Social media monitoring for strategic business decisions

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There’s nothing like 30 Rock satire.

When I started talking at Social Media Explorer’s inaugural Explore event for social media marketers in Dallas last week, I wasn’t sure if the concept of using social media exclusively to listen for business strategies was too simple, too advanced or too boring.

30 Rock to the rescue.

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For example, there’s sweet Kenneth.

There’s a reason God gave us two ears and only one mouth: listening is twice as important as talking. But he gave us ten fingers … he must really want us to poke things! — Kenneth, 30 Rock

There’s actually a lot of insight we can extract for this quote. First, there’s the difference between how real people think and how marketers think, especially when it comes to social media.

Here’s how real people think: Stop poking into my private conversations, unless I ask for your help. (Yes, their conversations are happening publicly, but behind a computer monitor or on a smartphone it seems private. Only the best intrusion marketing is effective. And by the best, I mean it never feels intrusive.)

Here’s how some social media marketers think: I can hear your conversation, and even though you didn’t ask, I can help! And so they poke-poke-poke with all 10 fingers and type away a response.

In fact, for some companies this is the extent of social media marketing: customer service. A customer complains on Facebook or Twitter, and the marketer handles the complaint.

But let’s go back to Kenneth’s advice: “Listening is twice as important as talking.” For some businesses and industries, I would argue that it can be twice as important as handling customer service via social media. Why? Because good social media listening can happen everywhere people are being social online. Because it affects multiple business needs. Because it can more quickly and directly affect your bottom line.

For this kind of advanced strategy, there are three things to consider:

  1. It’s proactive, not reactive.
  2. It drives better business decisions, faster.
  3. It requires thought and time, not necessarily expensive tools.

1. It’s proactive, not reactive

For the companies where social media monitoring begins and ends at customer service, they’re doing something important—but, still, it’s being reactive, not proactive.

Advanced social media monitoring is about listening—not just reacting—and then making decisions to act about what you have heard.

There are two simple proactive strategies to get you started.

Strategy: Monitor more than vanity words

First up is this one.

What do I mean by vanity terms? Well, not exactly what Jenna means…

Listen up Fives, a Ten is speaking. — Jenna, 30 Rock

…but it’s not too far off.

A vanity keyword is any word that you’re monitoring because your boss or your client said so. It’s an ego thing. They want to know how often they’re mentioned, perhaps by name, even though they’re doing nothing with that information and keeping track does nothing for their bottom line. In fact, it might cost them money (i.e., to hire you) and time.

Sometimes monitoring vanity terms are ok—you might, again, want to stay ahead of a crisis—but Smart Ears are listening for opportunities.

Business need: Publicity

For example, let’s say your business strategy is to get more media publicity. Is someone on staff an expert? Do you want to be quoted in traditional media? You’re doing PR outreach and are having some success, so you set up a search and sit back and wait and see where they’re being mentioned …

But for this business strategy, you could be a little bit smarter and set up a search for the type of expert you have, and the source you want to be quoted in. Find out who else is being quoted, and where. See who the publicity competition is, and reach out to them. Reach out to the person who interviewed them. That’s proactive social media monitoring.

Strategy: Go where your people are

This proactive strategy is near and dear to me. You see, when I say go where your people are, I mean your customers and potential customers—NOT your peers.

We all like validation from industry professionals, but too much time in the echo chamber means we just parrot each other instead of coming up with creative idea. (More on independent thinking later.)

Also, your people may not be on Facebook or Twitter. Your people might be on forums, bulletin boards, Google Groups, LinkedIn, YouTube, community groups: anywhere that people are being social online.

Business need: To save time

Let’s take Bob The Mechanic, who has an auto supply business on the side. Where are Bob’s people?

Lots of auto enthusiasts are on Facebook and Twitter, sure. But for Bob The Mechanic, the day-in-and-day-out management and monitoring for certain words on Twitter or Facebook may do him far less good than just reading and regularly participating in forums for the kinds of cars that he repairs. Why?

Because Bob knows there are tens of thousands of people comments in those forums that he can ship parts to. He knows they’re already enthusiastic, engaged and excitable just by being there. And while they may be DIYers, even if all Bob gives them is good advice, he’s becoming an expert in an influential community—that of potential customers.


Bob may even be able to subscribe to an RSS feed for the most relevant posts, saving him even more time.

2. You can make better business decisions, faster

When it comes to saving time, for example, you want to make the best possible business decision in the least amount of time. Dither too much and you might waste opportunities … or problems can build. If you have Smart Ears, you can gain real insight into what people think of your business or product sooner than you would have normally. Then you can use that insight to make decisions about your business.

Strategy: Use the words customers use

The first example we’ll look at for faster business decisions is related to marketing. Why use jargon, or waste money on mega focus-groups, when your existing customers can describe your product and brand for you? Some call this User-Generated Content, but you can just call it “words real people use.” (You know, like words that real people would use.)

“Remember everyone, just don’t be yourselves.” — Jack, 30 Rock

Why is using words real people use even better? Because when customers describe YOUR product, they’re talking about what THEY love, not you. In a way, it’s like being your own customer. There are some great companies using this strategy now.

Business need: marketing copy/slogans

In fact, it’s as old as those Zagat guides. Remember those? The survey-based restaurant guides that used actual quotes from customers? They went to the trouble of expensive surveys to extract single words or short phrases such as “excellent,” “casual” or “great for a family dinner.” But you don’t have to conduct expensive surveys. You can mine forums, feedback via email, comment cards, testimonials or conduct an inexpensive survey to find those real words for your marketing campaigns.

ModCloth is a young woman’s B2C clothing website. If I could sum up their products in a few words it would be “modern,” “cutesy” and “expensive.” But what do ModCloth customers themselves actually say? Well, ModCloth used its customer reviews to find out…


…then they used some of that identical copy in their email marketing campaigns.


They even created additional content—a Style Glossary—to keep buyers on their website and keep them engaged enough to buy more of those super darling clothes.

Will customers always say exactly what you want to hear?

“There’s some back and forth between what words customers are using and how you want to be known,” said Maura Ginty, Senior Manager, Strategic Research and Innovation at Autodesk, at DreamForce 2011. But “understanding the how customers see things is important.”

Generally, listen to and trust what the customer is saying to guide your decisions, and wherever possible, use their words.

Strategy: Teach the way customers prefer

When you’re really listening to customers, you’ll be able to pay attention to how they learn.

Let’s say you want to start a training program, but you aren’t sure what kind of content works best. Or let’s say you have a product that’s a little complicated, and you’re doing a little of this and a little of that, but you don’t know what is “sticking” best.

Some companies have listened well enough to figure out that video works best. Here’s how:

Business need: Training

How many of you have smartphones? Do you have a protective film on that phone? Chances are it’s invisiSHIELD, a product by a company called ZAGG. ZAGG already is a marketing powerhouse—especially their online marketing department—I advise you to sign up for their newsletters and emails and mine them for ideas. On Twitter, they’re @ZAGGdaily.

But ZAGG has been branching out from their original product line into smartphone and tablet accessories, and they needed to teach customers how to use their more technical products. They started with traditional copy on the web, but then something interesting happened.

“ZAGG was getting mentioned on Twitter in reference to our video content a lot more than our other content, with no added promotion on our part, so we knew what people were really getting excited by,” said Scott Cowley of Zagg’s Internet marketing department.

So they recorded some simple videos, posted them to YouTube, promoted them on their website and in their email newsletters—and watched sales climb!

Why? Because they were listening with Smart Ears to which method of learning was getting customers excited. People wanted to learn by video… and how much easier is it to watch video on our faster and faster smartphones these days?

Sony did the exact same thing. In fact, they draw a direct line from social media monitoring to ROI.

Except, like most large companies, they hired an expensive outside firm to listen for a year for them to discover that people liked to learn how to use a computer with one-on-one-feeling video instruction (go figure). So they set up a SonyListens YouTube channel for this content—and they cross-promote under various accounts on YouTube.

And besides the basic tech help, Sony is helping people learn to do the things they want to do with videos like “How to make a funny video of kids.”


Help people do what they want to do, and you’ll be ranking on top in no time.

Strategy: Verify product decisions

But what if your product isn’t ranking so well? What if you have made a decision and you’re not sure whether it was the right one? Careful listening can guide you to the right correction.

Business need: Product problem-solving

Take Crave America restaurants, for example, which was expecting higher sales of a new signature cocktail. They did some social monitoring and found that people were using the word “peppery” or “too spicy” to describe it. It turns out that the jalepenos varied from batch to batch and using the exact same amount each time wasn’t right—the bartenders needed more control. The chef tweaked the recipe and sales jumped. This is just another way to see trends and patterns—because people are far more honest to their friends about their likes and dislikes than they are to a random brand.

Strategy: Beat competition to market

In that case, social media listening helped the restaurant identify the problem. Social media listening can also help you identify the opportunity—especially when it comes to beating the competition to market.

Business need: Opportunities identified

Let’s say you’re Maria, an upscale Dallas manicurist. Maria wants to stand apart from the crowd when it comes to nails. Maria keeps up with trends in magazines, but she wants to come up with something creative a little sooner than once a month. She’s noticed that nail art is huge on Pinterest, so when the Golden Globes rolls around, she pays attention to celebrity nails in real-time.

The most talked about? Zooey Dechanel’s tuxedo-cure.


But what do the actual potential clients think? Do they like this look? Maria reads the comments for a clue on this article’s forum and elsewhere. The general consensus: adorable, but unprofessional-looking. Cue Maria! She could send a “get the look” email to her clients for an instant lift.

Or… Maria could be a little more proactive, do a little more critical thinking, and offer a DIY nail art series. DIY may seem counterintuitive, but once you’re a woman addicted to a look, you’ll do anything to have it.

3. It requires thought, time and tools

So for Maria, the business need of social media monitoring was all about thinking about the opportunities. For Bob the mechanic, it’s thinking about where to spend his time. For the restaurant, it was problem solving. For ModCloth, it was finding the right marketing words. For Zagg and Sony, it was about finding the right training technique. And for anyone, it could be publicity.

And while it could be good to brainstorm with others, it’s thinking independently that will help you stand apart with the strongest ideas.

In other words, don’t be Liz Lemon.

“So what’s your religion, Liz Lemon?”—Tracy. “I pretty much just do whatever Oprah tells me to do.” Liz, 30 Rock.

Don’t be Tracy Jordan, either, but don’t be Liz Lemon.