Social media is the world’s biggest, fastest and most honest focus group. Customers, prospects and naysayers alike are sharing their opinions and experiences surrounding your brand — and the reviews are impactful. According to Nielsen, 83 percent of people trust or somewhat trust recommendations from family and friends, and 66 percent trust opinions posted online, even those by total strangers.
Ignoring these conversations is like getting a focus group together and not showing up to collect the data. Social media can be a gold mine of information that can serve as a guide for bigger marketing decisions — if you collect and use data correctly.
Here are three ways retailers can leverage social data to guide marketing decisions:
1. Understand Your Audience Through Quantitative and Qualitative Data
Increases in page likes and new followers are examples of vanity metrics — i.e., numbers that look great on paper but don’t contribute to the bottom line. Tapping relevant data requires digging beyond the surface layers of retweets and likes. What is being said about your brand? How does it compare to your competitors? And, more importantly, who is saying it?
Dollar Shave Club, the popular male-focused razor delivery service, saw 26 percent of social conversation stemming from a female audience in 2016. Stats like that should spark a conversation about target audiences, and using social media can give you a picture in real time of those audiences you're reaching, as well as what's important to them. These audiences write their own personas (literally), as often their Twitter bios contain their defining characteristics in 140 characters or less.
2. Identify How Customers Feel About Your Brand
People are talking about your brand on social media, but is it what you want them to say? Understanding the language, sentiment and key topics they discuss can uncover news ways to talk to your customers both online and offline. One way to measure this over time is to map against your key performance indicators. If your pillar KPIs revolve around customer satisfaction with price, trendiness/appeal and fit/comfort, understand how customers talk about this in social forums and map it over time so you can understand which marketing efforts are most effective at moving these levers. These insights are not only valuable to marketing, but product development as well.
3. Don’t Trust Algorithms to Do All the Work
What was once a loveable 80’s children's toy has become a source of social media mayhem. Trolls, as they’re known today, deliberately post provocative messages to stoke arguments in the realm of social media and forums. Trolls are invisible to softwares and algorithms designed to pull data based on a keyword. Take the controversial #BoycottStarWarsVII hashtag that caused outrage in the Twittersphere in late 2015. Long story short, a small group of trolls sent the hashtag into circulation, and it wasn't reflective of mass opinion. Algorithms also can’t detect conversational nuances like sarcasm, irony, exaggeration or parse relevant conversation from that which is entirely irrelevant to the topic. Computers have brought us a long way, but they can’t replace a discerning human mind.
Social media is no longer just a way to connect with customers; it's now a way to collect data about your customers. Get to know your audience and what they care about, and don’t trust a machine to do it for you.
Jen Handley is the co-president and co-founder of Fizziology, a social media research firm.