5 Reasons for Consolidation in the Social Media Monitoring Industry

The social media monitoring (SMM) industry is booming. Pure play SMM software providers, startups, traditional web analytics firms and now the large software companies are making advances in the field.  Ken Burbary has a wiki listing many of them, worth checking out.  If you work for one of the smaller companies, get to know your competitors big and small – in the next couple of years you could be working together or could watch them eclipse the competition.   Here are five reasons to expect more upheaval in the industry – what did I miss?

1. Scale and Demand for Sophistication

We’re all watching big brands like Ford, Pepsi and Starbucks jam away in successful social media endeavors.  The bigger the brand, the bigger the need for processing power to really crunch the data to make it meaningful – and the more internal skills and resources will be required to get access to the data.  A web analytics analogy would be using Google Analytics for a large $100M+ eCommerce site.  Those in the business know it isn’t enough to get the sophisticated level of measurement required, and many of these tools lack the robust UI and toolset to meet all requirements.

2. Business Process Changes

Many SMM tools leverage workflow to route mentions to the right person or department for triage.  Having spent years back in the heyday of SAP ERP configuring workflow, this is a deep rooted business challenge that takes thorough design effort to make effective.  Decision trees are not easy to build, and as more and more companies leverage these features, complex organizations will demand best of breed products.

3. The Data Isn’t Interesting

The numbers are the numbers.  “Number of mentions” is a just pile of comments – they have to be sorted through and made relevant.  It takes people with analytical skills to tell what they mean, intepret the story, and ultimately mine the information to translate them into actionable insights.  The tools that make this job less labor intensive will be more successful at market penetration and meeting the demands of agencies, consultants and internal departments spending energy to leverage them.

4.  Sentiment Analysis is Useless (By Itself)

Maria Ogneva wrote a terrific Mashable article about how to get the most out of  Sentiment Analysis for businesses.  The fact remains that even as these automated tools improve, they require manual labor.  If a tool is 80% accurate in automatic sentiment measurement, someone has to go through to find the 20% that aren’t.  The tool that has the best, most accurate options for making that data useful and less labor intensive will be sought after – but that technology could come from a big company with heavy R&D or a startup.  Who knows, but the best tool will make lives easier for practitioners.

5. Industry Growth

IBM just recently announced an entry into the SMM market.  Big Blue.  That should put smaller competitors on notice – either they need to improve to compete with Big Blue, or work on their exit strategy. Traditional web analytics companies like Webtrends and Omniture are adapting their offerings.  Forrester and other industry data shows continual growth and adoption of social media channels by consumers – increasing the urgency for companies to listen.

What did I miss and where do you think this industry is headed?  For posterity, wondering what the folks from Radian6 and Alterian think – two great companies we tend to see and work with most often.

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7 Inputs to a Social Media Strategy

seedsBuilding a social media strategy is not something that can be whipped together overnight.  For context, any company that is looking to develop a strategy for leveraging social media should first check out the POST methodology from Forrester Research.  The “People” part of the approach (followed by Objectives, Stategy and Technology) has a short description:

Don’t start a social strategy until you know the capabilities of your audience. If you’re targeting college students, use social networks. If you’re reaching out business travelers, consider ratings and reviews. Forrester has great data to help with this, but you can make some estimates on your own. Just don’t start without thinking about it.

This is smart, practical advice.  Yet it doesn’t go deep enough.  Here are seven inputs that need to be considered before defining objectives and developing a strategy to leverage social media tactics.

  1. Social Media Monitoring. There are many self-service tools out there beyond Twitter search and Google blog search.  Two that work well are Radian6 and SM2.  No software is perfect, especially when it comes to analyzing sentiment of what customers are saying, but “hunting and pecking” using point-in-time search tools isn’t going to give you the broad array you need.  These tools also can review data back in time to compare tone and conversations year over year or before and after a key event like a product launch.  It takes time to sift through the chatter, but there are gems in there that constitute unfiltered customer feedback worth paying attention to.
  2. Market research. Survey your customers and ask them what tools they use.  If you are a large company, consider leveraging a segmentation that addresses the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of your customers.  This can be a significant source of insight to drive marketing strategies – not just social marketing ones.
  3. Forrester’s Social Technographics. Forrester has a great tool to stratify how your customers are actually using social media.  Do your customers heavily index against the average for Creators or Critics?  Perhaps a user-generated content idea or approach would be more suitable.  While the tool doesn’t give you the answer of what to do, it does provide some data points that help justify approaches down the road.  If you know some basic info about your customers, you can get useful data easily using this tool:

  4. Competitive Analysis. What are your competitors doing? Are you behind the pack or leading by deciding to engage in social technologies to drive your business?  It’s important to know where you stand – better yet to know where you want to be.
  5. Stakeholder Interviews. Some tactics in social media will require different departments to work together – perhaps some that aren’t used to collaborating.  Talk to the following groups: Marketing, Market Research, Innovation, Product Management, IT, Legal, Customer Service, PR and HR.  Chances are they will all have something to say about social media and what they would hope to get from it.
  6. Corporate Objectives.  What is your company’s marketing objectives in 2010?  Are you undertaking a brand refresh?  Have some major product launches teed up in Q2?  Any seasonal or cyclical impact to plan around?  Don’t think you can develop social tactics without considering what is going on in the company.
  7. Corporate Culture. Does your company thrive on innovation or on chopping down new initiatives?  Social media tactics can be measured, effective and game-changing – yet the industry is not as mature of a marketing tactic like pay-per-click search marketing.  “Making the leap” requires top down executive support and a bottoms up desire to make initiatives successful from the teams that will own the strategy going forward.  (Or fail quickly and learn from it, as I’ve heard Todd Defren say – this space is still new).

Frankly, I don’t see how the rest of the POST methodology – Objectives, Strategy and Technology – can be developed without these inputs.  Do you agree? What did I miss?

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Social Media Monitoring: A Glimpse At the Future

crystalballWarren Sukernek shared this presentation recently and it hit home on a variety of fronts. As we spend time with clients working through social media monitoring, we find more and more examples of how it’s not a precise science.  Sitting side by side with folks who work every day in detailed web analytics who continually look for ways to optimize PPC spend, our social media team has experienced first hand many challenges outlined in Marshall Sponder’s presentation.  Some points that resonated strongly:

  • Sentiment analysis today is too much like Quantum Physics
  • There is a lot of manual work to determine influencer lists
  • Social media monitoring tools are not capable of advanced meme clustering or semantic analysis
  • Clients ask all the time around geo-location – the science to identify local influencers and posts is crucial to many businesses and these tools aren’t anywhere near perfect
  • Great to see Ken Burbary‘s Wiki of Social Media Monitoring Solutions getting some props

As for predicting the future? Integration to CRM and web analytics, factoring in new technologies like Google Sidewiki, and evolution to standard business intelligence practices.  Keyword tools will help down the road too – curious if the same that help with PPC and SEO optimization will apply here.  This is a practical, thoughtful guide on where social media monitoring has room to mature.  For now, my experience is showing that labor (smart, social media savvy, analytical folks) is making up the difference, but it’s challenging to “read the tea leaves.”  What is your experience?

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Google Sidewiki and Implications for Pharma Brands

Download Rosetta's Sidewiki POVGoogle Sidewiki is a perplexing new product from our friends in Mountain View, CA.  Sidewiki requires a toolbar download but enables anyone to comment along side any website.  Here are three key posts that have been helpful to understand it – and I’d highly recommend reading them.

As people try to sort out what this all means, Rosetta’s Search & Media group teamed up with our Healthcare practice to create a quick point of view and some recommended actions.  You can download the PDF here:

Google Sidewiki and Implications for Pharma Brands: Rosetta’s POV

What would you do? This has applications outside of pharma – would this be helpful to your organization?  We hope to keep the document up to date with more information, but in an industry that is highly regulated it’s important to act quickly.

UPDATE: Rosetta’s Chris Boggs also published some thoughts today on Search Engine Watch, providing more discussion about the implications of Sidewiki for SEO.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I’m grateful to AdAge for publishing my first post there – Big Pharma and Google Sidewiki: A Sink or Swim Situation? – Please let me know what you think.  Thanks to Rosetta partner Jason Whitney and Search manager Ian Orekondy for helping with the content.

UPDATE: I’ve heard some feedback about issues downloading the PDF from Rosetta.com – so I am attaching the document here for posterity.  Please reach out to me with any concerns.

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Celebrities Are Not Taking Over Twitter

crowdsCelebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Shaquille O’Neal and Britney Spears are not taking over Twitter.  A well publicized event like Oprah tweeting on her show won’t help.  Ashton vs. Larry King, in a contest to see which account, @aplusk (“a plus k”) or @cnnbrk can reach a million followers first is a publicity event that had lots of benefits for both in terms of building large networks, but they are not taking over.  Any way you slice it, their efforts are futile. They can’t take over Twitter because of one simple fact: people choose who they follow.

Twitter is a social network that allows a member to choose who to follow, and followers choose whether they follow back.  Follow who you are interested in.  Ignore spammers or folks who don’t interest you. It’s that simple.

The major benefit of all the celebrity activity around Twitter is that more people will be drawn to use the service.  For a concept that is so simple, Twitter is not the most intuitive network to navigate.  Understanding how to start and join in a conversation online is a little outside of the comfort zone of many people.  I’ve seen many people join Twitter and 6 months later they are following 10 people, no one is following back and the only post on their account is “Joined twitter, trying to figure this out.”  Take a look for yourself.

I will still contend that Twitter is not for everybody, but as more people figure out how to build their own communities on the platform, the more valuable content and discussion will be aggregated.  I like to think of the volume of content on Twitter as an unstructured Wikipedia – it’s not precisely accurate but directionally correct, and the more sources that contribute the better it gets.

Here’s an example.  I had a conversation last night with someone who had just joined twitter and had trouble convincing a friend why it is valuable.  I asked what that friend did for a living – the friend was a user experience designer, and very skeptical about Twitter.  I pulled up search.twitter.com and searched for “UX” – and immediately found UX job listings, informative blogs of well known people in the industry and a lot of people talking about user experience design.  I clicked through to a couple of twitter profiles and quickly identified the lead of user experience of AutoTrader.com.  Within a few minutes I could identify a dozen valuable resources that would help that friend in his career.

I’ve been using Twitter for nearly two years, and the community has changed and evolved.  I still keep to the core of interacting with folks who share common interests, whether it’s the Red Sox, social media or the fun of a lazy Saturday morning with the kids at home.  I’ve come to heavily rely on Tweetdeck to manage groups of friends and contacts that I don’t want to lose in the sea of “tweets,” but I am also continuing to find value by identifying interesting people who have something valuable to share.  With valuable contributors, searching Twitter has become an increasingly relevant way to get to content.  Celebrities joining twitter can only bring more interesting people to follow right along with them.

Are you using Twitter? Do you think celebrities joining is positive or negative, and has it changed how you use Twitter?  Feel free to reach out to me @adamcohen on Twitter to discuss, I’d love to hear from you.

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Understanding How Social Media Impacts the Purchase Path

inspection

Few marketers dispute PPC as an effective and measurable online channel.  Social media, in contrast, is currently subject to dispute.

One of the more compelling arguments for pay-per-click search marketing is the ability to attribute web sales directly to clicks from search advertising.  ROI can be measured to multiple decimal points tying the amount of spend invested in bidding on keywords to the direct revenue and conversion.  When the conversation changes to social media, there are debates about ROI, a lack of proven approaches and many marketers still viewing social media as experimental.  [“Conversion” for those not familiar with web analytics is defined as a visitor to a web property who completes a targeted action, including signing up for an email newsletter, adding a product to a shopping cart, or completing checkout.]

Skepticism Abounds

A way to address the skepticism marketers have about social media is to draw the same correlation to the purchase path as search marketing.  Notice I did not suggest “the” way to address the skepticism —  providing better metrics won’t give the complete picture of social media benefits, but it will start to quantify the role social media can play in a marketing strategy in terms that internet marketers deal with already.  For example, today Webtrends and Radian6 made a joint product announcement tying traditional web analytics to social media monitoring, through Webtrends’ Open Exchange platform.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Establishing Credit

Traditional analytics tools give credit for conversion to the tracked marketing activity before the conversion takes place – a “last click” methodology.  This could be a search query prior to a site visit, an ad clicked through on a search results page or a banner ad.  Those in the SEM and Display Advertising industries would tell you that while these metrics are precisely measured,  a major challenge is to quantify all the “other” touchpoints a consumer has prior to conversion.  (Rosetta, my agency, has a differentiated approach to marketing analytics that does capture “view-thru” – tracking that a user saw a display ad days or even weeks prior to a conversion event).

Here is what I would like to see analytics vendors or social media monitoring platforms do to start to quantify the measurement:

  • Track participation in social technologies in similar fashion to traditional ecommerce sites (defined conversion events, page views, length of visit).  A potential limitation is that brands may only be able to track measurements based on assets they control (hosted communities, hosted blogs, custom widgets, etc).
  • Tie search engine queries, organic search site visits and PPC ad clicks – and ultimately, conversion – back to whether the user had participated in a social technology, and measure typical length of visit/level of engagement both before and after conversion.
  • Provide in one dashboard the ability to identify the direct correlation between social marketing initiatives to conversion and revenue.

This level of data would help marketers more directly measure the success of social marketing initiaitves and make at least part of the intangible, tangible.  Is that a lot to ask?

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Brand Motivation for Listening

listeningThis post is co-authored with Gargi Patel, Rosetta‘s new Director of Social Media. Gargi has spent several years as a community manager for large consumer brands and we’re fortunate to have her join the Rosetta team.

Everywhere in social media it’s clear: Listening is important.  It’s probably the most important thing you can do to make the most out of social media, whether it’s for your business or for personal interest.  It’s easy to start – Chris Brogan‘s posts on starting with listening channels make up an all-time great reference kit and should be Chapter 1 in the Great Social Media Reference Book.  If every spammer read those posts first, they’d realize they have the wrong idea, but that’s another blog post topic.  If “start listening” is Chapter 1, Chapter 2 should be all about motivation.  Is the motivation for listening different for every brand?  You bet.

Listening, qualifying and quantifying to channels in social media is going to yield different information for every company.  A key to sifting through this is understanding the company’s brand perception and position in the market. Here are some factors that may influence how to move to the next step before turning listening into action.

1.  Brand Development Lifecycle

Does the brand need to build a fan base or just largely maintain its reputation?  For brands with a large public presence or existing polarity in the marketplace, robust analytics and tools with real time alerts are probably necessary.  For very young brands or small businesses, free DIY tools on the web may suffice.  The lifecycle of the development of the brand will influence the reasons for listening.  For example, Budweiser is going to have different motivation for listening and perhaps require different tools than Magic Hat, a lesser known (and personal favorite) microbrewery based in Burlington, VT.   Don’t forget that all of these tools can be used to listen to non-branded terms and competitors in the same way – the lifecycle of the brand will influence those too.

2. The Customer’s Level of Risk

How much risk does the customer need to take on to buy your product?  Is it expensive, does it carry social risk (bad outfit) or have potentially big consequences (insurance)?  The extent to which recommendations from an online social source are impactful depends on the degree of involvement in the purchase.  Cars, insurance policies, and electronics are examples of categories which are highly researched prior to purchase.  Online reviews and chatter in forums can be extremely beneficial or extremely dangerous for these types of items.  Many lesser known items such as books or CDs can also be highly dependent on social reviews.  On the other hand, a low ticket or lesser known consumer brand will have very different needs from its social media monitoring, and customers may be less concerned with doing research.  Building brand awareness may be more important to these brands and subsequently influence what companies are listening for.

3.  Brand Differentiation

Are purchase decisions based more on objective product or service features or based on emotional brand affinity?  To a large extent, products/brands fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum, but many will lean heavily one way or the other.  For example, most people choose a particular airline based on objective service, price and benefits.  Some people buy computers based on an objective evaluation of features to price, but then there are brands that have built an emotional connection (Apple).  Chocolate milk is a commodity, but a brand name can draw a premium based on brand affinity (Nesquik).  Listening to why people differentiate brands will be key in developing an approach to engage those folks down the road.

How we listen, why we listen, and ultimately, how we use this information to engage with consumers will be different depending on the brand proposition.  Does your company listen?  What is your motivation?  What else did we miss?

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