How to Use Social Listening to Improve Brand Health

Five Steps to Building an Effective Social-Media Listening Program

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Ready to run a high-performing social/digital marketing program? What are the essential elements? Content marketing -- check. Content optimization -- check. Social media strategy -- check. Everything is there, right? Wrong. What's missing? Audience intelligence via social listening -- fundamentally, how the market talks about your solutions online. Most marketers consider the qualitative impact of a listening program or optimization, but a lesser-known aspect is how it can be leveraged as a holistic performance driver for brand health.

At SAP, we created a social-media listening program in five steps, forging a partnership between groups with two aligned but different interests. Our digital strategy and performance management teams partnered to ensure our program would deliver qualitative and quantitative insights. Our digital marketing team needs the intelligence from listening to drive content strategy, channel planning, influencer marketing and competitive insights. The performance management team shares these interests, but needed an ability to create "single-source-of-truth" benchmarking and to provide ongoing monitoring of our market performance in the social media space in order to understand brand health, the health of strategic priorities, and to measure the net impact of programs.

Here are five steps to building a high-performing social listening program:

1. Set up with rigor. Identify the business questions you want to answer. Build a strong, credible foundation based on rigorous selection of keywords, topics, themes, competitors and exclusions. Decide what your key metrics will be and the cadence for your reporting. Couple these metrics with other leading market-monitoring indicators (e.g. net promoter score, traditional media share of voice, purchase consideration). The importance of the upfront rigor cannot be overestimated, as it's important that teams stay focused on implementing strategies and not debating keywords or questioning the findings when results are delivered.

2. Launch with a baseline. Launch with an extensive baseline analysis that articulates the fundamental market dynamics -- the challenges and opportunities facing the business. Once the baseline is established, subsequent listening reports will show small shifts (new top terms, the impact of events, etc.) as programs are implemented, and over time increase overall volume and positive tonality.

3. Set goals and hold teams accountable. Set three to five goals that are outcomes of the findings and hold teams accountable (e.g. develop co-branded programs with partners or prevalence of a given term like #bigdata in your word cloud). Set up a "run" mode that delivers updated data to teams in automated dashboards. Hold team leaders accountable for delivering. It's important that performance metrics arising from social listening are aligned to an overall business process to review performance results. Have teams provide updates on their goals during the business reviews, including net impact to the business.

4. Train with power users in mind. Train your teams on the underlying structure of your listening post, but be cognizant that you have a range of users from light to power users. Show the teams the practical applications for the data. Clarify with teams the role of listening in their overall reporting toolkit. The danger in training without context is that teams will get lost in unproductive data analysis.

5. Sell the value internally. Establish social listening outcomes as key performance metrics, starting with your CMO and extending throughout your marketing ranks. Aligned with the business review process, it's also important to deliver social-media insights in the context of a business conversation. It's important to deliver the information in a format that is tailored to the audience, including live pulses, customized dashboards in sharable PDF formats, deep data discovery through customizable dashboards, or mentions in an executive visibility report.

While a high-performing social listening program can be a huge success, it's only one component of a much broader program that should include paid, owned and earned media channels to leverage big data to understand the consumer journey.

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