Whether marketers like it or not, consumers are now generating over 25% of content that appears in web searches for specific brand names, and consumers often trust those social media messages more than advertising or news articles about the brand. Research has shown that this “electronic word-of-mouth” is seen as reliable by consumers and significantly affects a firm’s perceived value.
But with such a panoply of channels out there, how can social media marketers keep track of what people are saying? And what strategies can be implemented to engage those consumers to influence the conversation? That’s where a careful social media audit can help. It’s a systematic examination of social data to help marketers discover, categorize, and evaluate all the social talk about a brand. This approach captures what consumers are saying about a brand, what competitors are doing on social media, and what the brand itself is doing.
I developed a social media audit template for the book Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution from the principle of the Five Ws that is taught to journalists: who, where, what, when, and why:
- Who categorizes data according to who is talking, whether that is the company, consumers, or a competitor.
- Where lists content by social media channel and environment. Channels include outlets like YouTube, Facebook, or Pinterest, while environment refers to the look and feel.
- What lists the type of content, such as article, photo, or video, plus the sentiment of the post as positive, negative, or neutral.
- When quantifies the frequency of activity, like number of posts, comments, views, or shares, per day, week, or month.
- Why determines the purpose of the message from awareness and promotion to complaint or praise. If applicable, key performance indicators (KPIs) are included.
Finally, each observation is scored as either a problem or an opportunity to help determine appropriate marketing action in the social strategy.
Conducting a social media audit following this template helps compel companies to figure out each channel’s purpose and key performance indicators. For example, “why does the organization have a Pinterest page and how is success being measured?” Simply because the competitor has a page is not a sound strategic reason.
It also helps marketers to see their brands from the consumer’s perspective and ideally helps marketers shift their mindsets from control to engagement. For instance, when Greece’s chocolate brand Lacta wanted to improve their marketing on Facebook, they did not simply post their existing advertising campaign slogan and messages. Their marketing agency OgilvyOne first audited the discussion on the channel by listening to what was being said in and around the brand. What they found was surprising. People were comparing their loved ones to the sweetness of Lacta chocolate writing, “you may not be Lacta, but you are the sweetest part of my life.” In response, they created aLacta Facebook app that embraced this activity by allowing people to customize a Lacta chocolate wrapper with their loved one’s name and send it to their Facebook wall.
In the first week, fans sent 300,000 virtual Lacta branded chocolates and within a month the brand had over 150,000 fans. An unexpected result of the campaign was thousands of people changing their Facebook profile picture to their personalized chocolate wrappers. They extended a static advertising slogan of “the sweetest part of your life” to a customer-engaging brand activity by listening and thinking from the consumer perspective. Lacta enabled consumers to express and share their love and that helped them became the most popular Greek brand on Facebook.
Business-to-business marketers can also benefit from this social media audit tool. When HP needed to change their perception of only being for larger corporations, their laptop and desktop business unit turned to social media. Instead of simply advertising small and medium-size services, they took the time to audit their digital presence from the target audiences’ perspective. They found small and medium business influencers were interacting with each other on LinkedIn, and not using their HP website that was filled with useful business guides and advice.
HP developed a new Business Answers LinkedIn group and recruited a focused target audience of users by title, company, and association affiliations. The group included ongoing discussions, links to HP content, polls, podcasts, and industry experts answering questions and soon grew to more than 5,000 members. A survey of the LinkedIn group members found they were twice as likely to rate HP as excellent in listening to its customers and were 20% more likely to recommend HP products to their colleagues. Today, HP runs the LinkedIn group Small Biz Nation that has over 20,000 members and more than 30,000 discussions.
Here’s an example of a social media audit template that’s already been filled out:
In this simplified example, this company currently has a Twitter and Flickr account. They are sharing text with links on Twitter and photos with links on Flickr to drive traffic to their website. Ultimately they want more website traffic, especially unique visits to increase conversions. They currently have little engagement with these brand posts. Consumers are tweeting to the company by asking questions and seeking help, but the brand has not been responsive. Consumers are not discussing the brand on Flickr, however they discovered active photo sharing around the brand on Instagram. The company’s main competitor is on Twitter, but is sharing a lot of photos and videos with their links, using hashtags and tweeting twice as much per day. The competitor is also on Instagram where they are sharing photos, text, and hashtags that are driving a lot of consumer engagement.
In this example, Flickr is identified as a problem because it is not driving traffic to the website and this company may consider shutting the account down. Based on positive consumer brand activity on Instagram and the competitor’s success, the company should consider opening an Instagram account. Their Twitter presence could be improved by delivering more visual content, and by becoming a channel where they actually respond to user complaints. The company may also consider increasing the frequency of their posts based on their consumer’s activity and the success of their competitor.
Once negative customer issues have been resolved, and the brand is creating more valuable content on more appropriate channels for the target market, they should look for opportunities to increase and encourage further brand discussion. The brand could think of hashtags, apps, or contests to motivate additional brand sharing with user-generated content and recommendations from insights gathered in the social media audit.
Social media marketing is not about completely giving up all control of the brand, but changing methods to maintain influence in the new consumer-controlled social media reality. The social media audit tool helps marketers make sense of the many opportunities these platforms offer by allowing marketers to see their brands from the perspective of the consumer.
Keith A. Quesenberry is Assistant Professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, PA. An expert in social media and digital marketing, he is author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing and Advertising in the Consumer Revolution.
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