By adaptive - December 14th, 2011

Thanks to the rise of social networks, companies can now actually measure their reputation and the sentiments towards them without doing any hard empirical research. Which tools can do this? And ho...

Thanks to the rise of social networks, companies can now actually measure their reputation and the sentiments towards them without doing any hard empirical research. Which tools can do this? And how accurate are they?

New opportunities to keep a close eye on your reputation

The rise of social media means that companies have an invaluable mine of honest and revealing information about how the consumer really feels about brands. But that resource is as deep as it is wide, and to harvest all that data is a sisyphean task. Recognising this, a phalanx of social media monitoring agencies and tools have sprung up to address this need. But do they really deliver useful insights, or simply add to the flood of information without really answering your brand’s business needs?

On a very basic level, one only needs to input a brand name into a free aggregator such as Google Alerts to be suddenly deluged with emails picking up every brand mention across the Internet. Many thousands of hours are required to sift through the information before it can provide any useful answers. Tools claiming to automate the process of sifting through this information to deliver only those insights that are useful include the free-to-use such as socialmention or subscription model software such as Radian6, Alterian or Brandwatch. Their promises are seductive.

Socialmention claims it “allows you to easily track and measure what people are saying about you, your company, a new product, or any topic across the web's social media landscape in real-time”.

Alterian claims its social media monitoring technology provides “considerable insights and direction on metrics. After identifying the business objectives for social media engagement, it is very important to establish what to measure and report. The goals will provide direction of what reports to use, and how the information will be quantified, and the baselines to establish trends and comparisons to guide brand stewardship and development.”

Brandwatch states that “we offer an online tool that will measure how much buzz you and your competitors are generating and show you specific details of what people are saying. The tool also lets you identify, respond to and track important mentions.”

The difference between the free socialmention and the subscription services above is clear. Socialmention claims to do nothing more than aggregate social media information according to the specifics of your search criteria, no further analysis is offered. However the paid-for services claim their tools measure and identify important mentions and create comparisons.

How can new tools help - and hinder - your monitoring efforts?

Elizabeth Filippouli, CEO of GlobalThinkers, a media monitoring company, explains how these packages can contribute to the insight mix: “These provide excellent insights consisting of frank and spontaneous comments about products and services. These are genuinely shared between friends or like-minded individuals.”  However she adds: “This is an in addition to – not instead of – other data exercises such as desk research and focus groups.”

The thought that brands can use these techological aids to garner true insight in real time is certainly a boon, yet these methods do have their limitations. Crucially, Filippouli’s agency uses software to aggregate social media conversations but employs a number of full-time staff to cleanse and analyse the resulting data for clients.

Charlotte Murray is a client account manager at digital agency, Creative Jar. The agency has recently bought into the Brandwatch system as a way of monitoring their client’s digital strategy and adjusting it accordingly. She claims: “Tools such as Brandwatch give brands data – they are effective but dirty data dumps. They are an essential tool in listening to what people are saying within the social space but need a large amount of human interaction in order to quantify and understand the impact of what is being said. Emotion and feeling - to date – haven't been effectively translated using science and logic – sarcasm is lost on a tool such as this!”

In a recent interview analytics strategist Seth Grimes suggested that social media monitoring software was becoming more sophisticated in its ability to determine between happy/sad/frustrated rather than the more general positive/negative/neutral metrics that are more common. However, it could be suggested that by increasing the variables, giving a more diverse analysis of the information, you could once again be drowning in the over-specific data the monitoring software is trying to prevent.

Global Thinkers’ Filippouli claims that the core use for the insights from this monitoring is: “To tackle any issues with the company’s reputation in as near to real time as possible and identify initiatives that reinforce the brand’s identity and sector position.” Murray adds: “For those looking to use social as an avenue for customer engagement or support, then there are a number of opportunities to build social into advanced CRM systems that mean the brand responds effectively.”

However regardless of how many options the software gives to allow deep and wide ‘sentiment segmentation’, the fact is that to date the technology cannot always effectively deal with the nuances and peculiarities of language – youth slang such as “that music was sick!” – meaning great – would naturally be categorised as negative by the inclusion of ‘sick’ in the algorithm.

“The human overlay requires the brand to spend time within each of these comments, either agreeing with the sentiment it's been assigned or re–assigning based on human knowledge of the tone of voice being used. Arguably, the tools are imperative but, crucially, as part of a larger process and strategy to understand and be effective with the social networks,” Creative Jar’s Murray explains.

In fairness to the monitoring software providers, many will allocate a presumed sentiment derived from the presence of certain key words, but allow human operators to also analyse and if necessary, alter the result to more accurately reflect the consumer’s response. However what this means is that no tool such as this can be fully automated.

Murray advises: “There are pros and cons to all tools and one crucial downfall of them all is the level of human interaction remains incredibly high. So far, there doesn't seem to be a solution for this. While there are supporting tools for managing communities or measuring influence – which should all form part of the strategy should a brand decide to get involved – there doesn't seem to be a substitute for a human brand representative to sit behind all these tools.


To learn more about how you can use social media to help monitor - and preserve - your corporate reputation, check out the Reputation Preservation and Crisis Communications Summit, featuring Global VPs of Corporate Communications from companies like Best Buy, Dr Pepper Snapple Group and AIG. For more, head to the conference website.




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