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Guest Column: Growing relevance of social listening

16-November-2012
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Guest Column: Growing relevance of social listening

Ajit is a client of mine. He’s always been the ‘will go the whole distance’ guy. When it came to advertising and media, he always wanted to be sure. Going ahead with a marketing plan without a good understanding of category usage and attitudes was anathema to him – however, he had very little time on hand and needed some quick and good validation of category hypotheses. A traditional U&A would take him three months and he just didn’t have that kind of time on hand.

‘Listening in’ to what consumers have to say about his category on social media was the best solution for Ajit. Social listening is a market research process in which relevant content and conversations, defined by specific keywords are identified from social media sites such as blogs, social networks, forums and blogs and then placed into context to provide insights. These in turn help in better customer engagement, collaboration and new product and communication development.

What to expect?
Social listening is what the name says…listening to social conversations and recording them for a certain brand / company. By analysing conversations on social media and linking them to external stimuli, social marketers can help make sense of the many things that influence a category on a daily basis. Data is presented as:
• Total buzz (sentiment) and share of voice
• Positive buzz
• Negative buzz
• Details on specific topics that generated high traffic (conversations)

How to use?
• Consumer U&A
• Understanding a new consumer segment / new geography for a category / brand – generate insights
• On-going ad and brand awareness / buzz – can use as campaign track to compare key metrics across campaigns     
• Social marketing insights for a category / brand and developing social content strategy
• Social marketing intervention – real-time response basis consumer behaviour, including integration with CRM/ contact centre for timely action
• Influence the influencer – engagement with key influencers – advanced influencer analytics helps optimise interventions
• Develop performance metrics for brands – lead generation / query resolution / repeat buys / referrals
• Trending brand and category dynamics to track brand-consumer interactions and discover unknown nuggets about brand
• Exit polls – news channels / political parties / film producers
• Competitive intelligence – often a huge asset to companies in a competitive market place

Getting the most out of social listening
1. End use: Make sure you know the business problem and how the data would be useful in decision-making. Often, interpreting the data can be daunting if you are not focussed on specific inferences / hypotheses.
2. Talk value: Make sure the topics you choose to listen to, garner a lot of social chatter. A pilot always helps.
3. Semantics and sentiment: While listening to the extremes of social conversations (positive and negative sentiment) has important action implications, knowing the key topics discussed around a brand (semantics - positive, negative and neutral) helps a brand enter social conversations. 
4. Listen for insights: Social listening is a part of the modern day insights toolbox. Use it to uncover emerging trends, problems with products / services, potential new targets, etc. and validate through field research.
5. Influence analytics: A systematic, quantitative approach to understanding communication effectiveness by measuring and understanding message adoption in both, traditional and consumer-generated media. Simply put, data led guidance to content; much loved by marketers who believe in RoI.

Who’s buying social listening data?
There are a number of agencies dedicated to social listening and they work across geographies / sectors. Among their clients are:
Social marketing agencies
Media agencies and digital agencies
Client marketing teams
PR agencies / consultants
Broadcasters / publishers
Market research agencies

Future
Social listening, an emerging sub-sector (within the digital marketing fraternity) is different and unique in its offering and will play a crucial role in consumer research and understanding of categories in a non-intrusive, informal setting.

The future of listening is not social media monitoring. In the near future, it will be about making it work in an organisation – operationalising listening as a standard business process. The future is a flow chart that integrates people (e.g. customer service, product), process (e.g. escalation, resolution), and technology (e.g. from listening to CRM) and disseminates results to a wider group of stakeholders.

The author is President, Initiative India

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