For many B2B marketers, social media is still a bridge too far. Because it’s a broad concept—there are so many different ways to use social media—its amorphous nature can impede implementation. But a good way to get beyond this obstacle and jumpstart your social media efforts is to start small and aim to get some direct value out of it. This is exactly what you can do when you tap into social media for its hidden value: key customer insights. My last article discussed why B2B marketers should leverage social media in this way. Today, let’s take a look at how to get the job done.
Social media as a market research tool
When used to monitor the online chatter of customers and prospects, social media becomes a powerful market research tool that can provide B2B marketers with important customer insights, such as learning about problems before they escalate, gaining a better understanding of customer needs, and understanding how your company stacks up against the competition. And while you could certainly hire someone to help you leverage social media for this purpose, below is a do-it-yourself approach that you can quickly put into action while keeping costs to a minimum.
Step 1: Find your audience. This requires that you conduct a little research to identify the right social media outlets for your company or brand. A good place to start is by reading industry publications, credible industry blogs and forums, and/or attending trade shows and industry events. Doing so will allow you to tap into the community and find out who the power players are, and where the buzz is generated. Then, take an inventory of the social media sites you found in your research, and select the ones you want to monitor. I suggest limiting the quantity to about six to start. In addition, when making your selections, strive to include outlets that cover the content from different angles.
Step 2: Establish success criteria. Next, you need to establish the success criteria to be tracked. To start, make a list of the perception factors that are important to your business and your industry. For example, a management consulting firm would probably view the following perception criteria as being critical to its success: strategy; pro-activity; responsiveness; relationship development; results. I suggest limiting the list to no more than ten elements.
Step 3: Build your dashboard. Once you have identified your success criteria, use that information—along with your site selections—to create a social media monitoring dashboard (a simple Excel spreadsheet will suffice). Your goal is to create a matrix that will allow you to record all relevant comments from the social media sites you selected. If you have the resources, I suggest repeating this process so you can monitor the online chatter for your competition. To do so, you need multiple dashboards—one for your company and one for each of your competitors.
Step 4: Start monitoring. The next step is to begin monitoring the buzz on your selected social media sites. Ideally, this should be done on a daily basis. To start, you might want to first run a pilot test of monitoring the blogs, forums and sites you’ve selected for one month so that you can make any necessary adjustments before moving forward. As you review the content on your target sites, copy and paste all relevant comments into your dashboard under the appropriate success criteria. In addition, you’ll want to classify these comments by sentiment (positive, negative, or neutral) and assign a point value to each.
For instance, consider the following comment: “I haven’t heard back from XYZ Management Consulting Firm yet, but I just sent my email this morning and the auto-reply said to allow 48 hours for a response.” This would be considered a neutral comment since it has no positive or negative references, and as such, would receive 1 neutral point. However, comments often are not so singular in nature, as demonstrated in the following: “The results were better than we forecasted, but the team only met with us a handful of times.” Since it spans multiple criteria (results and relationships), I would give this comment 1 positive point for delivering results, and 1 negative point for developing relationships.
Step 5: Analyze the results. After recording and classifying all pertinent online comments, you can now analyze the market perceptions of your brand across the defined criteria. Start out by looking at the total number of positive, negative and neutral comments. This will enable you to quickly determine how your company fares by each criterion or factor. Then, within each factor, you’ll probably come across sub-factors. For example, while strategy is a key factor for any management consulting firm, the online comments may point to strategy in a retail vertical as a particularly important sub-factor. Overall, you need to cull your findings and look for themes, opportunities, risks and areas to act upon.
Step 6: Prioritize action items. Now that you have this high level view, you need to prioritize your action items. For example, if your analysis reveals a perceived weakness in strategy, you might opt to make your firm’s strategic approach a key message in all public relations and marketing initiatives going forward. Another potential action item might be responding to some comments. In that instance, it behooves you to reach out to customers/prospects directly—especially if they have a lot to say—because they are likely to continue making similar comments about your brand. Even if the comments are all positive, directly reaching out to them will help you reinforce a positive brand image, perhaps by offering them entry into a new service that your company is beta testing. In addition to those who have a lot to say, don’t forget to reach out to those with “extreme sentiment” in their comments, particularly if the sentiment is negative.
Step 7: Share your findings. To make this dashboard exercise worthwhile, you need to share your findings with other departments so that all appropriate people in your company can take action. For example, if there appears to be an issue with your firm’s service level, then you should inform the client services group about it. Or if your analysis shows that prospects didn’t choose your firm because you don’t have a certain product feature, then be sure to arm your product marketing group with that information.
Overall, social media offers B2B marketers a low-cost, low-barrier means to gain important customer insights. And while it’s impossible to know for sure what each B2B marketer will find by monitoring the appropriate social media sites, one thing is for certain: If you don’t take the time to uncover the online chatter about your brand, your customers, prospects, and competitors surely will.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.