Inbound Social: How to Listen, Learn & Leverage Incoming Conversations

What are people saying about your brand?

If you have set up a platform to surface mentions about your company name, keywords or URLs, then you may think you have a pretty good handle of the discussions happening that involve your enterprise. "Social listening" however goes beyond monitoring brand mentions and success is dependent on a number of factors.

To learn more, Website Magazine enlisted the help of Michael Baglietto, global head of product marketing at NetBase Solutions, Inc. Baglietto provides clarification and depth surrounding an often misunderstood, yet potentially lucrative practice of listening, learning and leveraging inbound social discussions.

Many brands consider social media more of an outbound channel than an inbound one. Why, however, should enterprises be concerned about the inbound conversations happening about its brand and/or industry?

Michael Baglietto, Global Head, Product Marketing at NetBase Solutions, Inc.: All too often, brands limit their use of social media to introduce new products, seasonal offers, and other promotions - essentially they are continuously selling rather than engaging consumers in a conversation. Using this approach can alienate potential customers, causing them to 'tune out' your message.

Social consumers don't want to be marketed to - they want to feel like they're in the "inner circle", as if you're talking to them one-on-one. Brands can deliver individualized messaging to different audience segments you identify through a social listening strategy to create passionate brand advocates who will promote your brand and amplify your message.
By now a lot of companies use third-party social media management platforms to schedule messages and "listen" to brand mentions. Are there any conversations, sentiments, etc., that enterprises are missing by using a single social media management platform that surfaces mentions?
Baglietto, NetBase: Social media management platforms designed for "engagement and publishing" often have very limited capabilities for true social listening. Many of these solutions are limited to analyzing the conversations on your own social channels, however a majority of your brand mentions are NOT on your own channels.

Social media is actually composed of three channels - owned, earned and partnered (or sponsored). Owned channels are a company's branded channels, managed by the company itself. Partnered involves a brand working with a paid spokesperson or influencer. And earned consists of what is being said about the brand, separate from what the brand, and any partners are saying. This last channel is the most important, yet many companies primarily focus on owned channels. While it is important to publish content and track resulting engagement, overlooking earned media is a mistake.
Conversations around industry terms and topics that include the company are "much more valuable."  Social listening can help identify who those people are so that, as a brand, we can engage with them, expand their footprint and expand the conversation around relevant topics.

Without a tool focused on social media listening, brands cannot effectively gain a complete understanding of their impact on these important earned channels.

What are some top mistakes companies are making when it comes to "social listening"?
Baglietto, NetBase: Much like Google Analytics is important for maximizing website performance and search engine optimization, social media listening and analytics provides valuable insights that maximize the results of your social media marketing strategy. 

Here are 5 best practices to maximize the value of your social listening strategy:

1) Listen Before You Act
The first strategy for improving both your business agility and marketing effectiveness is by gaining a deeper understanding into your customers. 

Social media analytics provides an "on-demand focus group" right at your fingertips. Analyzing social media conversations at scale facilitates brainstorming in real-time, eliminates guesswork and anecdotal decision making, and identifies the best way to connect with your customers. It helps you zero-in on your target audience to understand who they are, who's most receptive to your brand, your message and your activation strategy. 

By leveraging social media analytics, you'll understand the conversation volume and sentiment around your brand or category - who's talking about these conversations, how big is the conversation relative to other topics and how strongly do people feel around these conversations, and most importantly, where are these conversations happening. 

You can actually perform the same analysis on your competition and see how they're marketing tactics are performing relative to different strategies you're contemplating.

2) Build an Engagement Driven Content Strategy
Given the short attention span of social media users and the bombardment of competing content, it's easy for prospective customers to disengage if your content is not relevant. 

Leverage social listening for content inspiration that connects with your target customers. Track what's popular and repurpose your best performing content. You'll see that as you start to repurpose that content, your brand will start to gain a lot more activity.  

The more visual, the better. Visual content is 40 times more likely to get shared on social media than any other type of content. Video content performs even better, and user-generated content is the best for engaging like-minded consumers.

best-practices3) Leverage Fans to Amplify Your Message
When it comes to product or brand recommendations, people trust their peers and other like-minded consumers. People want to hear and see what people are liking and sharing over social media to inform purchasing decisions. Capitalize on this behavior and use your fan based to promote your brand. 

Identify and connect with the right people to amplify your message. User shared content has a huge impact on your reach and influence. In fact, earned media (brand mentions not on your owned channels) drives four times the brand lift of your paid media and owned media. So, brands can get a huge lift just from activating your influencers, engaging them on your channels.

Social analytics allows you to identify and cultivate those folks who are passionate about your brand and who are sharing your brand online and their brand experiences. It's not just about identifying those with the most followers, it's about find the most passionate ones. And your passionate influencers can do two things for you: they'll amplify your message, and they'll actually defend your brand against vocal brand detractors or in the event you have a service issue. 

4) Develop Regional or Local Campaigns

Because social media has such a large reach, it's tempting to plan your marketing campaigns with little regard to regional tastes, preferences, or attitudes. Using social media analytics, brand marketers can develop more effective marketing programs by understanding the consumer dynamics in a given market or geographic footprint.

Regional tastes and attitudes can vary widely, so what works in one geography may not work in another. Discover insights that you can leverage to actually make big impacts by focusing on smaller regions. Identify regional fan groups and develop local promotions and ways to activate around them. Once you see what's happening in specific region or locale, you can be very surgical in how you attack that market. 

5) Be More Social
Social media analytics gives you insight into the topics, terminology, hastags, and phrases that consumers are using around your brand and your category.

Go beyond basic demographics and analyze themes like lifestyle, activities, music and entertainment. See what your audience is listening to, what they're sharing and what they like. See the different brand affinity they have, not just for your brand, but for other brands as well. Analyze the audience and everything else they talk about besides your brand. So instead of listening on the topic, you're listening on the audience, and you'll find very interesting insights. Maybe they're fitness enthusiasts, maybe they prefer country music over hip hop. 

Social media analytics identifies trending topics and themes in real time so you can enter the "conversation" in a unique and authentic way.  Not on your owned channel? Engage them any way!  If consumers are conversing about your brand, join the conversation! 

Are there any misconceived notions about what "social listening" actually is?
Baglietto, NetBase: The traditional approach to social listening focuses on brand conversations using keywords, hashtags, and social handles. While this analysis is effective for monitoring brand health, consumer sentiment, and competitive intelligence, audience insights are limited to conversations that exclusively mention your brand by name.  

Audience analytics focus on people and everything they talk about beyond your brand, unlocking a world of insights about your customers, fans and other audience segments. 

Audience-centric listening more appropriately aligns social conversation data with traditional audience research. Unlike pre-defined social audiences that provide a generic (and often stale) view of consumer interests and affinities, audiences are most valuable when they are created with real-time data. Custom-defined audiences tap into real-time conversations of your consumers to create more dynamic segmentation, more accurate analysis and more effective targeting. 

Social media is also shifting from "tell" to "show" with brand mentions increasingly found in images rather than hashtags (#pepsi) and social handles (@Pepsi). Without visual listening, you are missing thousands of mentions of your brand every week. Visual listening includes both image and keyword analysis to provide powerful context into how consumers interact naturally with your brand. 
Consumers are interacting with your brand simultaneously across multiple social channels, both the ones you own and those you don't. But commingling data from your owned, earned, partnered and paid channels makes it increasingly difficult to understand the impact of each channel in reaching your target consumers. 

Converged media breaks down the "social silos" between owned, earned, partnered and paid channels by visualizing social analytics in a single pane of glass to understand your reach by channel, measure the impact of earned media on your brand, and identify specific content resonating on each channel. 

Because earned media drives greater brand awareness and influence among your consumers, its important to know what percentage of your brand conversations are being generated by your earned media vs. your owned media. Converged media improves your marketing effectiveness by identifying the authors driving your brand conversations as well as the types of content resonating on each channel. 

Where does NetBase fit in for companies wanting to take a more active role in social media monitoring?

Baglietto, NetBase: Social analytics uncover industry and market trends that provide a competitive advantage for your brand. Identify product features and customer care issues that impact brand sentiment, customer retention, and customer centric opportunities to drive business success. 

A social program aligned with strategic business objectives will generate a higher ROI. 
Engage stakeholders across functional areas to identify their primary business goals and identify the areas where social analytics can help drive those initiatives.

Find new opportunities by tracking emerging consumer trends to uncover underserved markets and unmet needs that create new opportunities for new revenue growth and product innovation. 

Gather competitive intelligence with insights into specific attributes of your brand vs. the competition. See how operational KPIs such as price, quality, availability and service play a role in brand success or failure. 

Perform market validation - stimulate internal idea generation, validate consumer receptivity to new products or monitor changes to overall brand positioning. 

How can a NetBase user leverage insights into "billions of social posts" to improve their organic and/or paid social campaigns?
Baglietto, NetBase: Social analytics uncover opportunities to drive revenue and inform your content strategy to optimize reach and engagement. Social analytics also provides immediate feedback into campaign performance, allowing organizations to adapt and iterate in real-time to maximize conversations and improve results.
Traditional social listening platforms provide a one-dimensional understanding of your customers by relying on topic, keyword and hashtag analysis, while ignoring everything else. This antiquated approach to audience analytics limits your insights to a small segment mentioning your brand in specific ways - but that's only a fraction of what they are saying and doing. There's much more to the full social conversation and successful marketers understand this. Audience-centric listening focuses on the whole social conversation of your target customer, not just keywords. Unlock real-time psychographic information from millions of social consumers to understand more about an audience, including what they want, love, need and buy.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Baglietto, NetBase: Budget social analytics software lives up to its name and is really only focused on aggregating or gathering data. It will likely only tell you how many times your brand has been mentioned online, but it won't be able to give you the context surrounding those mentions, or help you identify emerging trends in consumer sentiment. Basically, you get what you pay for.

What good is knowing people are talking about your brand, if you don't know if the conversation is positive or negative? Or if a new trend is taking loyal customers in a direction away from your brand? Accuracy at speed is paramount to remaining or becoming competitive.

For example most solutions in the market will tell you that the following mention is negative: "People that hate Girl Scout Cookies aren't to be trusted." But this user is clearly using sarcasm to illustrate how much they like Girl Scout Cookies. 

Analytics tools must be able to account for this kind of social language. Likewise tools that limit insights to the demographic level don't give marketers nearly enough to work with.

Social media has put consumers in charge, in the sense that they will tune out any messaging that doesn't appeal to the things they care about. If you don't have the insights to connect with them in this way, you're wasting your time and money.