Lateral Thinking: Use Social Media Monitoring to Study Your Audience and Prospects

futurelab default header

Guest Post by: Monica Shaw

Last year we worked on an interesting project with Bushmills Whiskey who were producing a marketing campaign called “Bushmills Brothers”. Their goal: get more young guys choosing Bushmills as their drink of choice when out on the town with their mates.

Give up lager, cider, and gin & tonics for whiskey?

It was a tall order (a highball, you might say). But before Bushmills could even think about creating a campaign for this new market, they needed to understand how this market ticked…

  • What do guys think about when they’re out with the lads?
  • How do they decide what to do, where to go, what to drink?

These days, many brands research their customer base through brand monitoring, that is, listening to conversations online. But for Bushmills, brand monitoring would be of no use; brand conversation simply did not exist with this new market.

Still, plenty of online conversations DO exist amongst young guys who go out and drink.

So we worked with Bushmills to apply the concept of online listening and to a topic rather than the brand. The topic: “nights out”, and all related phrases that blokes use to talk about going out with their mates.

We studied this “nights out” conversation to provide Bushmills with an overall picture of what guys talk about online when they’re planning nights out (comedy was huge). The work helped Bushmills determine who to partner with to get their whiskey into the right hands.

Brand monitoring: a narrow vision?

Bushmills’ approach isn’t radically different from the type of research and planning marketers have been doing for years, only in the past, marketers had to run focus groups, take surveys or even physically eavesdrop on their market to understand what makes them tick.

Now that social media has gained wide acceptance (with some research suggesting that social networks are tapped out), we are left with an incredible resource for researching human behaviour. It’s a digital planners wet dream (maybe after too many whiskeys). Never before have we been able to observe vast swaths of open, honest, organic conversation.

This is, in a way, the beauty and the curse of the Internet for brands. We have free access to these conversations, and the tools to measure them are becoming more and more sophisticated. However, nobody owns these conversations, except perhaps the individuals themselves. Definitely not the brands. Even your brand evangelists are out there talking about other things they care about, be it music, sports or what’s for dinner.

So to us, the idea of “brand monitoring” seems a bit narrow. Yes, it’s great for keeping tabs on your customer base, responding to issues, tracking campaigns, but it doesn’t help you tapped the vast swaths of people out there who AREN’T your customers.

Why aren’t more people monitoring topics vs brands?

Last week I asked the following question on LinkedIn:

What business-changing insights have you discovered using social media monitoring that were not derived from looking at mentions of your brand?

The excellent folks gave me a few great examples, such as Dell and Pizza Hut, who have a track record of using social media monitoring to improve customer experience.

However, these case studies didn’t really get to the heart of my question. Both companies monitor discussions of their brands and use it to, for example, improve Pizza Hut’s delivery service.

But what about other conversations about pizza? Surely there are lots of people talking about pizza not necessarily related to Pizza Hut. Favourite pizza toppings, pet peeves with take-aways, what they drink with pizza… all of these conversations could potentially help Pizza Hut provide a better service and reach a whole new base of customers they don’t currently cater to.

So why aren’t more brands doing this? Why don’t we see more case studies about brands who have changed their marketing for the better as a result of monitoring general trends?

The challenge

I can identify a few key challenges to topic-based monitoring that may explain its lack of use:

  • Topic monitoring requires a level of pre-planning that takes time.

    Figuring out which topics to monitor is hard.

  • Figuring out which keywords to monitor along that topic is even harder.
  • Measuring ROI of topic-based monitoring is not straightforward.
  • You can automate monitoring, but you can’t automate the research and analysis required to understand the topic.

Despite these challenges, we feel that topic-based monitoring is not only doable, but essential, for all people in business, from sole proprietors to big brands, who are researching new markets.

Brands don’t drive people’s decisions. People’s passions do. Topic-based monitoring is a way to better find people who are passionate about things related to your brand, and connect with those people around their interests.

Twitter – the world’s simplest topic-monitoring platform?

A really simple example of topic-based monitoring that some people are using is Twitter Search through TweetDeck or HootSuite.

For example, Gunnar Engblom, a birder who runs expeditions in Peru and South America, uses Tweetdeck to monitor mentions of “birding” and “birdwatching” so he can find and share interesting posts with his followers (of which he has 5,000+, not bad for a birder).

Gunnar’s actually up to something really interesting here. By monitoring these topics, he’s getting a good feel for what people care about, whose tweets get re-tweeted, who people interact with. Through observation, he’s doing what some people spend to money and time to do with algorithms and computers: he’s eye-balling the network of influencers and themes around birdwatching.

Of course, Twitter represents just a fraction of conversations happening on the web. But a similar principal applies to broader, web-wide monitoring.

So, can we automate it?

Yes, we can automate the process of monitoring topics – just like we automate the process of monitoring brands.

However, you can’t automate the process of figuring out which topics to monitor in the first place, which brings me back to my first two challenges of topic-based monitoring:

  • Topic monitoring requires a level of pre-planning that takes time.

    Figuring out which topics to monitor is hard.

  • If you want to monitor topics, you have to do a certain level of due diligence to figure out what these topics are. Easier said than done.

Think about it – if Pizza Hut wanted to monitor conversations about take-aways, they’d need to figure out all of the words people use when talking about take-aways. “Carry out”, “take out”, “ordering in”, the list goes on. And how do you know people are talking about “take out” food rather than “take out the rubbish”?

It’s not easy, but it’s time well spent.

It can take weeks to really study the conversation, understand the keywords and test them. But those weeks pay off – with the keywords in hand, you can monitor your topic for as long as you want, and learn more about your audience’s thoughts, actions and pain points than you could ever get from a focus group.

Are you monitoring topics? Why or why not?

I’m still stumped as to why there are so few case studies out there about people doing this and seeing tangible benefits as a result. So please, prove me wrong – your story could turn into a case study for our blog and upcoming ebook. Or tell me why you aren’t monitoring topics. What’s the challenge?

Original Post: