Sentiment, context and influence: are you listening to your customers?

6 years ago


Social media generates vast amounts of so-called unstructured data that provides a pointer to consumer sentiment. But that’s only the beginning. By Louise Roberts.

Social media is no longer just about public relations, customer engagement and marketing; it now reaches almost every part of the business from product development to human resources to customer service. It is absolutely true that responding to customer complaints and queries is very important, as is leveraging social media for lead generation and product marketing, but social media is also a fantastic source of business intelligence that can enable brands to make better decisions. 
Of the millions of social interactions consumers have every day, brands can learn a lot about how customers perceive their products and services; find out how they can improve them; learn about their competitors´ strengths and weaknesses from the consumer’s point of view; and identify the key influencers in their sector.
Additionally, they can pick up market rumours about their business and proactively respond to a brewing issue; get advance warning of problems such as product failures or long waiting times at their call centres; and track how the business is performing against a range of customer-focused metrics.
The major challenge is keeping on top of the huge volume of social conversations that happen daily, identifying the ones that are relevant to their organisation, and uncovering the trends within these conversations in a manner that reveals strategic insight. What’s more, they need to find a way to respond to the social conversations that call for a reaction.
Our challenge
As the Managing Director of a PR agency that manages social media campaigns on behalf of clients, our challenge is not just connecting our clients’ brands on every screen, but measuring the effectiveness of those connections. It’s no longer good enough just to be there, the content you are sharing and its sentiment has to hit the mark and you have to be able to connect your brand to your customers’ passions or you’ll be left behind the brands that can.
New social networks are popping up all the time, but Facebook is still the giant in Australia with over 13.2 million users and globally it has an incredible 1.28 billion monthly active users, which is about equal to the colossal populations of China or India. The Facebook community now has 609 million daily active mobile users and the time spent per person each month on Facebook smartphone apps is an incredible seven hours and 43 minutes. 6.8 million "Baby Boomers" in Australia and New Zealand (over 45s) use Facebook regularly, so it’s not a Gen Y network in any way shape or form as some might think!
What is clear is that internet users are now becoming very comfortable with social media being embedded in their lives. They are using multiple platforms, multiple devices and using them often. They are constantly sharing nuggets of information about themselves with brands we work with via social media and it is the marketer’s job to monetise the data they receive.  Facebook now has 46% of total global consumer brand social sharing.
Cross-channel marketing
Interpreting this online behaviour, however, will allow brands to leverage digital insight for true cross-channel marketing. In addition it provides the opportunity to identify geographic hot spots to target for new customer acquisition.
The challenge for marketing departments when it comes to social will be to monetise and measure their social investments by understanding the value of the data, insights and conversions that these social channels create. I believe that social media will see an evolution and there will be increased adoption of tools that provide simple ways to measure the value to brands of social sharing.
Before you go out and invest in a social-monitoring system that promises to provide unprecedented levels of customer engagement, it’s really important to be clear about your objectives. Regardless of how many screens, visualisations, or social media metrics a system like that provides, or how much you invested in it, a listening system will only give you what  is referred to as "unstructured data", comments, random observations, fleeting sentiments or musings by people, devoid of context or the state of mind of the person who shared it.
It is true that listening systems can help you pick up on consumer sentiment of your brand and react appropriately. However, if your aim is to understand customer needs and desires and to improve their lives with your products and services so you can drive revenues, then a listening system is not what you need.
Uncovering context
From our experience, conversations will only tell you about consumer sentiment. Context is what gives you opportunity. In order to uncover that context, you require tools that have the ability to track the range of different relevant daily episodes in their lives, where they touch your brand and which touch-points influence them to trust your company and their decision to purchase. 
The next generation of social listening tools need to be designed to free marketers from monitoring their screens constantly. These tools need to play a more proactive role; instead of just presenting the data as it records it, they should also provide intelligence and recommended responses. 
Flagging problems automatically for marketers to review is the first step, but the best tools will be able to empower marketers with automated trends, sending alerts as issues present themselves and making recommendations. You should invest in technology that will improve the decision-making process in organisations, enabling us as marketers to make more efficient, data-driven decisions.
If and when you do buy a social listening system, I’d recommend avoiding responding directly to consumers when you see their comments. The content you find via a listening system is not actually directed at you and consumers will be rattled if you intrude on what they naively believe is a private conversation, even though it clearly is not. 
My best advice for marketers is not to drown themselves with a mountain of data they harness from every social media channel in use today; they can’t do anything meaningful with it. The right approach is to be purposeful about assembling the right tools and relevant data to help improve your company’s performance.  At the end of the day, it is not about the number of connections or likes your brand has, but your ability to use the relevant social channels to act on and preferably to influence consumers’ desires.
Author’s Details
Sphere PR’s Managing Director, Louise Roberts has had a long and successful career in international PR consultancy for twenty one years, specialising mainly in the technology, digital and marketing sectors. She worked for some major international technology PR agencies at a senior level before founding Sphere PR in 2005. 

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The Author

Louise Roberts

Social media generates vast amounts of so-called unstructured data that provides a pointer to consumer sentiment. But that’s only the beginning. By Louise Roberts.

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