Use of social media monitoring growing; direct can reap benefits, too

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They might not be direct response vehicles, but direct marketers should ignore social media and the user-generated content they contain at their own peril.

In addition to enormous reach (Forrester Research reports nearly half of U.S. online adults now use them), social media offer a treasure trove of information—information that can be mined using monitoring and analysis technologies to uncover insights about things like customer satisfaction with a company’s direct marketing tactics, campaign performance and the viral spread of marketing messages.

“Social media monitoring gives direct marketers an opportunity to keep their fingers on the pulse of how consumers are responding—to what extent current campaigns are successful, how they need to refine campaigns over time and, ultimately, the business outcomes,” said Jeff Zabin, research fellow at Boston-based Aberdeen Group.

Zabin was the author of a report titled “Social Media Monitoring and Analysis: Generating Consumer Insights From Online Conversation,” which was released in January. The report was based on telephone and online surveys of representatives from more than 250 organizations currently using or evaluating social media monitoring and analysis technologies, such as brand monitoring, market influence analytics and online consumer intelligence. The surveys were conducted between December 2007 and January 2008.

According to Aberdeen Group’s findings, adoption of social media monitoring and analysis technologies is growing. Fifty-two percent of companies currently had a social media monitoring and analysis solution in place. Another 33% either had budget planned for such solutions within the next 12 months, or were interested in the technologies and evaluating providers.

In addition, survey respondents indicated that social media monitoring and analysis can benefit a greater than expected number of corporate functions, from customer care to public relations and legal. “Going into this process, my assumption was that it’s all about marketing,” Zabin said. “In fact, it turns out that social media monitoring can inform everything from product development to legal departments, who want to understand if there are any crises on the horizon that they need to pay attention to.”

Chrysler Corp. uses social media monitoring and analysis technologies to refine its advertising and marketing campaigns. “We receive reports every day … that highlight top stories on the Web regarding Chrysler and the auto industry. We also have the capability of monitoring in real time what’s being said about our company, brands and products,” said Ed Garsten, the company’s manager of electronic media communications. “Monitoring is especially useful in determining whether or not our campaigns are being well-received or if they’ve missed the mark.”

In an age when many consumers distrust marketing, Pete Blackshaw, exec VP of Nielsen Online Strategic Services, suggested social media monitoring and analysis can help companies identify sensitivities about the customer experience. “Privacy is a big area,” he said. “There’s a lot of skepticism about marketer intrusion.”

For direct marketers, the most exciting opportunity associated with social media monitoring and analysis is perhaps the ability to home in on influential consumers and target them.

“Most companies do a very weak job of profiling influence among their own customers … simple things like [asking] ‘Do you blog?’ ‘Hve you ever spent time on YouTube?’ ‘D you have a Facebook account?’” Blackshaw said.

But companies can use social media monitoring and analysis to assess the social media environment for their industries and to pinpoint individuals who disproportionately move markets. “We do that for a lot of clients,” Blackshaw added. “Who are the key influencers? Who are the buzz-uilders? Can I talk to them?”

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