Social Monitoring: Finding Out Who’s Naughty or Nice

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santa_small‘Tis the season when the naughty become separated from the nice on Santa’s twice-checked list (it’s a classic case of audience segmentation to achieve relevant targeting). While he is busy monitoring children’s behaviors and finalizing the list, local-business owners can learn a lesson or two by copying Santa’s playbook this holiday season.

Relative to your brand, you should monitor consumers’ behaviors. Specifically, I’m talking about identifying the naughty (brand antagonists) and the nice (brand advocates) through social monitoring.

We are all aware that Black Friday sales and the ensuing four-week shopping span often comprise the biggest revenue-producing period for local businesses. For some, this may be a time of make-or-break sales. While sales surge during the holidays, are you aware of the impact that ratings/reviews will have on your business?

If you answered no, then you likely don’t have a social-monitoring program in place. A must-have for every business year round, social monitoring as a necessity is heightened during the shopping craze between November and December when spending swells. Monitoring your brand in the social space will help you experience the powerful influence of word-of-mouth advertising on your sales.

With consumers now possessing the power once held by major businesses, they freely tell their peers about their search-to-purchase experiences. The content (e.g., ratings and reviews) they produce can spread virally, affecting your brand’s reputation and influencing other shoppers’ purchase decisions.

Without a proper gauge of what is being said about you, you’ll be left in the dark this holiday season, giving new meaning to Black Friday.

Web-Influenced Sales on the Rise

Due to local-search enhancements, local businesses can now cost-effectively develop a brand presence to compete with the major players in the online-search landscape. That’s important because Forrester Research states that by 2014, 53%of retail sales will be influenced by the Internet, due to consumers utilizing the Web for research before purchasing.

When I learned that e-commerce could account for only 7% of U.S. retail sales in 2009, my reaction was that a majority of consumers still prefer offline purchasing to complement their online research, with ratings/reviews continuing to emerge as reliable sources.

In fact, the Local Search Usage Study from 15miles and comScore states that 59% of online searchers place importance on ratings/reviews when selecting local businesses. That percentage is due, in part, to more social and mobile users seeking ratings/reviews during the purchase process (78 and 71 percent, respectively).

As social and mobile continue to converge on the search landscape, more consumers will flock there for their local-business searches. In turn, in-store sales will continue to be affected by motivators such as ratings/reviews. And that can be both good and bad for local businesses.

Thankfully, you have the power of social monitoring on your side. Whether you employ an agency or a reputation-management platform online, social monitoring can help you leverage user-generated content — both naughty and nice — to learn how your brand is perceived among consumers across the Web, from Yelp reviews and Amazon ratings to Facebook Places and Google Hotpot.

Social Monitoring: The Naughty

Even the best companies can’t guarantee that customers will express 100-percent satisfaction. In other words, negative feedback will happen. But don’t fear, as unsatisfactory sentiments can actually work in your favor by improving credibility. Without the negative, consumers may question the legitimacy of the reviews — a case of “too good to be true.”

You can’t fault consumers for honestly portraying their opinions in a way that educates peers. But it’s the malicious content that could pose real danger for your brand. Backed by the viral power of social media, such content can appear anywhere, and there is no limit to what can be spread about you. Some social-media users will stop at nothing to kill your brand’s reputation.

I’m talking specifically about unauthorized accounts, profiles and websites that have been created with the evil intent of discrediting brands. I’m sure you’ve seen “fake” social pages that resemble official brand pages, all the while misleading readers through unauthorized use of trademarks, messaging, etc. Or perhaps you’ve stumbled across blogs — created by disgruntled employees or customers — dedicated to destroying brand reputation.

Recently, I came across an unauthorized Twitter account that defamed a client’s brand. Thanks to social monitoring, I was able to help the client work with Twitter to address any issues. According to Twitter, “Using a company or business name, logo or other trademark-protected materials in a manner that may mislead or confuse others with regard to its brand or business affiliation may be considered a trademark-policy violation.”

On the other hand, using another’s trademark for purposes that have nothing to do with the products/services for which the trademark is granted isn’t a violation of Twitter’s policy. Therefore, so-called “fan accounts” can exist, enabling users to share content associated with brands, celebrities and athletes. If a fan account, for example, doesn’t have trademark rights, it must clearly state that it doesn’t actually represent the respective company or business entity.

As you monitor negative sentiments on the Internet, you’ll be able to build a “naughty” list of things that can be improved, as well as address product/service concerns and development.

Social Monitoring: The Nice

When positive feedback appears, share the news with your internal teams. Praise and recognition can go a long way toward boosting morale. But there is still plenty that you can learn from positive remarks:

  • Level of customer satisfaction with your brand
  • Local storefronts that have high/low levels of satisfaction
  • Where brand advocates are gathering or where they could be cultivated
  • The social platforms that will maximize engagement opportunities and feedback
  • How positive recommendations are affecting purchase decisions
  • What competitors are doing in the space, as well as what is being said about them

For additional assistance understanding ratings and reviews, download Yelp.com: Sorting Through the Madness and Google Introduces Place Search: What Does It Mean for Your Business?

The Times Are A-Changin’

Unity Marketing recently reported that Generation Y may kill the holiday card, due to an affinity for sharing content via digital media. You can bet that greeting-card manufacturers are bracing for potential changes in their industry. So what’s preventing you from doing the same?

The power of the social web (e.g., ratings and reviews) continues to affect local sales, especially as the increase in online research leads to more exchanging of brand opinions. Brand reputation, even at the corporate level, will have a trickle-down effect for your local storefronts. But if you’re not monitoring these mentions where consumers are gathering (i.e., the emerging social space), you’ll be clueless about the impact on your bottom line.

During the holidays when bottom lines are significantly impacted, social monitoring is a must-have. Now more than ever, gain immediate insights into the minds of consumers, as well as the overall sentiment and buzz surrounding your brand. What you uncover will play an integral role in your short-term goals (for the holidays).

And because the insights gained can be applied long term (into 2011 when the holiday hype has passed), consider social monitoring the gift that keeps on giving.

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