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Creating a plan for social listening

Author's avatar By Chris Soames 03 Sep, 2012
Essential Essential topic

An introduction to issues to consider when starting a social listening or social media monitoring programme

In previous posts, we have shown the vast number of options when choosing social listening software (250 according to this report). But any tool is only as good as the process used to take advantage of the insight generated.  While these are potentially immensely powerful tools, they can be a huge drain on time and productivity if not utilised for the right reasons and in the right way. As with any other marketing tool it has to be linked to business growth but just how do you use these tools effectively?

What is Social Listening?

Starting with the basics, you need to scope out what you're looking to use social listening for. Start by defining how you intend to use it to add value to your business. How will you explain it to colleagues. This is how we see it:

"Social listening is a a market research process in which relevant content and conversations, defined by keywords are identified from social media sites such as blogs, social networks, forums & blogs and then placed into context to provide insight to inform customer engagement, collaboration and new product development".

Later in this post I'll break this out into 5 potential marketing applications of social media listening that can be considering.

Define your purpose

How you utilise these tools and process will depend on your requirements, internal resource and budget. I have outlined the various uses of such processes to help you identify how you can get the most from this area, yet the critical first step is to be clear on what you're listening for. For example is your main purpose brand monitoring, conversation and engagement, customer service or just research? Some of the most popular platforms available that can help with these activities are:

You may also find Dave Chaffey's post which goes into much more detail when comparing social platforms useful.

Application 1. Brand Monitoring

One use of such tools is to monitor your brand online, this will allow you to understand how many times your brand is being mentioned, you can then overlay the sentiment of the conversation as well as how influential those people talking are. Here's an example of how segments can be defined in Radian6 to review sentiment and intention by a series of competitors.

A great resource for the bigger businesses of the world where brand campaigns are a regular activity as it will help highlight the impact of such advertising in an online sense.

  • Metrics to report on performance: Volume of mentions, sentiment, influence of people talking about you
  • Process: Implement keywords relating to your brand, including any negative matches required to hone in on relevant matches. Run reports weekly vs the previous week, monthly against the previous month and quarterly trending year to date vs last year.

Application 2. Influencer Research

A crucial part of any marketing and campaigns in 2012 is to understand who in the industry / target audience is influential. Influencers become valued partners in campaigns helping you spread your content (should it be worthy of spreading). Influencers are way of creating value to potential customers who probably don't know you,  influencer outreach enables you to create traffic and reach for your campaign or content in ways that more traditional channels cannot.

Influence is determined by a the software, it looks at the combination of reach (followers, fans, traffic) and engagement, so how often posts are replied to, commented on, retweeted etc.

  • Metrics to report on performance: Influence score (depending on the tool you use), fans / followers. If relating to a website you may want to bring in metrics such as page rank, inbound links, pages indexed (this would be sourced from other tools though)
  • Process: This will be dictated by the software you use as some incorporate the concept of an influencer within their dashboards. If this is the case then you need to configure the software to monitor for keywords relating to the topic you are targetting, aim much broader than brand as per the above. An example if you were looking for influencers within digital marketing your keywords would cover the obvious in the way of “marketing” but at a top level would also include each of the big channels / tactics with marketing such as SEO, PPC & online advertising. This would create a big list of people which you then sort and filter by influence. Once you have identified influencers it is then how you create and build a relationship with them for mutual gain but that is a whole separate blog post..

Application 3. Reviewing consumer brand engagement

One of the most powerful uses of social listening in my opinion. Monitoring for relevant conversations to your brand, product and campaign allows you to respond and become part of the conversation. Just the fact you are awake enough to do this and equally happy to put the effort in with customers will help grow your business. If it is done well, i.e. your brand uses this to have conversations with customers & influencers not sell to them then you will succeed.

  • Metrics to report on performance: Mentions, responses, re-shares, comments, inbound links, traffic from referrals + social
  • Process: Once the system is configured to monitor the right keywords (relating to brand, products and campaigns) you need to continually monitor for conversations, the art is then determining which conversations / mentions are relevant for you to participate in. As long as you treat as a one on one conversation you are unlikely to go wrong. You should report on the metrics above weekly & monthly.

This video from Radian6 gives a worked example of how a brand can take advantage of social listening through understanding semantic meaning and sentiment:

Application 4. Customer Service

A form of brand & engagement monitoring really (i.e keywords are the same) but the process and requirement is very different. Whether good or bad certain types of people will voice their opinions on products / brands because they now have efficient tools to broadcast those opinions, previously it was over the garden fence or in the local for example. This form of social listening creates a process in which those mentions are processed from a customer relationship viewpoint. Meaning if for example you are Dell and I have just bought a laptop from you which arrived with a broken power adaptor you are going to want to resolve that without damaging the brand. An example of good customer service thanks to social listening would be that my rant online is picked up, due to the intelligence of the tools my email address is matched to a record in the Dell CRM and I am flagged for a response to the rant and call from customer services, oh and my new adapter is in the post. A process run by customer services & guided / helped by brand and marketing managers.

  • Metrics to report on performance: Sentiment, cases raised, cases successfully resolved, replies / engagement
  • Process: Once the keywords are configured it is constant monitoring to identify the relevant conversations, once a conversation is flagged it should be assigned as a response task to a relevant customer service representative to respond to as they deem necessary. Reporting should be done weekly, monthly & quarterly. Quarterly reports should include the wider team and cover trends in the good vs bad comments to see what changes need to be made on a business level to reduce complaints and increase good commentary.

Dell have led the way in a corporate business sense in moving its customer services inline and specifically into social, if you haven't already you should checkout the video of their command centre below:

Application 5. Broader Market Research

A key report / insights work to complete each quarter is to understand your place in the social market place, how are you performing against competitors and what are competitors doing that you maybe are not. This is a detailed piece of work and should be not be taken lightly. Though the value gained through insights to enhance campaigns and ultimately ensure you are improving your performance in comparison is amazing.

  • Metrics to report on performance: Share of voice, mentions, sentiment, influence
  • Process: Most social listening platforms have areas to enter competitor key-terms as well as industry relevant terms, this will enable particular views on data and allow analysis comparing mentions, sentiment etc to each other brand and also aggregating scores to give metrics such as share of voice. Once you have the top level data it is then key you drill down into some of the activity causing spikes in your competitors activity, this should be deconstructed and displayed to stakeholders where relevant. Keep to summary paragraphs, data + bullet points so that the report remains actionable.

It would be great to hear your experiences so far of utilising these types of platforms in your business, it was not a well documented or talked about area as yet, so any shared learnings are welcomed. 

Author's avatar

By Chris Soames

Chris Soames is a Smart Insights blogger and consultant, he has worked in digital marketing for over 6 years with the last few years managing international web strategies for a leading travel brand. Now the Commercial Director at First 10, an Integrated marketing agency, he helps clients get clarity on their marketing strategy and create campaigns engineered to engage with their consumers to help drive sell-through. Most of all, Chris enjoys working with talented people who want to create great (& commercial) things not just tick boxes.

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