Unravel the web chatter

People are talking about your brand online, but what are they saying and how do you find them, asks Robert Gray

According to a report released by E-consultancy this month, the UK market for online reputation and buzz monitoring will grow by around 30 per cent in 2008, to an estimated value of £60m. That this bullish outlook comes at a time of broader economic uncertainty illustrates the growing importance that brands and organisations are attaching to blogs, forums and other social media.

Over the past couple of years a new wave of online reputation monitoring tools have been established in response to increasing media fragmentation, changing consumer behaviour and the increasing breadth of different consumer channels. E-consultancy’s Online Reputation and Buzz Monitoring Buyer’s Guide 2008 concludes that it is no longer feasible just to monitor online reputation manually. Moreover, as technology improves, organisations are getting more value from their monitoring services.

E-consultancy head of research Linus Gregoriadis says: ‘There is quite a broad range of productsLinis Gregoriadis available – from free technology to services that are quite sophisticated but reliant on consultants for maximum value. The choice of technology provider depends partly on whether the intention is simply to keep track of what is being said for defensive reasons, or whether the intention is to use the resource proactively to improve engagement with customers and to make improvements to products and services.’

The market is still relatively immature and fragmented – the E-consultancy guide alone assesses 16 different suppliers – which means there is a lot of healthy competition between vendors, but also a sometimes baffling amount of choice for PR agency and in-house team buyers. Additionally, the sheer volume of data out there in a variety of forms and languages makes it difficult for a single technology solution to offer a truly comprehensive level of coverage.

So, how to go about making sense of this confusion? Bottle PR managing director Claire Cairns says that to monitor simple client mentions online, RSS feeds and Google Alerts, which tell you when your brand is mentioned online, are a good place to start. However, to pick up on forums, monitoring agencies can help. She recommends trialling different suppliers until you find the one that picks up the most relevant and frequent mentions.

‘When monitoring your online activity for a client, it is important to get the analytics right,’ she adds. ‘If the key aim is to drive traffic to a client’s website or blog, then you need to show that you’ve done it. Online brands tend to have the technology in place already. For those that don’t, find a supplier you trust. If your own web guys are doing a great job – and they should be – use them.’

Drew Benvie, director at PR agency Hotwire, says that by tracking issues as well as brand mentions, press office teams can begin to steer the digital media agenda.

‘Buzz on social networks can quickly bec¬ome mainstream media news, and left unmanaged, can quickly spiral out of control,’ he explains. ‘Your company name, spokespeople and product names all need to be tracked. You then need to identify the impact of online buzz in this space. Positive buzz can help drive customer acquisition, but negative buzz can mean customer churn.’

Tom Nixon, director at social media agency NixonMcInnes, cites Brandwatch, which the agency uses for its clients, Neilsen’s BuzzMonitor and Radian6 as the more advanced buzz monitoring tools. He believes these tools are particularly useful for measuring the impact of other marketing/comms activity and can track how people’s perception of a brand changes over time and how it compares to competitors.

Additionally they can help identify the communities or other social media sites on which to focus your resources. But they are not the be all and end all.

‘None of these tools will really come into their own unless you have in-house people who know how to use them,’ says Nixon. ‘They are an essential part of the PRO’s toolkit, just like reading newspapers, and we are receiving an increasing number of requests to train both in-house and agency marketers in how best to track their clients’ online presence.’

Chris Reed, director in charge of the digital and social media team at Fishburn Hedges, uses Radian6. ‘The tools that are free are getting better and better,’ he says. ‘So the agencies selling the service will have to demonstrate the benefits to justify the cost.’ However, like Nixon, he feels it is only by having ‘informed people’ to evaluate the data that real insight can be gleaned.

The sheer volume of material makes it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Social web tracking company Brandwatch says it downloads close to fivemillion web pages a day, hitting one
million sites. Its CEO Giles Palmer says that while the technology is still short of amazing, it is developing fast and already good enough to be able to tell clients far more about what is being said about them online than they could find out for themselves.

Of course, those businesses already targeting social media are likely to have deeper insight than those that are more reticent to engage. Bayer Healthcare recently appointed Jam, the social media unit of
i-level, to devise a social media strategy for its Berocca vitamin and mineral supplement brand. Jam identified that bloggers are a key target group that could benefit from Berocca and is offering aid to ‘tired minds’ in the form of a Bloggers’ Relief Pack.

Sentiment Metrics, meanwhile, was selected to report on the online conversations about a mobile phone company’s new touch screen handset. Positive messages spread by the PR agency could be seen in a ‘buzz trend chart’ it compiled that showed the agency achieving an ROI and led to its retention by the client.

Exposure director Maneeze Chowdhury says that her agency, which has a raft of consumer clients, uses Market Sentinel for social media monitoring and Metrica for evaluation. Outsourcing in this way is helpful, she says, as it provides an important outside perspective: ‘Our clients are finding it ever more important to look at online conversations people are having about their brands.’

Chowdhury says social media are now comparable to trade media as a starting point for many stories that subsequently snowball into national media coverage. Clearly having the right monitoring, evaluation and procedures in place enables a rapid response to maximize an opportunity or limit damage.

There are threats and opportunities –look at HSBC having to backtrack on student overdraft interest charges or Cadbury relaunching its Wispa bar. Both actions came in response to social media campaigns. No wonder online buzz monitoring is growing so strongly.


Case Study Britvic

Soft drinks group Britvic owns brands including Robinsons, J2O and Tango. It also has an exclusive bottling agreement with PepsiCo to bottle and distribute Pepsi, 7UP, Gatorade and V Water in the UK. In recent months it has stepped up its targeting of social media.

For example, Britvic’s popular commercial for spring water brand Drench – featuring Thunderbirds puppet Brains dancing wildly to 90s club floor-filler Rhythm is a Dancer – was carefully nurtured online into becoming a viral success. The ad has had more than two million hits on YouTube and had a Facebook site created in its honour.

‘As a company with a diverse portfolio of leading consumer brands, we have recognised the importance of understanding how consumers interact with our brands through social media,’ says Britvic media communications manager Emma Peacock. ‘The challenge was how to do this in a cost-effective and meaningful way.

‘We have been working closely with Metrica, which has created a way of incorporating social media into our wider media analysis. By normalising it in this way we have been able to quickly and easily update our monitoring and analysis brief to represent our consumers’ entire media landscape and experience.’

Peacock adds that it is still ‘early days’ but what Britvic ultimately hopes to be able to do with the results is deliver valuable insight to the business that can then be used to drive strategy for engaging more proactively with social media.

‘We were actually working with Dell back in 2006 when the exploding laptop saga demonstrated just how powerful an influence the blogosphere was becoming,’ says Metrica associate director Clare O’Sullivan.

‘As a result, since then, we have been working closely with clients to help them understand how best to monitor and evaluate social media and devising solutions to enable it.’

Case Study Yell

Directories company Yell works with Durrants and Prompt to track all of its coverage, on and offline, and uses Metrica for evaluation. It uses The Red Consultancy for product PR and its online arm, Shiny Red, for digital work.

Part of Shiny’s remit is to engage potential Yell.com users online, through either ‘traditional’ online media – the online versions of offline magazines/newspapers – or by pitching stories direct to blogs, newsgroups and forums, and engaging in debate on the sites. A good example of the latter is coverage on Pet Forums of usage trends on Yell.com, suggesting a rise in searches for dog walkers.

Yell has been generating coverage like this for some time and noticed that evaluation by Metrica gave a generic reach and AVE.

But blogs typically do not take advertising and do not report on usage figures.

So the reach figure was misrepresenting the importance of the online coverage. Yell asked Shiny and Metrica to develop a bespoke method of online coverage evaluation.

A ‘traditional’ methodology was applied for some of the evaluation, such as type of coverage, whether it was positive, inclusion of messages and so on. In addition, special categories were created for types of online coverage – blog post/message board – as well as rankings for reach based on three tiers of websites.

The tiers are based on ranking usage information from the blog search engine Technorati. When that is not available, Shiny uses its experience to include other sites based on Yell’s audience and objectives.

‘We set goals for each campaign, and what is important to us is the communication of key messages to Yell.com’s target audience – ABC1s 18-45,’ says Yell senior PR manager Emma Jeffs. ‘We’re also beginning to consider setting goals on deep links into Yell.com for SEO purposes, and also on amount of engagement with each post, or quantity of replies, particularly if they reference the original story.’

HOW TO find the right supplier

Do you want a company with its own proprietary technology? Some service providers (often PR and search agencies, for example) ‘white label' another company‘s technology, which is something you should be aware of, even if it is not necessarily a problem.

Ask how the supplier gathers its data.

Are you looking for something that ties in with your search engine optimization, which a search agency might therefore be well positioned to provide?

How is data presented back to you? As the end-user of the technology, you need to have something user friendly. What type of dashboard features and functionality are on offer? What management reporting facilities can be produced? Can the data be visualised?

To what degree is the information fully automated?
If software is used exclusively to provide the data, how does this technology measure the sentiment of comments or conversation and influence of the source?

If you are relying on your supplier for insight as well as technology, do they have people with a sufficient understanding of your business -and sector - to draw conclusions that will be valuable to your organisation?

Does the supplier in question have case studies and testimonials that give you confidence that it can work effectively on your behalf?

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