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Best Practices for Social Media Research

Posted by Megan McManaman on Sat, Jun 20, 2009

Look just about anywhere these days and you’ll see articles about how to use social media, how to apply it to business to business settings, how Twitter is incredible, how Twitter is wildly overblown, how social media is the number one CMO mission for 2010, how social media won Obama the election, and how retailers are using online channels to drive back to school business. 

According to a recent study by Anderson Analytics, 110 million Americans, or 60% of the online population, use social networks. And that is only counting people who have used a social network at least once in the past month.

Clearly the opportunity is too big to ignore, but with all of this noise how do you make sense of your company’s place in this new world order?  And more importantly, how do you know what to do?

Like any other medium, social media is not for everyone and every brand.    Getting involved in this new medium, however, is far more complex.  Companies must learn from the ground up how to leverage this new playing field of “uncontrolled” communications, interacting with customers and the influencers of those customers in their own domain and on their own terms.  

While the “social networking” sites like Twitter, Facebook, Friendster and more are getting the buzz, they are just one piece of the puzzle.

To move forward you need to fully understand the rules of engagement for your specific target audience and where and why they are engaged – which is likely far beyond just the publicized sites like Facebook, Friendster, Twitter etc.

Based on our experience working with brands trying to optimize the social media space, we have put together three best practices you should incorporate into any social media measurement program. 

1. Don’t Focus Solely On The “Buzz” Sites

The world of social media—especially who influences it and who it influences—is complex to decipher.  And while the “social networking” sites like Twitter, Facebook, Friendster and more are getting the buzz, they are just one piece of the puzzle. There are also a host of other social media that while not household names, might well have greater impact in particular categories.  Therefore, you need to understand all of the channels that your target customers are using.

Even more importantly, because this new medium was developed for non-commercial purposes it is essential to understand the rules of the game as companies try to decide what is worth listening to, if they should get involved, and if so, what is the right way to do it without undermining their own cause.

2. Look Beyond the Numbers

When you begin to measure social media and what it means to your company it is easy to rely heavily on technology that lets you “count” what is going on.  We know that this is one key element of understanding the opportunity but have found that you can glean much more useful information by combining that information with other exploratory and quantitative data.

We have found it most effective to take a multi-phase approach – using both qualitative “listening” and quantitative “monitoring” elements – to help you understand and act on the world of social media. 

  • Relevance to your brand:  How much do YOUR target consumers use social networking to make decisions in your category (regardless of how much people use it in general)?  It’s key to understand the importance of this channel within your category and not make decisions based solely upon mass use of a channel.
  • Influence on decisions:  Popularity is not the same thing as importance.  It’s important to understand how much impact social networking has on the brand perceptions and purchase decisions of people you want to reach relative to other places they gather information.
  • Most compelling messaging:  People are acclimated to exposure to marketing that comes along with other media they consume (like TV spots during their TV programs, pop-ups on Web-sites, or advertisements in their magazines.)  However—consumers often feel differently about their social networking sites citing the “we were here first!” mantra.  Positioning strategies that work most effectively in other environments may be less effective, or even backfire, in an environment that consumers have built themselves.

3. Gather What You Really Need

With so much information available it is very easy to get wrapped up in the interesting tidbits of what people are saying about your brands and products.  While that is certainly beneficial, it needs to be part of a systematic program that will result in you knowing:

  • Who to target: which audiences and vehicles will be most receptive to your social media messages
  •  What (and what not) to say: the messages, topics, and styles that your audiences are interested in hearing; and those that might backfire
  •  How to allocate resources: which audiences to target through social media versus traditional media and marketing efforts
  •  What impact to expect: Levels and types of responses to expect from social media messaging among different audiences

In the end, our goal is to have you on your way to developing a roadmap for brand, product, and customer service strategies using social networking.

More Reading:

New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets

Twitter Dominates CMO Social Network Plans:http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/brandnewday/archives/2009/07/twitter_dominat.html

Business Week’s Social Networking Archive: 

Topics: methodology, marketing strategy, social media