies and products with six- and seven-figure price tags. It's surprising to see the high volume of conversations around enterprise IT products.

Monitoring and analyzing these high- value conversations led us to explore solutions that promised to automate this. But when it comes to interpreting the information to build strategies or develop action plans, the process is unfortunately still very manual.

  • Strategy. The first step is to set up targeted monitoring around the brand's top products, competitors, and industry keywords. While many tools are capable of determining the frequency of keyword mentions about specific topics, there is no substitute for a smart person scanning through posts. It takes a human brain to uncover key trends and analyze what they might mean to form a social media strategy.
  • Major announcement monitoring. Many clients do target monitoring around product launches or major announcements. We automate this process based on keyword profiles, but we assign a dedicated staffer to manually monitor the data to flag items for client response. By flagging posts manually we can also recommend an action.
  • Sentiment analysis. Pay close attention to the sentiment around clients' brands. Unfortunately, few monitoring tools on the market today do a good job tracking sentiment. Quality-control sentiment analysis by taking a random sampling of social media posts and then manually analyzing the sentiment.

Brand monitoring can be time-consuming. The good news is social CRM (customer relationship management) platforms and monitoring tools are radically advancing.

Lonn Johnston, founder and president, Page One PR

Few companies today doubt the transformational impact of social media. By the end of 2011, most companies of any size will have some type of social media presence. For many, it will become a cornerstone of their marketing and customer-service programs.

Yet some struggle to effectively listen and respond to customers on the social Web. The volume of conversations can overwhelm. Identifying relevant conversations, and then figuring out what to do with them, is a challenge. That's why many companies seek to automate parts of the process.

The best social media listening platforms do more than find relevant conversations. They help companies identify critical customer insights. They scale and operationalize the listening process throughout the enterprise, tying into existing enterprise systems where needed. They become a platform to manage a company's entire social media strategy.

So the process is automated, but only to a degree. And that is the way it should be.

Social media is a very human activity - it's a conversation, passionate debates, and inside jokes. It is about relationships and trust. At its core, it is a truly personal conversation. Any enterprise that loses that human touch will miss the whole point of the social Web.

Automation then becomes a question of balance. There are companies who balance sophisticated social media listening technology and the human touch. Dell has made listening to customers a central value in its operations. Dell's Social Listening Media Command Center captures and assesses thousands of brand mentions every day.

But it is people listening, before talking, that works best. That human touch empowered by technology is the balance enterprises need to find.

Marcel LeBrun, CEO, Radian6

You can automate monitoring conversations about your brand. Given the volume, you should. But finding and aggregating the information is only the first step. Social media is about real employees engaging with real customers as a result of that aggregation.

Dell uses Radian6 analytics software in our Social Media Listening Command Center in Round Rock, TX, to track more than 22,000 daily topic posts related to the company.

Software can scrape the Internet and record what's being said - and that's critical. But then what? A customer has a question - you need to answer it. A customer has a problem - you must solve it. If more than one customer has a similar problem, you need to pass the information along to the team who can incorporate the solution into the next release of a product or service so that the problem stays solved.

People, not software, identify the issues and see the trends that will help you better serve and connect your customers. That takes training. Dell has established its Social Media and Communities University to equip some 5,000 employees to connect with customers and funnel the feedback through the organization, so it results in meaningful change.

Social media analytics can tell you what people are saying about your company, how many of them are saying it, and where they are located. It can even report on the tone and compare your share of voice with that of your competition. It's an enormous amount of information. Thankfully, it can be automated. But remember: there's much more to social media than search and analytics. You can't automate relationships.

Manish Mehta, VP, global online, head of strategy, social media and community, Dell

There are many tools that aid in automating the monitoring of a brand's social media conversations. Automated monitoring tools provide great value in the collection of data. However, automation alone does not solve the problem of identifying and analyzing the relevant data that means most to a company.

Data is useless until human analysis is applied and turns it into actionable insight and information. Expert analysis is a critical step in monitoring social media conversations. It helps us determine and understand our target audience and their influencers, behavioral patterns, perceptions, intentions, and actions. It also helps us more accurately understand communications impact.

The following tips will help you monitor and apply analysis smartly:

  • Learn. Know your audience and the landscape in which your brand is involved.
  • Prioritize. Know influencers, their platforms, and how to access their conversations.
  • Pay attention. Listen to conversations and be ready to adjust campaign strategies based on what your audience and influencers say.
  • Engage. Have a clear plan for engagement, including workflow, roles and responsibilities, action strategies, and escalation processes.
  • Act. Measure changes in social media conversations because of your engagement. Analyze what worked and what didn't. Then share best practices.

Monitoring the right conversations through automation and human analysis not only informs campaign strategy, it drives nimbleness and responsiveness. Through effective monitoring, measurement, and expertise analysis, companies can drive innovative strategies, adjust campaigns in real time, and clearly link communications efforts to business outcomes.

Karla Wachter, SVP of insights and analytics, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide
The Takeaway
  • Automation can be both inauthentic and impersonal, so be careful to not overly automate your social media monitoring and measurement
  • While automation can do a bulk of data gathering and monitoring, it can't, for the most part, measure the sentiment of conversations. Supplement automation by analyzing real people's sentiment of what's measured and monitored
  • Analyze how your social en-gagement with an automation tool worked, or how it didn't

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