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PR agencies, full service media agencies, social media pure plays, search agencies and client-side teams are all staking claim to social media monitoring, but who should really be responsible for it?
The question is simpler than the answer...
What is social media monitoring & why is it important?
A faulty product, a controversial policy, a rude response from a member of staff can all these can be discussed online. Your brand is open to the elements, be it via Twitter, blogs, hate groups, Facebook, or through search engine results pages. This is also true of good things too: competitions, promotions, positive financial results, and more.
Social media amplifies all these conversations, positive and negative, giving them visibility and allowing people to contribute to them.
These conversations become forces for change in their own right. They might be positive or negative, serious or jocular, defensible or catastrophic. Social media management and optimisation allows you to be present in each relevant conversation, contributing where necessary, being generous where required, and being apologetic if it’s the right thing to do.
Quite simply, social media monitoring is the utilisation of spidering and indexing technologies to identify what’s being said and by whom about you, your brand or your products or services online in near real time.
Who should be responsible for it?
Who you place your social media monitoring with largely depends on your objectives, which are inevitably aligned to the size and importance of your brand to your business. The ultimate question is whether the business you operate or represent is what could be labelled a ‘brand driven business’, an ‘acquisition driven business’ or a ‘growth business brand’.
A good way to determine this is to look at your paid search budget allocation and identify what proportion is spent on brand terms versus your other terms. I’d suggest the following categories based on that percentage:
CATEGORY 1: Brand-driven businesses
Where 80%+ of your paid search spend is allocated to your brand terms. These businesses are those where their brand is their most significant asset by a considerable margin. The price and range of their goods, and services are less important than the earned reputation and mind share they have built up. Classic examples would be the likes of Coca-Cola, Rolex, and McDonalds.
CATEGORY 2: Direct acquisition driven business
The polar opposite of a brand-driven business, where only 10% or less of your paid search spend is allocated to your brand terms. These are brands where what they sell or offer is far more popular than their brand, i.e. they operate within highly competitive and un-monopolised sectors. Good examples would be the likes of clothing retailers selling unbranded clothing, and travel sites that do little or no offline advertising or brands in the early stages of their development.
CATEGORY 3: Growth business brands
The third category is composed of firms where their branded PPC spend percentage falls somewhere between the aforementioned extremes. These are businesses that typically have recognisable brands but exist in highly competitive sectors, and so need to promote their products in response to consumer needs and not just maintain brand mind share. Their brand strength typically improves their sales performance as well as attracting pure brand traffic too.
The category your business falls within largely dictates the role your brand occupies within your business and dictates how it is used, defended, and projected. By extension it determines whether your social media monitoring requirements should be Brand- & PR-led, i.e. the responsibility of your full service agency or PR agency/department or Search Led, i.e. the responsibility of a search agency or your internal search experts. This also determines whose budget the activity should come from or be shared between.
Brand- & PR-led
A brand driven business counts its brand as the core reason why people buy from them. Millions have been spent on its creation and propagation. Brand value in those cases is inextricably linked to all marketing and production activities a firm might engage in.
In such instances, social media monitoring should arguably sit in-house and close to PR and customer support or within the full service agency that manage its above the line activities (assuming sufficient competency of course). Placing it in a specialist agency, a more traditional PR agency, or even a search-based agency, may not be the best option.
If your firm occupies the second category, a direct acquisition driven business, then the decision over who should look after social media monitoring is very different. In this instance part of the brands value to you is directly related to how it improves the click through and conversion rates of your online activities, or how it reduces those variables, principally in SEO, PPC, display, and affiliate marketing.
Those activities would drive a significant proportion of your sales, with their performance directly linked to your total performance as a business. If turning off your non-brand PPC activity would result in significantly decreased revenue, then you’re likely to be in this category. Your social media reputation and therefore its monitoring is intrinsically linked to your acquisition-driven digital activities in two key ways.
- Firstly, your click through rates and conversion rates are affected by what people are saying and reading about you online. Your customer acquisition performance is therefore reliant on things like search and social media optimisation operating rapidly in response to what’s happening in each of those channels.
- Secondly, search agencies can alter their messaging or even the keywords they target based on insight from monitoring the social web. For example, through monitoring conversations it might be determined that potential consumers of a particular product also like a particular TV programme or celebrity, which then opens up huge opportunities to target those themes and concepts, often at a fraction of the cost of the more generic, traditional search terms.
Brand or Search-led based on offline vs. online dominance
If you occupy the third category of ‘growth business brands’, essentially falling somewhere in between the extremes, then the decision as to who should administer your social media monitoring is largely based on how important the online world is to you.
If it’s pivotal then you should consider placing it with a search agency or in-house. If offline is far more important than online to your business, then you should consider placing it with your full service above the line agency, as they have greater insight into the totality of your brand health and can impact on it more rapidly – they will take a macro view which works well for these kinds of firms.
What about social media specialists?
You’ll notice that in none of these scenarios have I suggested that your social media monitoring should sit with a specialist social media agency, and for various reasons. Firstly, this is because they have no real capabilities that search agencies or fuller service agencies have in this area, assuming that they’ve all employed good quality people.
They have no technological advantage either as everyone uses one of four major data suppliers, regardless of what they might claim with their white labelled variations. Social media monitoring is in many respects a commodity and not a significant IP-based discipline. The response to what it uncovers is also based around common sense in most cases.
Secondly, social media specialists can be too removed from the commercial requirements of a brand on a day to day basis to be as productive as your search agency or search people who are brand guardians for you already in two of your most important channels. They know what is important and should be utilised for that knowledge as opposed to having the burden of another contact point.
Finally, a search agency or in-house operation can act and react with what they have discovered rapidly, in ways that deliver real value, given that they control the SEO and PPC channels already.
There may be an argument to place the building of social media campaigns with a social media specialist, but there is no discernible value in placing your social media monitoring with one – it simply adds more bureaucracy than necessary, slows down any responses required, and has no real access to the key response channels – PR, SEO, PPC, blogs – all of which search marketing agencies have direct access into.
The benefits of integrating social media monitoring with search
Monitoring could identify particular support and championing amongst particular demographic groups, geographies, or particular sites and people. Armed with this information, areas of strength can be cultivated and defended. It is far harder to gain new champions than it is to maintain or empower existing ones.
A good example is the identification of key influencers.From a search perspective influencers and champions are great targets for activities and promotions that could result in organic links back to your site and therefore can increase your organic rankings directly.
These insights would be those that identify weaknesses in your brand proposition, products, people or services. For instance, by monitoring the web and the conversations taking place around your brand you may discover that the endorsement of a particular celebrity had failed to position your brand as you had intended. You may also discover issues related to how you service customers versus your competitors, or bad experiences people have had that may or may not be accurate representations of how you do business.
These insights would be those that identify opportunities to engage in conversation with your customers or prospective customers in Facebook, via Twitter, and other networks, whilst also using these insights to inform the premise of your link building campaigns, and identify new keywords and copy ideas for both your paid search and natural search campaigns.
A negative, defamatory or simply detracting conversation in the social space can make its way very quickly into your search engine results brand space too, and can directly impact on your ability to win the click and get the conversion. Through social media and SERP monitoring you can identify this and produce a social and search response to deal with the issues discovered in very intelligent ways.
By way of example, BP began buying paid search ads in Google and Yahoo following the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. Regardless of whether this was a PR masterstroke or not, paid search was the fastest and most assured channel at BPs disposal, and is a great example of search responding to the social needs of a brand rapidly and measurably.
The bottom line
Social media monitoring is a simple yet important part of digital marketing. It turns e-commerce from being a one-way conversation where businesses communicate with their customers and potential customers, into a two-way conversation where the collective sentiment of a consumer base, as well as the prevailing zeitgeist, can be understoon, tapped into and responded to.
Done properly it leads to greater sales, greater customer loyalty, and proactive and reactive defence of your brand. Where you place it however will be the largest determinant of what you get from it.