Gareth Davies, MS&L - Look back to see the future

Brands need to take a longer-term view when analysing their impact in the social media space.

The number of social media campaigns has increased dramatically as more and more brands realise the positive impact social media can have on customer loyalty and brand preference.

As a direct result, many monitoring and sentiment analysis tools have come to market. Each different tool offers agencies and in-house PR professionals the opportunity to monitor and analyse the impact of their brand within the social media space and the extent to which their stakeholders are willing to interact with the brand.

But the debate isn't over which tool you should invest in - it's about how far back we should be looking to produce meaningful data.

Some social media practitioners argue that owing to the dynamic, constantly evolving nature of social media and the large number of conversations and interactions taking place right now, only a short-term view of how your brand has performed online will give the most accurate picture.

They maintain that with such high volumes of dialogue taking place across numerous platforms, from Facebook and Twitter to blogs, it is only by analysing recent conversations that you can understand how well your brand is being, or will be, perceived.

At MS&L, our view is that many brands will achieve greater success in the social media landscape if they take a much longer, broader view. Short-term analysis does drive results, but what it doesn't show is how perceptions of your brand have evolved over time.

We believe that understanding this is vital for informing any social media strategy.

A recent project undertaken for one of our global clients exemplified our thinking. Here was a company that wanted to make a big jump into social media, but also to ensure that whatever approach it took was done in a manner that would keep its brand protected and be appreciated by stakeholders.

As the company operates across a diverse range of different industries and sectors, the main criterion was to understand the extent to which its activity in areas where some stakeholder sentiment was negative (not towards the brand, but to the sector itself) could impact on overall perception of the brand.

An initial audit of recent dialogue revealed some interesting trends in terms of how social media platforms extended the reach of news and traditional PR activity and provided us with a solid list of the key influencers with whom we had to engage.

What it failed to show was how negative views of certain key influencers had impacted on the brand and how that viewpoint had evolved over time.

By going back as far as 12 months, we were able to see the extent to which negative commentary around certain sectors referenced our client's brand. It also allowed us to see how 'negative perception through association' evolved over time and whether or not such a view continued to appear whenever the company was referenced.

By taking such a holistic and thorough view of the social media landscape, brand managers and PR professionals can better prepare themselves to deal with issues and crises, and to put in place strategic social media plans. Real-time conversations may focus on the 'new' and the 'now', but we must never forget that once a conversation takes place online it is logged and will remain visible for a long time.

To see the future, you need to look to the past.

- Gareth Davies is head of digital at MS&L.

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