How can brands cost effectively monitor the social media space?

Keeping track of the millions of conversations about your company and/or brand that are taking place every minute online is a bit like dodging bullets. And the PR industry is right in the firing line. One single blog can be viewed by millions of people in an instant. As the number of single voices reTweet or share the link to that blog, perhaps adding their own perspective to the discussion, the negative news not only spreads, it converges into a bigger and more credible voice.

There is no sell-by date in social media, and opinion continues to travel, reaching more individuals as well as other media keenly tracking the prevailing mood of the nation, and indeed world, online. For positive stories this is good news, anything less can be a nightmare.

By now, there are probably few PR professionals who are not “listening” in some way to social media conversations. Most are aware that failure to monitor conversations in social media, makes the response embarrassingly slow and can have serious implications on the brand and company’s reputation.

Large and small brands are susceptible. It seems that no one is immune. There’s even a few pips in Apple’s core. A few months’ ago the Financial Times highlighted a conversation that circulated online between Mr Jobs and a marketing student requesting information about Apple’s business. Excerpts from the conversation that had already spread on social media were not entirely positive about Apple’s CEO. What may have seemed like an open and honest conversation between one of the world’s most valuable brands became a problem for the PR department to deal with. Social media can be a risky business.

For the PR professional there is an arsenal of options for listening and quantifying social media conversations. But listening is only the first step to engaging with them. More insight is needed around the motivation behind statements in social media. Looking at patterns of convergence and why good or bad opinions exist in this way, instead of trying to analyse every single individual voice in isolation, is a much more practical and useful way to define the PR response strategy.

Monitoring the tide of consumer sentiment in itself is not a new phenomenon. Consumers have long talked about companies and even formed lobbying groups or clubs as their call to arms. Listening was as important then as it is today. It’s easier with social media of course.

Another upside of social media is the way it makes it so easy for companies to communicate directly, and potentially on a huge scale, with customers. The customer talks back too, so the brand has an opportunity to engage. But most importantly, the customer talks to other customers which can have as much of a positive effect as it can a negative.

Monitoring and measuring online discussion about brands, companies and relevant issues is a must for all consumer-facing brands, regardless of whether they intend to actively engage. Mastering the challenge will contribute to competitive advantage, enabling communications campaigns to be adjusted in response to consumer opinion, issues to be dealt with before they become crises and making it easier to spot emerging trends that could drive a new communications strategy or even change of product. It will also make it easier to manage a brand’s online reputation instead of staying in the firing line.

Philip Lynch, evaluation director at Kantar Media Intelligence.

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