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Strategically Aligning Your Business for a Digital Age - Part 2: Aligning Objectives - Social Media Monitoring, Listening and Reputation Management

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March 01, 2010
Digital Strategy
David Atkins - david@digitaldnainfusion.com

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A question often posed from clients and audiences alike is: what tool or toolset should I use to measure and/or monitor social media? There is no singular answer. Several companies might be worthy of your attention. The space is evolving so quickly that a process and key business drivers for your consideration are more valuable than any ranking or feature set comparison of the offerings. Provided here are 12 key questions to help you align your organization and its’ stakeholders for social media monitoring before you implement a process, select or endorse any vendor tools for implementation.

These toolsets are broadly described as enabling a business, brand or team to monitor any mention of the business interests within third-party social media (not your Facebook pages or Twitter streams). Most of the tools in the space are SaaS in orientation, and don’t need deep technological implementation. Instead, the services are usually turnkey and cloud-based. They provide your organization with a high degree of flexibility without incurring high maintenance or capital costs. Your team will need training to use the tools, and many vendors not only provide some form of training but also offer outsourced monitoring resources.

Once you get beyond the hype of social media, and you have a strategic business plan that includes an overarching digital strategy that encompasses social media, then you will need techniques, benchmarking and a business review process to monitor progress against goals just like any other initiative. Regardless of which department might own your social media strategy, there are implications in how it is monitored, measured and listened to that impact every line of business and functional team within your enterprise.

The answers to what social media can do for your business and how it impacts your bottom line and brand image vary tremendously and depend on your business objectives. One thing to make note of is that the social media space will not reside in any one discipline or functional area. So, to maximize your results you must have an aligned set of business objectives as discussed in the last article.

The terms social media and social media expert get thrown around a lot, but at the end of the day the concept for social media is not that hard to define or explain. Think of it as the old game of telephone on steroids. In some way some entity or person is discussing, in a multidimensional fashion, something of interest to others and they join and contribute; this has existed off the Internet for eons. Social media monitoring is simply the ability to monitor, qualify and quantify what is being said about your business that is relevant based on your own objectives, and should enable you to react to the positive and negative messages that consumers put out in the marketplace about your company, its brands, products  and services as well as your competitive set.

The space has two broad categories of offerings, listening platforms and brand monitoring.The fundamental difference is that listening platforms should be able to deliver insight to shape your actions, while brand monitoring is more data gathering and passive. Sometimes you will also hear the term brand sentiment.

Companies that are just dipping their toes into the social media space should examine the variety of content and tools consumers use to create value as it relates to travel. In particular, I recommend deeply understanding how review sites work, what value they deliver in the marketplace and why they are important to consumers.  Most travel companies directly sell their goods and services and gravitate to review sites such as TripAdvisor and TravelPost, with good reason. These sites influence consumers across a broad spectrum. Even one or two negative comments on a review site can heavily impact your sales. Too often, the review site is where travel companies stop, but you should conduct a more thorough investigation of the social media ecosystem including opportunities such as, photo-sharing sites (Flicker), video sites (YouTube), and the general blogosphere (Blogspot), as these will also heavily impact your ability to compete.

Have a clear understanding from the outset if your business is best served by some coordinated monitoring at all levels (which is highly recommend) or whether you want to allow a de-centralized “wild west” scenario where every individual operating unit has its own solution. A middle ground that I see many companies taking is a recommended vendor approach which, although valuable, has some drawbacks at the corporate, ownership and brand levels when it becomes time to aggregate brand level data into trend insights and action steps.

Once you determine that you want to listen, monitor, act, react or participate in social media, it is time to determine a monitoring solution. However, there are no standards yet for these offerings and some of the free offerings may be as powerful as you need. Also, some of the fee-based versions may not meet your needs, even if they have fantastic offerings and other great brands as customers.

Some of the early social media monitoring services were born out of public relations and advertising agencies. Just like agency pitches, the vendors use buzz words and demos that make the products look amazing. Dig deeply to discover if the services offered are real technology that will streamline your processes. These folks tend to be heavily in the brand sentiment and monitoring area as opposed to active listening.

Another challenge is that no two vendor services are alike and putting them into a clear matrix of offerings is challenging. That is why you need to know what you want to do and how you want to do it before you go shopping for a solution provider.

Many of the social media tool companies are nascent or start-ups and lack solid processes for account management, business development and/or sales, let alone have solid financial backing for the long term. This will become evident when you try to have a discussion around the offering(s) they may have. As with selecting any partner, if they are not solid in key areas to your needs, that is a clear and present warning sign. (Several companies ignored basic requests for clarity on their offerings as I did my due diligence.)

The best of the group I reviewed include hotel-specific offerings and several general toolsets. A deeper review is available upon e-mail request that includes snapshot-in-time ranking as well as feature set comparisons. A few that are worth your attention include; Revinate, Circos-Brand Karma, Milestone Internet Marketing-eBuzz Connect, Networked Insights, Radian 6, Meteor Solutions and Visible Technologies.

Given the nature of this space this is not a complete set but should be a starting point to help you refine what you might want. I also liked Scout Labs, eVolve24 and Biz360 for certain portions and category Google Alerts might cover your needs, if basic. There are some leaders in the space absent because they failed some portion of my process, usually failure of their sales teams to respond or critical features for hotels missing.

None of these options offer all the key product features that I believe over time will be important to hotel and travel-related companies, and I believe all will continue to evolve and grow and that industry consolidation is inevitable. As part of your review, request a product roadmap with timelines from your potential partner, and if an item is of importance to your business is in the product roadmap but yet to be deployed, you can consider this as part of your decision process.

Costs seem to be all over the place for the paid tools and open to negotiation for most portions of the relationship. Some also charge setup fees per unit (although in some cases the setup for a travel company should be a one-time enterprise-level fee, not something that every unit needs to pay), so be sure to investigate the full operational cost to your business.

Given the pace of change in this space it is recommended that you do a comprehensive analysis of the offerings available and do not engage in long-term or high-switching cost relationships as the players will continue to evolve. However, you cannot sit on the sidelines without some solution for your business and leadership teams to use.

Another short-term recommendation is to consider partnering with multiple companies–not as pilot tests, but rather so you get best-in-class features across a wide spectrum of offerings.

Anyone desiring more information on this subject or who wants to suggest what they would like to see discussed in the next article, please e-mail the author at david@digitaldnainfusion.com.

David Atkins is the principal of Digital DNA Infusion and chairman of HSMAI Americas 2010-2012. Visit www.digitaldnainfusion.com. Follow David on Twitter:@Atkinsdavid or e-mail him at david@digitaldnainfusion.com.

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12 Questions That You and Your Stakeholders Need to Understand
to Select a Toolset
Question 1: Who in your business will manage and use the tool? Sales, marketing, operations, HR, revenue management, brand, e-commerce, franchisee relations.

Question 2: Are you going to run the toolset inhouse or via an outsourced partner?

Question 3: What level of business access is necessary? Corporate, regional, property, franchisee, management company.

Question 4: What areas of social media are important? Reviews, pictures, videos, blogosphere, social networks, apps, podcasts.

Question 5: What actions do you want to take as result? Customer service, operational triggers (bad reviews/comments), improved SEO/SEM, branding (affinity, marketing), customer research, competitive intelligence, HR (hiring, employee communications).

Question 6: How important is monitoring your competitive set? At what level?

Question 7: Which is more important to your business: statistics and data or recommended actions you can take? How well will the datasets generated be imported to your other systems (CRM, etc.)?

Question 8: How important is financial stability of the partner (many are startups)?

Question 9: What about ease of use and training support? (especially important if you plan to open this up to your individual units or regional teams).

Question 10: What ongoing training and support will be required for my teams?

Question 11: What does the partners account management and ongoing analytics offer?

Question 12: How important are deep analytics and tying those to other sources of your internal data?

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