Rx for Social Intelligence Center

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The popularity of social media is no secret—four out of five U.S. consumers take part. For brands it’s become important to listen to the groundswell, engage with customers, and glean insight from online discussions. Some companies have even set up full-time teams to manage inbound social media, known as a social intelligence command center.

At Gatorade, for example, the Social Media Mission Control is a glass room filled with large computer monitors showing colorful graphs that depict the state of social conversations about the brand. This center succeeds not only because of its setting, but also because of Gatorade’s strategy in managing the vast number of incoming conversations around the brand and competing products.

Many companies have common goals for setting up a social intelligence command center, including staying on top of the brand and connecting with customers. Most centers address reactive needs, such as crisis management and customer support, as well as proactive goals, like engagement marketing through social channels.

The cost of social intelligence command centers can exceed $1 million a year, and marketers can spend a few hundred thousand on staffing and another few hundred thousand on technology, like listening platforms and analytics tools. So, do you need a command center?

A specific type of organization should establish a dedicated command center. Brands like Gatorade with a large consumer base can see thousands of discussions a year. A command center also is appropriate if a brand is particularly popular or plays in a frequently discussed industry, such as consumer electronics.

If you are considering implementing a social intelligence command center or are piloting a program, what practices can help ensure success? Based on interviews with command centers around the globe, coming from customer intelligence, marketing, and PR teams at Fortune 500, Forrester has identified four best practices to follow:

1. Staff the right people for the job. The best listening platform depends on the team’s ability to identify and act on insights. So when hiring for a command center, marketers must define roles and put people in charge of leadership, monitoring, and analysis. These three distinct sets of responsibilities require different skills to run the center. Also, while it will inevitably be important for employees to have social media expertise, the center has multiple business goals and, therefore, also will require employees to have a varied business understating of data analysis skills. It’s easier to teach social media to skilled business analysts than it is to teach business perspective to social media gurus.

2. Define a measurable purpose. Don’t build a social intelligence command center unless you’ve defined business objectives; otherwise you cannot justify the expense. The best business case for a center will come from tying the objectives to business goals and by connecting social media metrics to business data. For example, how much does your Twitter outreach influence the inbound customer support call volume? To do that, a center must establish a repeatable reporting process, collecting, analyzing, and sharing metrics throughout the organization.

3. Leverage a listening platform. While staff expertise and skill are vital for the social command center, help from a listening platform vendor is also essential. This would automate the task of tracking discussions across thousands of channels. Find tools that the staff can use to generate insights. So when searching for tools to drive the command center, marketers must assess the vendors’ ability to create custom measurement or research reports, evaluate workflow and task-tracking functionality, and investigate the vendors’ service offerings.

4. Establish a repeatable process. The value in social intelligence command centers comes not just from tracking and managing online conversations in real time, but also from identifying insight and creating opportunities to engage with consumers. Being ready to act requires a rigorous set of processes, which means establishing business rules for fast action, streamlining action with a defined permissions system, and determining what “insight” looks like for the social intelligence command center.

Successful social intelligence command centers don’t need to be in glass offices or consist of double-digit teams, but they do need dedicated time, measurable goals, technology assistance, and a plan. They may not be for everyone, but command centers can help popular brands address the rapidly growing groundswell.

Zach Hofer-Shall is a customer intelligence analyst at Forrester Research. He is an expert on social intelligence: the technologies, services, and strategy of using social media data to inform customer insight.

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