How to Use Social Media to Monitor Your Industry & Make Rapid, Strategic Decisions About Your Business

In the marketing industry, there is a special name for Facebook stalking. It’s “social media monitoring” and it isn’t a waste of time. With consumer data available at your fingertips, there is no reason why your business should spend thousands of dollars for market research.

Social media monitoring (SMM) is a valuable resource that requires only a small investment of time. It can aid in decision making for all members of your team, helps generate new leads and informs marketing decisions. SMM also supplements good customer service practices and aids in research and development. Plus, it keeps management up to date on both competitor movements and the industry in general. SMM provides you with the up-to-date information you need and proper SMM practices will have significant effects on your bottom line.

How do you begin? With the superfluidity of information, it’s crucial to start with a plan, a systematic way of collecting only the most pertinent information. Then, build a reporting process that alerts only those who have the authority and ability to act on the information.

This article explains how to build a SMM system in four simple steps. These steps will equip you with the tools you need to track your industry and uncover objectives, as well as provide you with strategies to better your business. The key is to treat social media less like a megaphone and more like a conference call. Listen intently, take notes and wait until you have something valuable to add before opening your mouth.

Step 1: What to monitor?

Before you begin gathering information, it is important to determine what you are looking for. Here are some of the items you can focus on regarding your SSM. (Remember, only allow yourself to watch the things you can act on and the channels that are useful. Otherwise you risk drowning yourself in information and paralyzing your ability to act.)

  • Your Own Company's Name: Of course, you want to know who is interacting with your posts, who is talking about your products and in what situations people are sharing this information with their networks. This can help inform your marketing strategy by providing an understanding of your target market. It can also help uncover new product uses, underserved markets or unidentified consumer groups that are using your products. These are the people you should invest in building a relationship with. Also, viewing the online interactions people have with your brand can bring to light some of your brand cheerleaders. These are people who you want to reach out to and reward. Pay attention to influencers in the industry. They may have only mentioned your product once or twice, but are important, as their notable following can help grow your market share in the future.
  • Your Competitors’ Names: Create a specialized group on Twitter or within your TweetDeck dashboard that highlights only the updates of your competitors. Grow alongside them. In other words, don't make their mistakes. Learn from their social movements and how they interact with their customers to determine how customers like and do not like to interact. Then, engage with their clientele if it seems like an appropriate way to start a helpful conversation. It can be beneficial to follow competitor posts for product launches that might be on their horizon, as well as posts that indicate the direction they are taking their business. Being aware of these items will allow you to identify gaps and seize opportunities.
    • Helpful Tip: Another way of tracking your competitors is using your social media monitoring devices as if you were your competitor. Change all the informational inputs to their name, brand slogan and hashtags so that you have the same information as they do at your fingertips.
  • Important Industry Phrases, Frequent Complaints or Frustrations in Your Market Group: This information can help many members of your team because it provides an understanding of present and future customer expectations. It provides your team with insight about what customers feel is lacking in current product and service offerings and uncovers problems they would like solutions for. This also poses an opportunity to generate new leads. You can grow your consumer base by reaching out and building relationships with customers that are either seeking a new product or feel frustrated with their current choices.
  • Visible Members of Your Industry: This could be members of your team, competitor companies or employees, influencers, watchdogs, reporters or celebrities who are vocal about your industry. Visible members include everyone that could spark a conversation or movement that influences your target market and the direction of consumer demand.
  • Language and Style of Communication: Determine how your customers like to be talked to, an appropriate tone and style, and the amount of engagement. Understanding where your customers spend time in the digital world and how they talk to one another is an undervalued advantage you can have over your competition. No one wants to be talked to as though they are a foreigner, so learn how to speak the language of your customers. Find what brings them delight or causes discomfort and aim to become a member of their peer group to earn the respect and loyalty of their business.
  • Hashtags: An excellent way to increase your reach is by participating in discussions that your target marketing is following and contributing to. Use SMM to uncover the right hashtags to use when broadcasting content you produce. It will amplify your presence enormously. However, you must make sure the hashtags are 100 per cent related to your content.

If you are short on time and only want a look at the general landscape of your industry, you can use Google Alerts. It tracks major events, news stories and web updates on things that might change the outlook for the future. Google Alerts does not cover social media. However, it will send you an alert when something you have entered as important is talked about either on the web or in the news.

Step 2: How and where to monitor?

Many resources are available online that promise to bring you the most up-to-date information about what is going on in your social sphere. Here are some of the best tools:

HootSuite: HootSuite offers a free, basic social media monitoring tool, as well as an upgraded pro version. Both allow users to track mentions of their company, see general sentiment and find opportunities to engage with users on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wordpress, Foursquare and Google+. You can also use some of HootSuite’s analytics tools to uncover popular keywords and geographical hot spots, as well as identify influencers in your industry.

Social Mention: This is a platform that allows you to search for particular phrases or terms that are applicable to your brand. The tool will show you any instances where these terms have been mentioned. The tool also reports on general sentiment, similar keywords people search for, top users and popular hashtags. It is helpful if you have not been keeping up to date on your monitoring and want to see agglomerated data over a long time period.

Topsy: Topsy is a handy, easy-to-use tool that allows you to search and filter tweets. It can be filtered according to a specific time frame or a particular medium. You can enter a hashtag, phrase, tagline, company name or individual name to gather information on how they are talked about on Twitter. With the helpful “Social Analytics” tab, you can compare the engagement between three different phrases over the past month. Additionally, the “Social Trends” tab allows you to view items that are popular in the social sphere.

Tweetdeck: Tweetdeck is really the only tool you need for monitoring the Twitterscape. You can set up twelve individual columns that track specific phrases, hashtags, companies, trends or unique lists of individuals in your industry. It helps to organiz all incoming information in an easy-to-use interface that is sorted according to your needs. For example, in your dashboard you can have competitors in one column, influencers in another, follow mentions of your company in the third and perhaps all uses of a particular hashtag in another.

Google Alerts: As previously mentioned, Google Alerts allows you to create a personalized account that crawls the web and sends you “alerts” of mentions of a phrase you have asked it to track. You can change the account settings to receive alerts as they happen, daily or weekly. It filters results so you only receive the best, most relevant sources. Using the quotation ("-") feature, you can filter out negative keywords to ensure the information you receive applies to your work.

Step 3: What are you looking for?

What you’re looking for depends completely on what your objectives are. It depends on the amount of flexibility you have in your decision making, where you can make alterations to your plans and who will be using the information. Here is an outline of some popular uses of SMM that can be helpful prompts to think about when beginning the process:

Target Market Information: What are people saying about your brand? Is it generally negative or positive? Is there something that comes up a lot that is making people unsatisfied? If so, how could you change that? Is there something that makes people happy? How can you draw attention to that? What opportunities exist to improve your relationships with clientele?

Frequently Asked Questions: Is there something in your industry or about your product that is frequently being asked about that you could create a piece of content around? Creating good content not only helps your search engine optimization rankings, it can also attract new customers if it is valuable enough to be shared. Remember, marketing is largely about solving problems. If your content helps customers solve problems, it’s effective marketing.

Language: Are there a lot of discussions happening about your product or industry in certain languages? Does this signify an opportunity for growth in a new geographical region?

Product Uses: How are people using your product? Are there people that find value in your product that you never expected? Or, are people using your product in situations you never imagined it being useful? Is this a possibility for re-positioning or adjusting your marketing mix? Who are your competitors marketing to? How are they communicating the value of their product or service to their audience? Are there members of your industry who are offering suggestions for how your product could be improved? Is this the future of your industry?

Uncover Advocates: Advocates are people that are talking about your brand or industry in either blogs, microblogs or on social media. Could their voice be something you might want to amplify? How could you form a stronger relationship with them to ensure your brand continues to receive this valuable (free) publicity?

Uncover Influencers: Influencers are people that are leaders in your industry, have the respect of their peers and are followed by a large number of your target market. It is important to find out if they know your product exists and, if so, what they are saying about it in comparison to your competitor’s offerings. With influencers, it is crucial to find opportunities to jump into the conversation or engage with their content. This draws attention to your brand and begins to form a valuable relationship.

Press Opportunities: One opportunity your company may have is creating a list on Twitter (either directly or through Tweetdeck) of journalists, industry watchdogs, members of the press or influencers that might be soliciting advice, answers to questions or photos. This gives you the opportunity to receive free PR and link building. These are usually time-sensitive opportunities, so it is important to monitor these lists closely and reply swiftly with valuable contributions.

Step 4: Get involved and refine the process.

Listen, learn and engage in the conversations that are shaping customer perceptions and setting expectations. Be vocal where you see the opportunity to do so well and share highly valuable content, but mostly sit back and listen. Social media has levelled the playing field, broken down barriers to entry and created a forum for small businesses to interact with their clientele. Don’t let this opportunity to grow pass you by. Constantly staying up to date on information in your industry, competitor moves and customer sentiment pays off.

 

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