Whether companies like it or not, they're a part of the social media mayhem. As long as your customers and competitors are on there, you're there. The decision companies have to make, of course, is whether or not they want to join the conversation. Web analytics provider Webtrends recently unveiled its Social Measurement tool, powered by Radian6, a provider of social media monitoring solutions. The service aims to provide companies with a 360-degree view of what's being said both on and off their proprietary Web sites -- whether that means Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, forums, or anywhere else. Real-time alerts and workflow management capabilities give companies the opportunity to respond in a timely and orderly manner.
Over the last 18 months, Webtrends' vice president of marketing Jascha Kaykas-Wolff has noticed a dramatic shift in marketing: "We've moved from the one-to-one of the corner store model in the early 1900s, through mass media, segmentation marketing, database marketing, to the point where we have the scale and cost efficiencies of one-to-one marketing...but on a much larger scale."
Radian6 is part of Webtrends' Open Exchange program, a service that "removes the handcuffs from data...[to] provide customers with the flexibility and control of their data," according to Webtrends' press release. Customers are able to merge their own Web data (e.g., site analytics, pay-per-click, direct marketing results) and data outside their domain.
According to Webtrends, the fit was based on three criteria:
- Radian6's Best-in-Class technology;
- congruent technology architecture that facilitated a smooth integration; and
- cultural and philosophical compatibility.
For Radian6, the partnership was a natural evolution. According to David Alston, the company's vice president of marketing, since its inception in 2006, Radian6 has been focused on making sure brands understood the conversation outside their Web sites. "We hadn't focused on Web site analytics at all," Alston says.
What the new release provides is essentially a single platform companies can use to listen to -- and filter through -- the online noise. As much as you try to keep up with RSS feeds and Google Alerts, the volume can be overwhelming. "There's some assurance there, as a brand manager, that you're able to hear when individuals are talking about you so you can take the appropriate response," says John Lovett, a senior research analyst at Forrester Research. "This is an anxiety-reducing tool."
The technology to monitor social media isn't necessarily new. In late January, marketing solutions provider Lyris made enhancements to its Lyris HQ integrated marketing suite to integrate their email marketing campaigns with social networks, and use Web analytics to track social activity. Web analytics vendor Omniture partnered with on-demand social media platform provider Lithium Technologies on its Omniture Genesis program last September to enable "community-related persona and activity measurement," according to an Omniture press release.
What Lovett does find particularly noteworthy in the partnership between Webtrends and Radian6 is "a combination of good time and effective PR." Consumers and businesses are recognizing the power of social media-lately, it's been Twitter-all of which has received significant mainstream attention, he says. "We're only going to see social media increase in the near-long term," Lovett says. "[Social Measurement] is a progressive way of thinking about how to stay engaged with that conversation that consumers are having about the brands."
Anxiety, however, can come as a result of what could potentially become a tidal wave of information coming from every tweet, chat, or poke. Fortunately, users are able to prioritize conversations by looking at trends, such as the most talked about topics. Moreover, you have the ability to moderate the conversations depending on what you think is more important (e.g., a blog mention is more important than the average tweet).
Drilling down deeper, users can get down to the individual person that's having a conversation about the brand, posed a question, or written a blogpost. The ability to proactively reach out to your customers is key. "Whether it's a single customer having a concern, venting about something, asking a question, or saying he really loved this brand -- that customer's still a customer," Alston says. "Reaching out and helping them is always a good thing from a CRM perspective."
Sure social media is new and companies don't necessarily have to get intimately involved, but playing the waiting game could leave you stuck on the sidelines for good. In a couple years, consumers are going to expect that companies join the conversation and the ramifications of a no-show could be dire. "Your social ‘phone' will be ringing off the hook," Alston analogizes, "and your customers [will be asking] why you aren't answering."
What Kaykas-Wolff finds most exciting is the Social Measurement's ability to facilitate actual engagement. In other words, once a user receives an alert that someone has written a blog about the company, she can log into the tool and respond directly. (Lovett explains how it's similar to solutions like TweetDeck where you can aggregate all that you're interested in listening to on Twitter but also respond directly without logging back onto Twitter. But unlike TweetDeck, Webtrends is collecting information from multiple sources.) "This is really about empowering cash-strapped organizations to engage in social media as opposed to just listening to it," Kaykas-Wolff says.
Identifying consumers at the personal level still requires that they self-identify. However, the anonymity factor doesn't prevent brands from what are still critical insights into the social space, says Casey Carey, vice president of product at Webtrends. With Social Measurement, brands are able to not only track the conversations on and off their domain, but open up social media as a new source category that brings traffic to your site. Along the way, Carey says, there will be integration points that tie information to specific individuals, though it will be admittedly more complicated.
Just by engaging in conversations, companies are able to play what Carey calls "an influence game." Like other forms of marketing, you have to identify the target, ideally, one that will spread your message or their good experiences. With Social Measurement, it's about finding that target in the social graph.
Still, Kaykas-Wolff imagines that the challenges going forward will be less about technology and more about people. In other words, what will be the appropriate measure for engagement in the social media space. Facebook, for instance, has suffered its share of backlashes, most recently with its new site redesign (launched on March 11), built with "the intention of making it easier to share and understand what's going on with the people you care about," writes Christopher Cox, director of product at Facebook, on the company blog. Based on feedback from thousands of users, Cox's blog post highlighted various changes the company would be making to the social network, most notably were the changes that enhanced user control.
"The technology will continue to evolve," Cox says. "They will focus on making it easier and more efficient for us to engage as businesses, but...at the macro-level, we have to be explicit about how we want our information to be shared or not shared."
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