10 Reasons Market Research is Critical to Social Media

I continue to be surprised at how many companies keep the Market Research department in some back hall closet collecting dust and reams of paper reports.  It happens in all industries, but lately I’ve seen retail companies keep their “Consumer Insight” group focused on traditional insight like mall traffic patterns and planograms. Consumer segmentation models are typically owned in these groups, and often they are leveraged for behavioral patterns that help with the proverbial 4 Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion.  That stuff is important to the business, no doubt.  But those same companies need to leverage, not ignore, that insight available when fusing social media into the marketing mix they already have.

Brian Solis has a terrific series starting this week on the changing marketing, advertising and communications, where he adds a 5th P: People.   People are the fuel behind social media, which is really just tools and tactics. Here is a quick list of reasons to get Market Research engaged early in order to give social media (People fueled) initiatives the best chances of long term success.

10.  Knowing Customer Behaviors

What internal group knows more about your customer’s behaviors and acts?  The web analytics team knows about what customers do with your own web assets, not about what customers do – in the real world and in online social channels where you don’t own the assets.  Do they share opinions?  Do they care what kind of car they drive?  Are they fickle with the brand of toothpaste they buy?  Do they use social platforms and if so, how often and why?  While we’re at it, how do our customers use social media vs. the mainstream population?

9.  Understanding the Effectiveness of Current and Historical Marketing

This applies to branding initiatives too. They (should) know how effective every ad, campaign, point-of-sale item, direct mail, email, tagline, product and other marketing investment has performed.  Wouldn’t you want to leverage that insight to avoid a misdirection in using social media?

8.  Tried and True Methods to Solicit Customer Feedback

Industries are changing rapidly, and the need to conduct focus groups, surveys and gather feedback is too.  The more traditional/offline methods still apply, though – and chances are market research departments are already exploring alternatives to get those things accomplished more quickly, more effectively and cheaply.  Either way, the market research team should be established pros at getting feedback from existing and target customers.

7.  Understanding the Current and Future Market Conditions

Market research is a core part of any business strategy – in this case meaning researching markets.  Will there be future demand for products?  How is our market share today vs. a year ago, and how will a new program help influence that?  It’s this team that businesses leans on to get hard data on what will happen.  Talking to customers in these markets in social channels increases the need to understand the market overall and correlate initiatives to marketing directives.

6.  They Have the Ear of the CMO

There are many arguments on who should own social media, but the research arm of the company usually rolls up to the CMO.  The CMO is the one managing brand perception, and if you believe social media initiatives impact branding, marketing or communications, the CMO will want to hear about it.  The CMO will also want to know the data.

5.  Understanding Customer Needs and Wants

Customer needs are different than behaviors.  Do your customers have a need for community, convenience, or collaboration?  A customer who is ill needs and wants a safe, effective means to get relief – understanding that need will lead to understanding that customer’s motivation.  Social media tools provides customers new ways to hear about, research and talk about their needs.  Market research teams can share that insight and inform the folks “doing the talking” on what content makes sense to share and discuss.

4.  They Have the Best Contextual Insight

Bruce Temkin, former Forrester Research analyst on customer experience, wrote a post a few months ago about how market research needs less statistical analysis and more contextual analysis.  He shared this formula:

“Actionable insight” is one of my all-time favorite terms, and if market research can provide that, they need to be in the mix and weighing in an any new initiative.

3.  “We’ve got data!”

New businesses are being formed to help fuse social media into more traditional business intelligence disciplines.  Market research has a P&L that includes funds to buy that data, and the skills to sift through it to make meaningful hypotheses about it.

2.  Understanding the Competitive Landscape

When deciding to build a strategy for social media, it’s clearly important to know what your competitors are doing.  The market research team is typically the best equipped, since they a) know who your competitors really are, and b) likely keeps tabs on them already for other campaigns, pricing, promotions and events.

1.  Insight is Critical Before Starting Anything New

Simply put, many types of social media (as emerging technology) are rapidly moving past the Trough of Disillusionment and into the Slope of Enlightenment.  More and more case studies of successes in social channels are popping up.  Social media may still be new – and perhaps some approaches will be new to even the biggest organizations.  When Pepsi put big budget dollars to social media, I think many people in the industry finally woke up.  I guarantee that Pepsi didn’t make this decision without their market research team in the mix.

Social media tactics touch many other parts of the organization too, but having Market research up front in the design and decision process will help make initiatives more effective.  What did I miss?

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Social Media Does Not Exist

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. – The Usual Suspects (1995)

I had an interesting discussion recently about Social media strategies.  When discussing inputs to a social media strategy, an admitted “social media skeptic” replied that she thought there shouldn’t be a need for them; rather that social media strategies were really just customer relationship strategies.  Frankly, well put.   MarketingSherpa recently published a study of companies that are integrating social media tactics with offline and online marketing tactics.  I’d like to see the evolution over time and agree with the premise – “The benefits of integrating social media with other marketing tactics far exceed the benefits of utilizing social media alone.”

Effective businesses manage all customer touchpoints – every customer interaction is a chance to impact the experience, whether it’s an ad, a product purchase, a customer service call, talking in the store with an associate, or replying to a post in a social network.  When companies start to realize these synergies, they will be able to achieve a lot more than focusing on pure social media tactics alone.  The customer lifecycle is a journey, and each interaction point can have multiple tactics that make it more compelling (and ultimately provide benefit) to the customer.

The technologies that are available influence traditional marketing tactics already.  In some cases, they magnify each other.  Take these examples:

  • 50% click through rate increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search (comScore & GroupM study).
  • Email marketing approaches need to factor in calls to action in social platforms, like soliciting ratings and reviews for products and services, or asking customers to become fans on Facebook.
  • Attribution of revenue from interactive marketing tactics like paid search, display advertising and landing pages now need to factor social tactics (shared links, social content on site) to understand the impact to analytics and optimization.
  • Location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla are about understanding who is coming to your store offline, and enabling targeted promotions to reward visitors.  (Imagine that, technology that helps bring visitors in the door, and keep them coming back.)

While social media specific strategies can help companies digest and learn the technologies and approaches that build success, they aren’t the end game.  I’d like to see more companies treat social media as if it were an embedded part of building customer relationships, focusing on making the most of all relevant touchpoints they have with customers.  I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how social technologies are changing and influencing other areas of marketing.  Despite lots of hype and lots of platforms grabbing headlines, I’m convinced that companies who truly embrace social media, by understanding and engaging, are the ones who treat it as if it doesn’t exist.

Don’t just take my word for it – there are others that think the same way.  Think we’ll see the day when “social media” isn’t a separate line item in a marketing plan?

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Two Dirty Little Social Media Secrets

I was intrigued by Marc Meyer’s post about social media marketing being too labor intensive.  He outlines a whole series of activities, from smaller things like creating listening posts and monitoring buzz, mentions and opportunities to bigger initiatives like creating and managing blogs, microsites using social platform providers, and broad community initiatives.  Agencies and businesses alike need to sort out the level of effort and costs required (not to mention roles and responsibilities for maintaining each).  I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but trying to highlight reality a bit by sharing two topics you don’t hear about much when it comes to how successful social tactics are deployed.

1. More Successful Means More Expensive

As these tactics become more successful, they become more expensive.  These tactics require long term effort and can certainly can do more damage if abandoned.  But it takes more effort to continue to manage, build and grow, and that can mean more costs internally, at a minimum.  The effort can result in more resources, more media, more content – all of which have a price tag unless you believe people are free (in which case I’d like to hire you for my next project).

2. Hope is Not a Plan: Paid + Earned Media

A partner at Accenture I used to work with was king of pouncing on anyone who responded to a question with “I hope…”   His response was a sharp  “Hope is not a plan.”  This applies to social ideas too.  Even the most successful social media initiatives are likely combined with other marketing tactics – especially paid media and email marketing.  I’d be surprised to hear about social ideas that were grounded purely in the “hope” they will go viral alone.  What’s the quickest way for a brand to get fans (likes) on a Facebook page?  Engagement ads on Facebook with a call to action, or emailing customers with a similar call to action.  Companies like Rapleaf can tell you which customers are active in social networks – you can be precise on the call to action, but just building something social doesn’t mean customers will show up.  Li Evans wrote an excellent post recently about how social media marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, going deeper on other tactics like SEO and PPC.  Together these tactics magnify each other.

Am I just being Master of the Obvious again? Have an example that contradicts?  I’d love to hear it, and I hope I’m wrong.  Right, hope is not a plan.

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How Social Media Has Changed My Job

In the last 2 years of blogging I’ve been able to share my own views on social media, interactive marketing and other topics.  During that time my day job at Rosetta has evolved from working with exciting companies like Coach and Borders to leading our Search and Media practice.  I’ve had the fortunate experience of working with talented teams and innovative clients, with an agency leadership team who was willing to help me launch our social media practice over a year ago.

Helping clients leverage social media has been a passion but up until recently only a part-time gig; I’ve had many fun and challenging responsibilities to work on in parallel while trying to see if we can add social media to the value proposition Rosetta brings to the table.  In the meantime, this blog has served as a way to capture thoughts and more importantly to hear from you, continuing conversations that weren’t as suitable for Twitter or some other forum.

For my two-year blog anniversary post, I’m excited to share details about my expanded role.  As we’ve grown our social media team, I’m pleased to share that my role is now 100% focused on helping clients develop social media programs.  My goal is to build integrated programs that treat social media tactics as informed strategies, leveraging deeper understanding of a brand’s most valuable customers and prospects through Rosetta’s Personality®-based segmentation.

What this really means:

  • After 15 years in consulting (first 12 at Accenture), I’ve been able to craft a role for myself (with leadership team sponsorship) at a digital agency I’m excited about.
  • For a long time I’ve been advocating that social media marketing tactics should be treated alongside other digital initiatives in an integrated and strategic way, leveraging CRM, segmentation and consumer insight.  Now I get to truly focus full time on making that happen.
  • I’ve spent the last two+ years learning and applying what I’ve learned in social media, now I get to learn and apply on a full time basis.  (But I’m no expert, just trying to help clients make informed decisions).

Frankly I’m very grateful to see a more formal career path emerge from ideas.  I’m looking forward to sharing more here with a reinvigorated sense of purpose, and to thanking a lot of people in person over the next few weeks.  At risk of forgetting to call out a few, a hat tip to a few folks who continue to inspire me in this space:  Len Devanna, Ken Burbary, Marc Meyer, Aaron Strout, Jim Storer, Kyle Flaherty, Tim Walker, Amber Naslund, Beth Harte, and Rachel Happe.  And certainly Mark Taylor who has been my biggest advocate.  Now to deliver on the promise…

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The Powered Social Marketing Help Desk is Open

lucy_doctorIf you haven’t yet come to know the team at Powered, you are missing some great minds in the social media business. In the past year I’ve gotten to know Aaron Strout (Powered’s CMO) and Doug Wick (Director of Business Development), and both of them are great connectors (I still continue to refer to Aaron as the “Kevin Bacon of Social Media.”)  Separately, as I am working to build our social media practice at Rosetta (more on that in a future post), we have started working with partners like Powered to help our clients with social media initiatives.

To that end, I’m excited to help Powered kick off a new webinar series, the Social Marketing Help Desk.  Please join me as a guest while I attempt to play a best supporting actor role to hosts Doug and Aaron – No powerpoint, no sales pitches, just good conversation about social media marketing… answering questions from you.  Here are the details:

Date: Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Time: 3PM Eastern / 2PM Central
Please click here to register with Powered

Have a question for us?  Drop a comment here or on the registration page and we’ll do our best to include it.  I expect we’ll take some live questions as well.  Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you.

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Can Social Media be Taught?

school

I imagine there are two camps: those who believe you can teach someone how to use social media and those who think it’s absurd to teach people to do what they can learn on their own.  The term “Social Media” covers such a gamut of technologies, approaches, tools and lessons learned that it’s challenging to think about how a training course could be packaged and would stay current, but I’d like to explore what a course could achieve.

There Is No Set Formula

When it comes to leveraging social media for marketing, there is no set formula.  In other areas of online marketing, there is a formula, skill sets and disciplines.  For example, pay-per-click and online display advertising can be measured in terms of return on investment to several decimal points, and there are proven methods that work in each discipline.  The social media space is constantly changing – there is no set formula for success and whether or not you believe the ROI can be measured, every tool/community/approach is different.  If someone tries to sell you a discrete formula for success, chances are they are trying to get rich quick over the hype.  And if you buy their formula, please contact me, I’ve got some contacts via email who are looking to connect folks like you to a late Russian tycoon’s inheritance.

Others may suggest that (aside from spam) there is no wrong way to use social media really.  I see arguments on this front all the time, especially when it comes to using specific tools.  People use Twitter in all sorts of ways – as a broadcast channel, as a conversation channel, for work, for play, for distractions and for adding value.  If what is right for you works, how could there be another right way that works for someone else?

Resources Galore

There are a lot of great books, blogs, conferences and people to learn from.  I’ve attended many local and industry events and have had the pleasure of meeting several folks who are influential in the social media industry.   A key part of learning about social media is to immerse yourself in it – subscribe to blogs, connect with people on social networks and really use it.  If you can commit to do a little each day, it can start to pay dividends over time through the relationships you build – whether its for your own personal use of for your business.  If you are looking for recommendations on people to connect to that you can learn from (and who show an interest in sharing that knowledge), some of the best include Amber Naslund, Chris Brogan, Beth Harte and Jay Baer.

What a Course Could Provide

A training course in social media could consolidate a lot of the disparate sources of information out there.  A part of the training could capture how tools work, define terminology and give examples of successes or failures.  The course could showcase case studies where companies or individuals took risks in specific industries.  There are lots of approaches and strategies that can be covered – often the advice is to “start with listening,” but a course could provide details on how to set up monitoring stations, the differences between free tools like Google Blog Search and enterprise tools like Radian6 or SM2.  The course would need a dynamic element to it – I could easily see the case studies become dated and the technology changes and new tools making it difficult to keep up.

Can you package up enough in one course to make it worthwhile? The folks at SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Association, are trying.  I was honored to be asked by the SEMPO team to review the course outline for one of two new summer sessions available, covering Social Media.  (My agency, Rosetta, is a SEMPO member.)  I’m curious to see how the course will fair and what the participants think of the content.

Which Camp Are You In?

Would a training course in social media appeal to you?  What do you think a training course could achieve?  If the course is focused on how the tools work, the implications and risks, case studies, etc then I don’t have a problem with it.  But if the course is going to claim that it can guarantee success by building followers and following someone’s specific formula, avoid it like the plague.  Thoughts?

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