Making the Most of Social Media Data

As marketing and operations teams divvy up their dollars for 2014, they should remember the wealth of information they have right at their fingertips—social media reviews from customers.

Social feedback is a great resource for businesses, because it puts guests at the forefront of decision-making, illuminating trends in consumer experience and helping pinpoint specific investments that are most important for improving relationships and boosting the bottom line. From determining where to spend money next year to measuring the return on last year's business investments, social media data is a one-stop source for business intelligence—and can help leadership teams zero in on the most strategic resource allocations to make the most of every penny. Below are three key areas where this insight can be particularly valuable, and some tips for making the most of this data during budget season.

Use social insights to evaluate marketing spend

Brand awareness can be tricky to quantify, but tapping into social media insights can help you know if your biggest advertising spends are creating major market buzz. Ryan Eckel, vice president of brand marketing for Dick's Sporting Goods, uses social media to measure the impact of the sports retailer's TV ad campaigns. "When we see key messages from our TV spots trending on social sites, blogs, and forums, I know we've hit on something that really resonates,"Eckel says. His company uses a robust social intelligence software platform that captures volume and customer sentiment about its commercials, such as their wildly popular "Untouchable" spots. From a budgeting perspective, he says, any marketing messages that do not inspire consumers to say something online are usually a reason to rethink your strategy.

Digital advertising presents its own challenges. The ability to check click-through rates and impressions is a good start, but many companies struggle with the same questions about quantifying overall awareness and identifying the channels with the highest impact. There are so many options (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, to name a few), how can you know which is really driving guests to your door? The national fast casual chain Corner Bakery Cafe analyzes where the heaviest volume of reviews is coming from and which sites' users engage back with their restaurants the most. Engagement on social is a proxy to customer loyalty, a fact further emphasized by a Gallup Research study that found that fully engaged customers deliver a 23 percent premium over average customers as far as long-term profitability goes. With the right tracking tools, companies can also capture the sites generating the heaviest traffic for their competitors—information that can be used to decide where to place ads or advertise specials to lure those customers away. Tangible measurements like these can be used to justify any social marketing spend.

Use social intelligence to prioritize renovations and upgrades

If you're budgeting for property renovations or store improvements, social media can be an invaluable tool for shaping your investment strategy. Hersha Hospitality Management operates 130 hotels nationally, with properties ranging from select service hotels to high-end boutiques. With maintenance requests coming in from properties all the time, their portfolio diversity demands a strategic approach to choosing facility investments, so their executives leveraged guest feedback from social media reviews to identify and prioritize upgrades. For example, would guest loyalty improve the most with softer sheets or a faster cable connection? The quickest way to determine this would be to review the social intelligence to identify which named items were most frequently associated with positive or negative guest sentiment. In other words, if a reviewer states he would not be back and mentions the slow Internet, "WiFi" is tagged as a detractor of loyalty and therefore needs to be addressed before other upgrades. The right insights can make it just that easy.

Use social media monitoring to focus resources where they're needed

For most organizations, the largest expenditure is payroll. Having enough bandwidth to accomplish goals is crucial, but with social media programs commanding more and more attention, should you bring on another full-time employee to manage this process, or is there a way to streamline your online guest engagement for maximum results? This was the question Jennifer Motruk Loy, vice president of marketing for Farmers Restaurant Group, had to answer earlier this year.

"Scanning through all the mentions of our restaurants on social media was a wholly inefficient process," Motruk Loy said. "We'd recently budgeted for a new full-time communications specialist to manage guest reviews, monitor all social media properties, and update the online presence for our brands. But we still struggled to keep pace with the sheer volume of our online and social media feedback, which could take up to a week to collect, review, analyze, and assemble for easy consumption by managers and executives."

By automating part of this process through a social media monitoring platform that delivered easily digestible social data each morning, Motruk Loy and her group were able to refocus staff resources on identifying ways to improve the guest experience instead of spending so much time in the data collection and analysis phase. Now their management teams can immediately address any operational items requiring attention, while the marketing team can focus on corresponding with guests and following through on recovery. By doing so, they're keeping their staff focused and resources streamlined, while also making improvements to the guest experience to keep customers coming back.

The budgeting process is complex enough; why not let your customers do some of the heavy lifting? By tapping into the direct, unbiased feedback they're sharing on social media platforms, you can access the kind of market intelligence that usually takes months to gather and costs thousands of dollars—all while getting specific insights into the investments that will deliver the best results for both your business and your guests.

Kristin Muhlner is CEO of newBrandAnalytics, a social media intelligence provider for hospitality, retail, and health care organizations.

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