Why all brands can benefit from buzz tracking (not just the X-Factor)

Science buzz!!!
Image by Unhindered by Talent via Flickr

On Sunday, lots of people were talking about Dannii, Danyl and instant X-Factor feedback. If you weren’t one of them (or if you’re not in the UK) let me quickly recap: on X-Factor, a talent / singing / reality TV programme, one of the judges, Dannii Minogue, brought up the sexuality of contestant Danyl when she was supposed to be commenting on his performance on stage. There has been a lot discussed about this and we posted about how Twitter is a great barometer and feedback mechanism in this kind of situation, how the brand that is X-Factor was able, almost immediately, to know what was being said about them and to plan how they should respond.

Like any good brand, the X-Factor on Saturday night would have benefited greatly from buzz tracking. From watching, tracking and analysing what was being said in real time. Analysing the extent to which the sentiments being expressed were positive, or negative, finding particularly dense areas of discussions and helping the brand to identify both what is being said and also where it is being said.

Buzz tracking really is a powerful tool for a brand, both because of the information it can reveal, but also because of the issues it raises that a brand needs to deal with. Tracking and monitoring what people are saying about your brand, products and services will allow you to know, in real-time, when something has happened that needs rectifying, or when something is said that you can use to amplify positive word of mouth about your brand. Knowing the extent to which your brand is being discussed positively or negatively provides a benchmark for you to monitor, and if you track it overtime you will start to see the impact of things you do and say, as a brand, on how people are discussing you.

And this information is very powerful. Both for making immediate decisions, and for planning and monitoring in the long-term. When a brand has a bad experience, and people are talking negatively about it (as happened to brand X-Factor on Saturday night), an effective buzz monitoring strategy will alert you to this shift in sentiment and allow you to identify what has caused this. You are then able to decide first if you want to respond and then how. You can then monitor the impact your response is having and amend or strengthen is as necessary. This information drastically shortens the time brands need to respond and so can have a very positive effect on your ability to resolve what is happening.

In the long-term, buzz tracking allows a brand to understand seasonal changes in it’s image in social media, and to show the impact that various on and offline activities have on these discussions. Work that we have done at FreshNetworks for brands in the travel industry, for example, shows that people tend to be more positive about travel brands at certain times of the year (typically when they are thinking of going on holiday or when they just return) and has helped to show the impact that TV advertising campaigns have had on the positive sentiment expressed about a brand online.

So buzz tracking is a powerful tool for any brand, both for what it tells you and for what it allows you to do. It is an information resource, and one that, if used correctly, can give you a real-time understanding of what is being said about your brand and how people are feeling about it. This kind of information is the ammunition any brand needs to inform its own social media strategy and how it should react on a case-by-case basis. Rather than have to wait to see how an issue plays out over a few days, brands can now get a real understanding of how people feel in real time and then respond to it.

Thomson Holidays - how a blogger can impact your brand reputation

Lego airport, pink sky
Image by Micah Dowty via Flickr

Thomson is a well-known package tour and holiday brand in the UK and part of the global travel group TUI. They have a good reputation and brand in the UK, supported by a relatively strong High Street presence. But one traveller’s bad experience on a holiday to Tunisia has caused them and their brand problems in social media, and in their search rankings.

Andy Sharman went on holiday to Tunisia with Thompson in June this year and had, by his own account, a fairly disappointing time. After his complaints failed to receive a response that satisfied him, Andy wrote about his experiences on his blog.

Whatever the truth of what Andy was told or what happened to him in Tunisia is not important. For your brand, and your business, satisfaction is a balance of expectations and reality as seen by the customer. Andy was unhappy and he wanted to complain.

Using traditional media, this complaint would have taken a fairly standard path all of which is done in private:

  1. Customer complains to Brand (by telephone or by letter)
  2. Brand responds to Customer (typically by letter)
  3. Customer is either delighted (and may then tell their friends and colleagues in person) or dissatisfied (and will also tell their friends and colleague, but this time a very different story)

With social media, this pattern has been disrupted quite severely. Rather than a private exchange between Customer and Brand, the first few steps are public from the very beginning. From the minute the customer wants to complain their thoughts, experiences and attitudes (whether justified or not) are public knowledge. The brand’s job is no longer to assess and respond to a single complaint, but to manage an attack on their brand reputation. It is now bigger than just customer service.

With social media, complaints have moved from being a customer service issue to being a branding and corporate reputation one.

Andy’s blog shows exactly how serious these complaints can be. Within a couple of months his post had been read by over 10,000 different people and, perhaps more worryingly, was appearing above Thomson’s own sites for searches on Google for terms relating to Thomson and Tunisia.

Blogs, and social media more generally, are a great way for people to distribute their content. They can get it seen by a large number of people who can link to it, comment on it and reproduce it on their own sites.  Very quickly a brand has a story that is no longer private and is also no longer contained. Other people have linked to or reproduced the complaint on their own sites and forums. Some publicly and others in places that even Thompson cannot see.

So, what should brands do in this instance. Earlier this year we wrote about how to react if somebody writes about your brand online and included a great process diagram developed by the US Air Force. The process is simple and clear, showing when you should respond (and when you shouldn’t) and how you should respond if you do.

The most important thing for a brand to do is to engage in the same media that the complaint is made in. Have good buzz tracking and monitoring in place so that you pick up on potential issues early and then respond through the same media - be that by commenting on a blog, joining a forum, responding in Twitter or on Facebook. When you do respond (and if this is appropriate) you should consider  five things:

  1. Be transparent about who you are and your role. Give your name and some means of contacting you
  2. If you want to refute some claims in the post only do so if you can source your side of the story
  3. Be timely, but make sure you give yourself enough time to get a real response together
  4. Respond in a tone and manner that reflects your brand
  5. Focus on those blogs that carry the most influence

Customers are using social media to turn what were once private complaints with the brand into public discussions. Brands can capitalise upon this if they respond in the same manner, in the same public forum. This is the best way to take back some control of the situation and to begin to restore your brand’s reputation online.

Mobilising people in social media: the #welovethenhs debate

heart-shaped buttons
Image by alice-palace via Flickr

Update: in the first week of the #welovethenhs debate on Twitter, 18,000 people shared over 37,000 stories.

In the last two days, almost 11,000 different people on Twitter have entered into a debate about the benefits of the UK healthcare system. Between them they have shared over 20,000 different stories that range from individual experiences to debates and evaluations of the merits of public health care over a private health insurance scheme. The levels of involvement are impressive and have been driven primarily by people sharing their own personal stories rather than being driven by a corporate or organisational Twitter campaign.

This discussion and debate is a great example of people coming together on a shared topic of interest. They are telling their stories or giving their opinion and tagging it with the #welovethenhs hashtag so that others can find, read and share what they have said. At it’s very simplest this is a great example of how social media work, and in particular of the kind of dynamics that exist in an online community:

  • People with a story to tell write about it and tag it, so that
  • People who want to find similar stories can easily sort through the information that has been shared, and
  • These stories can then be passed to other people and shared again so that more people can read it

People who don’t know each other can read and comment on each others’ stories - they are connected not by the fact that they actually know each other, but that they are interested in similar issues and want to talk about the same things. There are, of course, limits to hashtags as a way of sorting information on Twitter, but for quickly escalating debates like this they are a useful way of showing the strength and weight  of opinion on a particular issue.

But perhaps the most interesting element of the NHS debate on Twitter is the subject matter itself. With less than 12 months to go before the next General Election in the UK, the public are having a debate about an issue that is always a major component of any election campaign, and they are doing so in social media. And Prime Minister Gordon Brown joined in the discussions with his own opinions. Expressed via Twitter.

We’ve posted before about how Social Media can sometimes be the wrong medium for politicians to express their opinions or to make announcements (especially about Gordon Brown’s YouTube trauma). But this is a case where users themselves have started and are having a discussion on an issue that is of keen political, and electoral, interest. If they are this engaged now, on an issue of great interest but sparked by remarks by a US politician then we might be looking at an interesting and engaged set of debates on Twitter and across social media during the upcoming General Election.

I hope all the Parties have their social media strategies sorted.

* For up-to-date statistics about the #welovethenhs hashtag go to what the hashtag?!

  • Brown joins NHS Twitter campaign (guardian.co.uk)
  • Britain To Civil Servants: Go Forth And Tweet (huffingtonpost.com)
  • #welovethenhs takes over Twitter (stuartbruce.biz)
  • Twitter Army defends UK healthcare system (thenextweb.com)

My Time is the new Prime Time

Image by iwona_kellie via Flickr

We’re going through quite a momentous period of change in the UK at the moment. Slowly but surely, the analogue TV signal is being turned off. In it’s place we have digital TV. This is a huge change, not just because people need new equipment to receive the new signal, but also because this change lets us consumer television in the way we have always wanted.

No longer do I have to start watching a programme on the hour. No more must I be in on a Wednesday night to catch the latest episode of The Apprentice. No longer is my TV schedule dictated to me by the broadcasters. They may think I want to watch game shows on a Saturday evening, every Saturday evening. But perhaps I don’t. Digital TV gives the possibility for real choice and control over what you watch and when you watch it.

This reflects a change in consumer behaviour we are seeing across media. When users (consumers) are given the chance to personalise and control their own experience, they use this. This is natural - not everybody wants to do the same things in exactly the same way. And so whether it’s allowing you to personalise a site’s homepage (as with the BBC), tag content in a way that makes sense to you, or choose what you want to see when, personalisation is key.

When we are planning and designing online communities with our clients we work hard to understand the target audience, the people we hope will be members of the community and benefit from being a part of it. However, it is important that some degree of control and personalisation is given to the user - be that letting them arrange their own profile page, choosing which view they see when they join the community, or just giving them an easy and simple way to navigate the site according to the content that matters to them most. Finding ways to allow this kind of personalisation (be it simple or complex) will enhance the community member’s experience. And watching and analysing how people personalise their experience helps us to understand them more too.

Users like personalisation. They like to have some control over how they navigate and use the online community. As their other media consumption becomes more tailored and within their control, their expectations here will only increase.

UK marketers admit falling behind social media trends

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Two-third of marketers in the UK don’t understand social media, according to a survey from McCann Erickson Bristol.

The survey found that almost two-thirds of marketers in the survey felt that they didn’t understand enough about social media to use it effectively in marketing. Despite this, 86% thought that social media was here to stay.

This survey does surprise us at FreshNetworks a little. Over the last year we have we have noticed a real change in the market not only in the UK, but across Europe. There is a growing realisation of the power that social media can have in marketing and the role that it can play. Marketers and brands are becoming more innovative and, to some extent, more demanding of agencies like ours in their use of social media marketing.

It is, perhaps, worth exploring the McCann Erickson survey results in more depth. Of particular interest is the social networks where UK marketers say they have a presence - Facebook is, as we might expect, the most popular, but more than one in every four marketers has a presence in Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube as well. This shows that, even if they report that they are not sure how effectively to use social media in marketing, UK marketers are experimenting. And this is one of the first, and probably one of the most important steps. Social networks and online communities are relatively forgiving environments, and they allow you to experiment with a relatively low cost of entry. And in the current economic climate, innovation and experimentation is what counts.

So perhaps the fact that so many UK marketers feel unsure of how to use social media in marketing is not surprising after all. They are experimenting. Find out what works for them and what doesn’t work. Experimenting with different social networks and online communities, and using these for different purposes. This is a good thing. A great thing in fact. And if they don’t know exactly how they can use social media for marketing, the fact that they are experimenting and trying things is what counts.

Social media is new and the way consumers and marketers use it is still developing. We’re all experimenting. And that’s what makes it exciting.

  • Basic Ingredients of Social Media: Video and Photo Sharing plus SATX Social Media Workshop (sociableblog.com)
  • Small Business Discovers Social Media (revenews.com)
  • Build your own community or go where people are? Do both (freshnetworks.com)
  • People are fed up of joining brand pages on Facebook (freshnetworks.com)