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Like all years, 2018 offered a number of lessons in how to break new ground using social media. It also reminded us how easily things can go off track when you’re not using social listening to guide your efforts.

Here are some criteria top brands pay attention to, and why, along with some not so great social missteps from the past year.

Insights Should Inform

There are always useful nuggets to uncover, as agency ici Barbès would say. They view their work as “gold mining” – looking for useful audience insights to inspire more impactful content creation and messaging.

And you can’t operationalize social intelligence without a robust tool powering your efforts, as McCann knows. Their “Always On” approach to social analytics has helped them create highly engaging content for their clients, and grow their HQ team by 10x over! There’s a reason they’re the world’s largest advertising agency network – they adopt the right tools and trends at the right time.

Ogilvy and Edelman agencies have had similar success using NetBase to power their brand research.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are many characteristics a winning social media maker must possess, so let’s dig in and explore a few!

Understanding Influencers

You don’t become the youngest self-made millionaire without a bit of skill in the mix – and Kylie Jenner’s got that in spades. Her family’s reality-show fame didn’t hurt, but leveraging her love for cosmetics and social media savvy is what made her Kylie Lip Kits a hit. Kylie listens to her fans and delivers.

Another great example of smart wrangling of influencers is iHeartRadio. They put music fans who over-index for a specific artist in charge of choosing other rabid fans to promote these artists, which is a win for all – especially when it’s time for the iHeartRadio Awards.

Customer Success

Chili’s, the Tex-Mex restaurant chain, was smart enough to know they needed to step up their game to reach brand goals. They used social analytics to keep their menu changes from driving fans away, and engaged with heart and humor whenever opportunities presented.

It’s the same approach use by Cuisinart to update their recipe video content, and Arby’s to craft new audience-inspired sandwiches.

Live Trend Tracking

Web hosting company GoDaddy was understandably excited when their brand ambassador, Danica Patrick, was tapped to host the 2018 ESPY Awards. They researched how previous hosts impacted social during the broadcasts, and had a war-room ready to go when the ESPYs aired. That preparation came in handy. When their brand was mentioned during the popular “I, Tonya” parody, “Me, Danica” (mention at the one-minute mark), they were ready to engage.

Predictive Marketing

Coca-Cola smartly tracked the sports drink conversation to understand that healthier options were in demand by fitness enthusiasts. That made partnering with Body Armor a no-brainer for offering up stiffer competition against rival Gatorade (owned by Pepsi). The partnership announcement shot social sentiment to 100% for both brands.

It’s not the first time they’ve had such success. Their “Share a Coke” campaign exploded after they made things personal, using social sentiment and audience targeting to tell them which names would bring them the best engagement.

Predictive marketing is how brands like Credit Suisse assess risk and keep their clients safe from bad investments. And it’s how Dick Clark Productions perfectly shapes their creative and programming.

Of course, you have to follow insights in real-time as well – to be sure your predictions have landed as expected. That’s how agencies like Saatchi & Saatchi keep their clients thriving.

Audience Segmenting

We’ve talked a lot in recent months about the importance of stories – something Kohl’s understood early on. When they replaced competitor J.C. Penney as sponsor of the Academy Awards, they wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Social analytics revealed users were most engaged when sharing personal stories, so that’s what #AllTheGoodStuff encouraged consumers to share.

The strategy was built around audience segmentation and what their target of Millennials Moms loved to talk about. This carried over into a second discovery about user-generated content – which brought them viral video success other brands dream of.

Brand Health

Build-a-Bear isn’t technically a winner, but before we look at less lucky brands, they’re worth the shout-out for swift management of the brand crisis surrounding their Pay Your Age promotion this summer.

The too-good-to-be-true pricing got a lot of parents and kids excited to participate – which resulted in some stores being shut down due to long lines and stock issues. What the brand did well was monitor social on the day of the event, and respond right away when things went off the rails. If they hadn’t, things could have been a lot worse.

But they might have avoided the issue altogether if they’d looked at social insights from a geographical standpoint to understand where crowds might be heaviest. Or if they’d come up with a backup plan, knowing turnout would be heavy based on social sentiment in the days leading up to the event.

Still, they survived the debacle well enough. Not all brands fared as well in 2018 – and greater attention to social listening surely would have prevented some snafus.

Social Listening Losers

Ryanair

As the summer vacation season was underway in Europe, Ryanair seemed determine to sabotage their own reputation with a discombobulated social presence that focused too much on blaming unions for their troubles, and not enough on how customers were affected. At the same time they shared promos online, while video of a “chaotic evacuation” racked up views.

It wasn’t pretty.

Ram Trucks

Social listening is important – but so is “listening” in general. That’s something Ram Trucks didn’t do as they chose a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon as the backdrop for their Super Bowl ad. Had they listened to the sermon in its entirety, they’d have realized it wasn’t quite a fit.

Naturally, social consumers were happy to tell them how they felt about it. It’s bad enough to err on social – but even worse when you do it in front of one of the biggest television audiences of the year.

Great Western Railway

Social listening is there to alert you to problems – and consumer sentiment – but if you do nothing with that information, why bother? GWR is clearly struggling to meet customer care demands against the onslaught of issues relayed about their services daily. Even with influential riders they’ve missed the opportunity to go above and beyond – and they’re suffering for it.

For the cost of a knit hat, 4K engagements could have been swayed

Resolve to Be a Winner

Predictions about social marketing trends aside, social listening will always be a basic tenet of understanding your audience and their needs. Before you can take any action, you have to be armed with this info – or suffer the consequences.

For our part, we feel like winners anytime we’re called out positively by organizations like Forrester, or chosen over competitors by top brands. We’ll never take success for granted – and we’ll keep offering innovative solutions to brands who don’t either.