Forrester report: how companies listen and engage with social media

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Image from Flickr courtesy of sfllaw

Forrester Consulting recently surveyed 200 US marketers about their use of social media listening and engagement. (The report, commissioned by Dell-commissioned is available to read here.)

Some of the most interesting findings include:

  • Information sourced by social media is now being used by more than 70% of B2B decision-makers.
  • Interestingly, there is a significant uptake of companies adopting social media tactics (97%), but there is a plenty of opportunity for business returns to be improved.
  • However, strategic social media is not being used extensively. Only 8% of the surveyed marketers claimed that their listening and engagement work is tied to corporate objectives.

Forrester identified that there are clear and unique approaches to social media monitoring and listening that depend on the company’s industry:

  • Utilities, banking and services are least developed, using listening for customer service and to drive brand awareness. Security and privacy concerns pose challenges to these sectors.
  • Media, entertainment and leisure companies, who are further along the social media curve, focus their social media metrics on reach. Here the measurements are likely to be for the number of ‘fans’ or ‘likes’, which is
  • High-tech companies are geared towards lead-generation, which Forrester claim to place them as the most advanced on the social-media curve. By using real business metrics for measurement, these companies are also the ones facing the most challenges, as their efforts increase in complexity.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Programs which receive executive sponsorship are the most likely to succeed and deliver results.
  • Integration is essential to maximise ROI. Combining the information gathered from listening with existing customer data, systems and processes will allow companies to see the “big picture” of the effects on their business.
  • Employee empowerment is crucial, to maximise existing resources, training and education is needed to allow employees to listen and engage in their day-to-day work, in a consistent way.

Integration is definitely one aspect that will become more and more important. As companies gain confidence in the potential for social media to offer more than a marketing channel and embrace using it across the entire business (from customer support to internal communications), the volume of information available will certainly be a game-changer.

SoDash: bringing artificial intelligence to social media monitoring

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Screenshot of SoDash - social media monitoring tool with artificial intelligenceKeeping track of discussions surrounding your brand or competitors is crucial for successful social media monitoring and listening. One challenge is the sheer range and volume of conversations that take place online, and determining what to do with them.

Sentiment analysis is a difficult task to automate as irony and sarcasm can generate false results, affecting accuracy. Being able to identify what action a posting needs, if any, is also difficult, as spam or bot messages might drown out genuine users.

We spoke to Simon Campbell about the exciting approach SoDash has taken to social media monitoring. SoDash uses artificial intelligence which means the tool can be “trained” into determining the sentiment and category of a social media posting. This advanced approach to social media monitoring can potentially result in greater effectiveness at gathering intelligence from online conversations, and reacting to them appropriately.

What do you feel is the most accurate definition of a social media management tool?
I think the key is how you define “management”. There are a lot of social media monitoring and reporting tools, but I think the real value comes from engagement, which is something the traditional offerings in the market do quite poorly. I think the most accurate definition for the perfect social media management tool would be: A tool that helps you “monitor”, “filter”, “engage with” and “report on” social media in the most efficient way by automatically identifying opportunities and reducing workload through improved workflow.

Why do you think they are valuable to brands or businesses (ie, time savers etc)?

Tools by definition are there to make life easier and the good ones will cleverly filter all of the noise out there in social media, deliver just the relevant messages and provide a much improved work flow so that social media can be managed with minimal resource and maximum efficiency. Businesses need to be able to simply monitor and engage with their customers and prospects within social media as this represents how their brand is viewed and can relate directly to the bottom line.

What do you think is the most accurate way of tracking social media activity without using a tool?

It is a fairly laborious task without using any tools at all as it involved creating individual searches in things like Twitter and manually monitoring them, and setting up Google Alerts for numerous phrases and again, manually checking them all in the different places. There are some free tools that go some of the way to help monitor (such as TweetDeck) but they still rely on someone sitting in front of it all the time and it does not do anything especially clever except for pulling in the information to one place.

Explain how SoDash works and why it is an effective tool for social media management.

SoDash is a social media dashboard for brands and organisations to monitor and interact with the market. The reason it is unique owes to its artificial intelligence algorithms that learn what is important to your business through tagging. Once trained, it will automatically tag messages that are sales leads, positive or negative comments about your brand or competitors, deliver market information, ghost write and send responses and much more. Whilst some tools out there are good for monitoring social media, SoDash enables you to take control of social media and make it work for you with minimal resources.

What platforms does SoDash cover?

SoDash currently covers Twitter and Facebook with full monitoring of blogs, forums, YouTube, LinkedIn and others coming in September. We can currently also link to any specific source if requested. It is important to understand about engagement in the different platforms. Twitter is by far the most engaging, as it is an open platform. Facebook is great if you have a page with lots of fans that you need to manage but you cannot access and engage with private profiles.

How are you different from other social media management tools on the market?

SoDash is unique because it has in-built artificial intelligence which enables it to be trained to filter, recognise and tag messages based upon the criteria that is important to your business. Due to the artificial intelligence algorithms, it is also much more accurate when looking at things like sentiment analysis as again it is trained in relation to all aspects of the messages, including the structure, punctuation and person messaging, not just positive or negative words as with other tools. Essentially, other tools on the market have been developed to focus on monitoring whereas SoDash is built for engagement with monitoring as a given.

Who do you see as your main competitors?

Companies that use SoDash might also look at Radian6 or CoTweet. Both were built initially with monitoring and reporting in mind and, as with other tools on the market, they do not incorporate artificial intelligence so are reliant on manual filtering and responses. We have come across agencies who might continue to use something like Radian6 alongside SoDash although SoDash will soon be able to offer the full breadth of monitoring and reporting to cover all angles. Another of the features that customers are highlighting as a strong aspect of SoDash in comparison to other tools is the ease of use.

What sort of future developments can we expect to see from SoDash?

With the core functionality in place, the SoDash roadmap now focuses upon bringing on more channels/platforms and the automation of more specific reporting, especially to cover internal factors such as response times to messages (all of which can be provided now if requested). There are also some really cool advances that no one else has on the radar right now, but you will have to wait to see those!

Why you shouldn’t join every conversation about your brand online

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Keep calm and carry on
Image by scottroberts via Flickr

When brands start social media monitoring, the ability to get real-time alerts whenever your brand is mentioned can be enlightening. Your inbox is suddenly filled, almost in real time, with every mention of your brand. The good, the band, and the ugly. The temptation can be to respond to all of these. To counteract every negative comment. To respond to and then spread every positive experience. To answer and resolve every question. This is only natural for people who care about the brands they work for. But the best approach is often not to respond. In fact, in many if not most instances, a brand should not respond to people talking about it online.

The real benefit of social media monitoring for brands is that it allows you to be aware of and listen in to conversations that you might not have known were going on otherwise. People who express their frustration with your product but would never have told you, advocates telling others just how great you are, or people sharing useful feedback and product development ideas. It’s great to see all of these things and the temptation is to respond. But more often than not, the best thing a brand can do is to not respond.

Doing nothing is often the most difficult thing to do. But it is often the right thing to do. If you overheard two people ranting about your brand on a train you would be unlikely to interrupt. If you heard people talking in a cafe about great customer service they’d received from your team you would probably listen, feel proud and let them tell each other how great you are. There is no need to interrupt in these cases. A rant is probably just a rant and there is little you can do to change this. And people being positive are probably doing lots of good for you on their own without you needing to add anything. Whilst things are different in social media - notably that the comments can be seen by a much larger audience and that they are archived and searchable. But often the same rules apply.

If you have nothing to add, don’t say anything, and if you will only inflame a situation then stay out of it

Overall, brands should be careful about engaging online and have a clear process of when to respond, and when not to respond. There are two very clear cases where a brand should always step in:

  1. Where an actual customer service complaint is being expressed - you should step in to respond to this, pointing people in the direction of where they can get support or dealing with this complaint through your existing channels.
  2. Where incorrect things are being said about your brand, products or organisation - you should correct the incorrect messaging that is being spread and answer any questions

In all other instances you should be more circumspect about getting involved. You should have a simple process for reacting and responding online and use this to help guide you. But overall you should do nothing more than you do something. Monitor, report on and learn from everything people say about you online. But don’t feel the need to get involved in every conversation.

Traackr, social media influence and value for brands

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Influencer identification and tracking tool Traackr didn’t feature in our social media influencers report so we thought it would be a good idea to have a chat with Traackr’s CEO and Co-founder, Pierre-Loïc Assayag, about the tool and, more generally, the value of social media influencers to brands and businesses…

So Pierre, to kick things off, what do you feel is the most accurate definition of an influencer?

All of us are influencers and have been for a long time. What’s different is how we define influence in this new online information age.

For me, an influencer is a person who has a disproportionate influence on others - the influence they exert on others is greater than the influence others have on them. Influencers cause a voluntary change to someones behaviour.

There is no “trick” to influence and the best influencers are open and upfront in the way they engage their audience; if brands don’t interact with influencers in the same way they will fail to engage.

Do you think influencers are valuable to brands and businesses?

In short - yes. Our client, Honda UK , used our tool to identify and engage with influencers to launch their first hybrid car, the Honda Insight.

Honda originally set out to engage with influential people in the motor industry space. However, Traackr helped them discover that only half their influencers existed in the motor industry space; the other half where people who were interested in environmental issues surrounding cars and hybrid vehicles.

At first Honda engaged with both sets of influencers in the same way - by treating them like journalists and focusing on the PR side of things. They were offered free rides, VIP treatment etc. While this worked for the motor enthusiasts,  this did not appeal to the environmental influencers. So Honda reached out to these people and appealed to their interest in the environmental impact of cars in general not the launch of the Honda Insight per se.  Honda gave their environmental influencers direct access to their research team in order to discuss long-term environmental plans for Honda.

By learning to talk to different influencers in different ways, Honda managed to develop a long term relationship with their influencers. What’s more, Traackr’s reports showed that mentions of ‘Honda Insight’ among the top influencers increased by 300% and estimated coverage increased by 675% as a result of Honda’s influencer engagement.

But why is this story valuable to brands? Brands need to play inside an influencer’s story and must show flexibility with their marketing efforts in order to succeed with influencer engagement. From a brand and business perspective influencers are much more valuable than just for marketing and PR: influencer discovery can be used in recruiting/HR, Politics, research, etc…

What do you think is the most accurate way of identifying influencers?

There’s no tool out there  (including us) that can identify the top influencers with 100% accuracy. Influence is such a rich concept that I don’t believe we’ll be able to truly do is with 100% technology and 0% human input. Influencer identification is always going to be a mix between a skilled user, a meaningful, relevant search string and good technology.

With that caveat, Traackr’s influencer platform allows you to locate, qualify and track online influencers within any market, conversation or topic in real-time.  The tool covers all platforms (ie, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc) and our authority score (our measure of influence) identifies individuals wherever they publish online and ranks their influence in a specific conversation based on our proprietary scoring engine.

Traackr uses 3 scores to measure influence:

  • Reach -   We measure the size of an audience across various data points and platforms. Influence is fluid and so we measure continuously over time as someone that got 7,000 hits to their blog 1 year ago may only get 7 today.
  • Resonance - this looks at the number link backs, retweets, comments etc. The tool looks for signs that a person can engage users around their content. We also include things like ratings and reviews on Amazon, Facebook likes, and YouTube comments and favourites.
  • Relevance - I love my brother very much and he does influence my life but not when it comes to financial advice!! Influence is highly contextual and identifying influencers that are relevant to your needs, market, sector, focus or whatever is vital for success. We use keywords and search strings to help measure relevance over time.

We’re going to be adding in 2 new scoring systems during Q2 of 2010. One will be based called “Relationships” and will be based on the social graph - it basically looks at who your connections are, how tightly you connected to them or whether your connections are influencers themselves. We’ll also be looking at a “Reputation” score and how people are percieved online by other people.

So why do you believe that Traackr is an effective tool for identifying influencers?

Traackr has been built solely to identify influencers. And our algorithms and measurements are so much more than just a popularity contest - context and relevance are quintessential to everything about Traackr.

The other difference is that we track a person not a platform. We follow the breadcrumb of a user across platform different platform types. Even if a person uses different names on different platform our search engine has been programmed to not only look at user name but also real name, keywords, location etc. However if a person is trying to keep certain channels separate or anonymous, Traackr won’t force the channel reconciliation as it’s usually a sign that the person doesn’t want brands to reach out to them on their personal channels.

We also use human validation if we find 2 channels that may or may not be from the same person. This process has been conducted internally at Traackr so far and will be opened to our user base in our next release next week.

Social media influencers 2010 – download the final report

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image courtesy of shutterstock

Following on from the success of our social media monitoring tools review earlier this year, we’ve been testing  nine of the leading social media monitoring tools in order to assess how effective they are at identifying influencers.

We’ve tested Attensity 360, Brandwatch, Radian6, Alterian, Scoutlabs, Sysomos, Synthesio, PeerIndex and Social Radar using the subject  of  “organic baby food” as the test topic for our report.

We felt it would be interesting to see how well each of the tools could help identify influencers for this much-discussed topic. Will the tools pick out key “mummy bloggers” and frequently visited forum posts in parenting sites such as Mumsnet and BabyCentre?

Download our social media influencers report 2010 to find out

We’d like to thank all the tool providers for enabling us to carry out this report. We’d also like to  give a special mention the following people for their comments and opinions about influencers, which have been included in the report: Chris Brogan, Jay Baer, Murray Newlands, Louise Parker and Kelly Pennock.