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Social media listening tools do a lot more than just measure how many people are talking about your brand on the social web. When used properly they give you insights you can apply to overall brand strategy and customer care.

Here are eight best practices to ensure you’re getting the most from your tools:

1. Look beyond superficial metrics to what really drives your audience

Before you can craft any kind of campaign or messaging, you must understand the people who comprise your audience. It’s not enough to know they love your brand – you’ve got to know why. To keep them engaged with messaging that speaks directly to them, you’ve also got to understand what drives them overall.

Consumers don’t want their social feeds to be clogged with ads – or anything that comes across as one. They’re there to interact with like-minded individuals who share their passions and dreams – so your brand has to understand both. Here’s why:

The recent NetBase Brand Passion Report: Top 11 Global Brand Love List analyzed 32.7 million posts by 61,000 Etsy lovers to better understand this audience. The demographics tell us they’re 80% female, 65% of whom are associated with creative arts, and live primarily in California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York. This is great information, but it doesn’t give you much to work with to target your messaging more individually.

The psychographic data gleaned from behavioral keywords and sentiment analysis provides much greater dimension:

etsy

Brands in the home, garden, fashion and family categories should target Etsy’s audience if they aren’t already, and consider Etsy sellers potential competitors.

As they’re influenced most by Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, and Taylor Swift, grabbing any of these personalities to endorse a campaign aimed at this audience is smart.

These insights are what give you an “in” with consumers – a way to approach them from a human perspective, not a marketing one. Look past brand mentions to learn what makes your audience tick.

But don’t stop there.

2. Make it a point to see how consumers view your competitors as well

Wherever you sit in your industry, the only thing you can count on is change. If you’re on top, don’t become complacent. If you’re not there yet, you can get there with the right strategies – like using social analytics tools to monitor competitors.

Their audience is also your audience after all, so knowing what consumers love about them gives you an opening to do the same – only better. And anywhere they’re dropping the ball? That’s where you can swoop in and provide a solution.

Toyota is one brand that has an opportunity to make these kind of gains. Though Toyota’s sales grew 5.3% over 2015, and their customers do love them, they weren’t the most-loved automotive brand on our Global Love List – they were #46. Chevy, meanwhile, came in at #23, and Honda at #28. What makes the distinction?

With Honda, consumers talk about design and value for money more than they do any other automotive brand – something Toyota could examine and encourage in its own followers. But Chevy’s features are what consumers really love. Their sales grew faster than any other car brand in 2015, and they are still the fastest growing full-line brand in the industry.

cars

What’s most important to remember is that love doesn’t automatically equal sales. Not every social user professing their love for luxury automobiles, for instance, will ever have the money to buy one. So you’ve got to monitor the conversation for relevancy as well.

You also have to watch competitors to stay informed of industry trends and disruptors. There’s no need to be caught off guard when almost everything you need to know is right there on social media.

3. Gather consumer feedback on new products

One huge advantage to all this readily-available social data is information you’d never get in a survey or focus group. Not that both of those options aren’t valuable, they are – but the information on social is unfiltered and immediate.

You don’t have to ask for consumer feedback – it’s just there, ready for you to apply to creating new products. Whether the intel comes from owned or earned channels, or even review sites, you know you’re delivering what consumers want.

We saw this with Facebook Live. The most-loved global brand knocked it out of the park, spiking sentiment by 62% when they launched their streaming video feature – double the sentiment of other launches. Clearly they answered a passionate consumer demand.

facebooklive

4. Find the best channels for engaging the most passionate voices

Speaking of Facebook, the platform you use to engage consumers matters – so be open to trying new things. It’s not about finding the channel with the highest volume of conversations – you want the highest quality of conversation, and a purchase-ready audience.

Case in point, Louis Vuitton has 1 million mentions per year on Twitter – and yet the place where ready-to-buy Louis Vuitton fans are talking most passionately is on the Purseblog forum. Their 36,000 mentions of Louis Vuitton in 2015 had a high concentration of talk about brand purchases and ownership. So that’s a smarter place for them to engage than Twitter – even though the number of mentions is higher there.

louisvuitton

With social media listening it’s almost never about sheer quantity. You’re looking to uncover intent – on any channels where conversation is happening. Build audience profiles for channels where conversation is most passionate, and partner with influencers to amplify your efforts.

To that end, you’re looking for people with more than 500 followers who talk positively about your brand. Make their job easy by providing interesting content to share, and connect with them on their interests beyond your brand.

Wingstop does this well – with an enormous 2 billion earned impressions, and a Net Sentiment score of 86%. Their influencers are some of the biggest names around: Meek Mill, Yung Renzel (a.k.a. Rick Ross), the Chicago Bulls and Ultimate Fighting Championship.  It doesn’t hurt that Ross is a franchise owner, of course.

5. Monitor and react in real-time

No matter how well-planned the campaign, things can go awry. When they do, you want the option to set things right in the moment – instead of continuing to pump advertising dollars at an idea that isn’t working.

It’s worth investing in a social monitoring tool that gathers data in real-time – that way everyone from marketing, to data analysts, to the C-suite can make informed decisions as events are unfolding.

When McDonalds launched their all-day breakfast they knew right away that consumers loved it – to the tune of a 23 percent boost to Net Sentiment during the two weeks surrounding the launch. If things hadn’t been so positive, they could have made a change to salvage their campaign. In this case they enjoyed their best quarter in almost four years.

Monitoring in real-time is important whether the results are negative or positive. When things are going well you still want to know why. You want to track whoever is leading the conversation, optimize future campaigns, and identify influencers to keep your brand moving forward – particularly if your campaign goes viral.

Nike’s Snow Day ad did – garnering more than 16 million views on Twitter during its first week.

nike hyperwarm

Though 21 pro athletes appeared in the ad promoting Nike’s Hyperwarm line, some got more social attention than others – namely football players Rob Gronkowski and Marcus Mariota, soccer player Carli Lloyd, and basketball player Paul George.  Three guesses who Nike invites back for their next ad.

6. Managing customer care on social channels

Social media isn’t just about staying connected to consumers via messaging and campaigns. It’s about embracing a new channel for customer service.  Here are three ways to put social customer service to work for your brand:

  • Respond quickly to social customer complaints – according to Buffer, “86% of social media customers would like or love to hear from a company regarding a complaint”
  • Open the lines of communication across teams so Customer Care has what they need to resolve consumer issues in real-time
  • Break the silos to ensure all customer-facing staff have access to the data they need to make smart decisions and provide an excellent customer experience – this includes surveys, social care, and phone centers

Amazon is a brand that might consider deconstructing more silos. Though they have strong positive sentiment around online ordering and delivery (69% and 68% respectively), product reviews are an area to watch. Last year 17,000 people discussed and questioned the validity of Amazon reviews. Compared to the volume of conversation about Amazon overall, this is a small number, but that doesn’t mean it can’t negatively impact the brand. Community trust is crucial to Amazon’s success.

amazon

7. Manage potential crises before they ignite in full

Negative brand commentary can be damaging – which is why no heavily negative comment should be ignored or left to fester. Your social media analytics tool should alert you to any commentary gaining momentum so you can act if needed.

And remember – it’s not just consumer comments you have to worry about. Consumers view employees as an extension of your brand, so you’ve got to keep an eye on them too – in real-time. Nowadays news breaks on social media first, being reported and amplified via news outlets once it’s gone socially viral.

Drive-thru restaurant chain Checkers learned this the hard way when they learned too late of a video of an employee wiping a burger bun on a dirty floor and then serving it to a customer. The video gained 500,000 views on YouTube, nearly 5 million views on Facebook, and was covered on Fox news. Though the brand apologized and fired those involved, the drop in Net Sentiment – from 58% to -85% during the worst two days of the crisis – was damaging indeed.

checkers

Social listening software is only one piece of the crisis management puzzle. Be sure to have a team assembled to manage any emerging crisis and keep it at bay. This includes PR, legal, and operations leaders empowered to make decisions and diffuse heated situations.

And don’t forget about your influencers. A bonus to building solid relationships with influencers is they’ll often jump in and defend your brand before you have to. Stance has noted this with their Punks and Poets – who aren’t afraid to insert themselves into customer service issues before the sock brand has a chance to.

8. Identify and act on trends as they emerge

Spotting crises isn’t the only advantage social media intelligence offers. Being first in line when new trends emerge is also major – because if you don’t answer the call, your competitors will. This is another reason real-time insights matter. If it takes a month or two to sift through the data coming through you’ll miss the opportunity to act first on an emerging consumer trend. And that’s serious ground to give up.

Chipotle boosted their Passion Intensity (how much consumers love them) from 53% to 80% by acting on the fast casual delivery trend they spotted on social media – with a twist. Instead of investing in their own delivery service, they tested the idea by partnering with local delivery company Postmates – to rave reviews on social.

chipotledelivery

But it wasn’t just the notion of delivery that Chipotle responded to – it was knowing social customers of brands similar to theirs were interested in delivery. That made it worth the attempt.

And that’s the point of social intelligence, really – to make brand decisions educated ones. By following these eight best practices, you can use your social analytics software to make smarter decisions for your brand – no matter what the social web throws at you.

For more, download the NetBase Social Media Best Practices Guide 2016: Love List Brands and the NetBase Social Media Best Practices Guide 2016: Restaurant Brands.

E-Book: The Importance of Social Analytics for Consumer Insights

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