How to join the social club
A tide of data is becoming available from social-media sources, but how can marketers establish what is useful to their brand, and integrate it with information from other sources, asks Melanie May.
Integrating data from social media sources
Social-media data provides a window into the mind of the consumer on an unparalleled scale. Not surprisingly, every brand wants to make the best use of this information, but integrating it with other commercial data presents a challenge.
Social-media channels may provide a virtual 24/7 focus group, but the quantities of real-time data they generate are greater, more unstructured and less controlled than most marketers are used to. This means that integrating it with data from other sources remains a task many are still not up to meeting; yet doing so can bring significant rewards.
When fused with other customer information, social-media data can be used to influence everything from brand activity and marketing strategy to product development. In addition, while it can help marketers understand customers at an individual level, in an anonymised form, the data can be used more easily to uncover trends and drive insight at segment level.
Despite these challenges, some brands are forging ahead. Lavazza regularly uses social media to create an online buzz around product launches, including that in September for its A Modo Mio espresso coffee-maker, and to interact with consumers. It is in the process of integrating its customer data, including that gathered from social media, into one e-based database, with the aim of using the information to improve its overall marketing strategy.
'It allows us to access more information both about our consumers' purchasing and usage habits, and to understand, and target accordingly, promotional offers and consumption recommendations to much greater effect,' says David Rogers, Lavazza's home sales and marketing director.
Social-media data is also integral to Avis' marketing. It started measuring social media in 2005 and claims it was the first vehicle-rental company in Europe to start a blog. Last month it became the first in its industry to launch a social-media-only campaign, its ArtCar competition, which challenges consumers to create a design that will be used on its rental cars.
'Our customers spend most of their time online, which requires us to adapt to their reality,' says Xavier Vallee, director of ecommerce, EMEA, at Avis. 'As a result, we are transforming our marketing. The data we get from social media helps us participate in conversations with our customers as well as with several objectives, in terms of brand positioning, product development, customer sales and insight, and it does influence revenue.'
By measuring conversations on social networks, Avis is able to identify questions customers are asking, as well as potential issues such as difficult-to-find outlet locations at airports, and useful information, such as the fact that some customers would pay a premium for a product like GPS, and to react accordingly. 'It's a feedback loop we didn't have before,' says Vallee.
However, the consensus is that social-media data is not yet truly revolutionising marketing. Several factors lie behind this slow progress. 'The volume and variety of data is something advertisers and network-owners have not yet managed to translate and fully exploit to prove the value of the channel,' says Colin Grieves, director of propositions and strategy at Experian Marketing Information Services. 'It will happen, but, as with anything this new and immense, it needs to mature and evolve.'
One challenge is deciphering who's who on which social-media platforms. 'Data can be accessed from so many channels that the diversity of sources can be an issue,' says Matt Rhodes, client services director at social-media agency Fresh Networks. 'People have different profiles and present themselves in different ways - LinkedIn for their professional persona and Facebook for more personal relationship-building, for example.'
Often the only way to do it, according to Bob Hale, senior vice-president, corporate development, at Alterian, is to ask consumers for that information; if you are offering them something of perceived value, the higher the chance of success.
'The consumer chooses how much transparency they allow, and it will be more when they feel there's a value to it,' he says.
Listen and learn
For the brand that wants to begin integrating its social-media data, the big question is where to start.
Listen, leverage and then engage, advises Richard Kellett, director of marketing at business analytics software and services specialist SAS UK. Something may have trended on Twitter, for example, as a passing fad, so brands need to learn what is useful and what isn't.
'Listen first of all to understand what is accurate and relevant, and how social networks work, then focus on what is being said, and then look at how to use that information,' he adds.
This is where social analytics can help marketers direct their offering.
'We must not lose sight of the consumer and how they consume the product or service we are providing,' says Rogers. 'Organisations need to integrate social-media analysis into their expertise to gain a well-rounded picture of the brand's or service's consumer profile.'
While it may be tempting to target consumers based on the wealth of, often quite intimate, data available on social networks, marketers also need to stay within the realms of acceptability. Among older consumers, at least, the concept of privacy is not dead, and there are still rules that must be adhered to across the board.
The collection of personal data from social networks must be carried out in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998, and the processing of such data may occur only with the informed consent of the individuals concerned.
Ultimately, good practice is key for marketers. 'Just because we can find data, doesn't always mean it's useful,' warns Rhodes. 'Be careful with the data you use so you don't alienate your customer base or look like a creepy stalker by contacting them at inappropriate times with inappropriate messages.'
Getting to grips with the opportunities presented by social-media data also demands a step-change for brands' structures. There is a requirement to move away from the silo approach, for the chief marketing officer to embrace the varied wealth of data and be open to what it means. They need to become the 'chief understanding officer', as Hale puts it. 'It's all about trying to go back to rebuilding an understanding, and a relationship with customers,' he adds.
All this requires the traditional culture of marketing departments to change. Vallee says: 'Marketing departments are used to doing planned measurement and activity, and now, with social media, everything is in real-time and customers are asking questions that aren't typical customer questions; so we have to move from a culture that is proactive to one that is responsive. Priorities need to change.'
With everything that social-media data has to offer, there is no doubt it will soon play a central role in the marketing mix. Getting the integration right will prove to be an essential skill.
TOP FIVE TIPS - HANDLING SOCIAL DATA
1. The amount of social-media data out there is growing so fast it is impossible to capture, store and analyse it all. Before you start collecting it, establish precisely what information will add value for your organisation and focus on that.
2. Start with social-media monitoring. Listen to conversations not solely for brand mentions but also to try to identify real insights and influencers or people whose social-profile data it is really worthwhile capturing.
3. Consider the legal issues of using data from social networks. The collection of personal data from social networks must abide by the Data Protection Act 1998, and the processing of this data may occur only with the informed consent of the individuals concerned. Identify not only who it is best to contact, but also why you want to contact them.
4. Make sure that your organisation has a strong set of rules internally on how to use social-media data and that there is an understanding throughout the company in terms of how social media works and can be measured.
5. Invest in social-data analytics to enable your organisation to gain real insight from social media and to assess how up-to-date and accurate the information is. Using analytics will also help your organisation keep sight of the consumer and how they consume the product or service it provides.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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