White Paper

Social Listening: Turning Conversation into Actionable Insights

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Consumers, before making buying decisions today, are interested in knowing what are existing consumers saying about the brand and the products. This interaction between existing consumers and potential buyers has added a new dimension to how marketers interact with their target audience. Social listening, because of its immediacy and the fact that it taps a global audience, is a powerful research tool capable of generating actionable insights in time to seize opportunities. While both the technology and the idea for social listening have been around for a while, most brands are still trying to figure out what consumers are saying about them in real time. This whitepaper tells us how social listening allows a company to manage customers proactively, in real time, changing the game by anticipating issues and desires and provide fast resolutions.


What happens when consumers stop listening to you and start talking to each other?

What they say and how they say it influence your brand and may affect your bottom line.

So the next question is: How do you solve this? The answer lies in your organization's approach to social media. An impressive 75% of U.S. households use social media channels ranging from YouTube and Facebook to Twitter, Pinterest and other social platforms that allow them to share, in real time, exactly what they think of your organization and your products. This revolution in customer interaction is redefining how people get their information about products and how they judge brands. Insights gained using multiple social media channels will help define the brands strategy. The organization's ability to engage and influence consumers in social media will define the success or failure of consumer-driven industries.

Social Listening has reached a tipping point

While both the technology and the idea for social listening have been around for a while, most brands are still trying to figure out what consumers are saying about them in real time. Two-thirds of online Americans use social media and nearly half of them post updates to social media sites. These people seek the advice of their peers on everything from travel arrangements to groceries, which means a negative perception can kill a brand in its infancy. Conversely, a positive social "buzz" may help sales skyrocket.

Social listening, because of its immediacy and the fact that it taps a global audience, is a powerful research tool capable of generating actionable insights in time to seize opportunities. Traditional marketing tools such as surveys, focus groups and stratified random sampling are slow, reach only small segments of the audience and may focus on things of importance to the company but not to consumers. In direct contrast, the spontaneous flood of opinions on social sites, when coupled with more structured traditional approaches, provides decision-makers with valuable insights into the current trends, wants and desires of the online group.

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Companies that "listen" to the constant chatter on social media sites attain priceless insight into what consumers really like or dislike about a particular product—theirs and their competitors'. This early insight gives them time to adjust development and marketing strategies before feeling the impact in declining sales.

Recent negative buzz about the pricing of a new, first-onthe- market drug generated just such a scenario when a rival company recognized the social media stir and swooped in with its own version while the original manufacturer was still adjusting to the loss in sales. Because of the vision gained through monitoring social media channels, they attained the lion's share of the unhappy customers as well as the revenue.

Forrester Research estimates that companies will spend $1.6 billion on social brand tracking by 2014, enabling new means of quickly ascertaining the tone of what is being said about you, how much interest is being generated about your company and products and what image that conversation is building in the minds of potential customers.

The question remains, however: Do those companies know how customer engagement will be monitored and for what purpose?

How vital is an open channel to these consumers? A Bain & Company report on social media found that customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20-40% more with those companies than do other customers. They also award them higher customer loyalty scores, demonstrating a deeper emotional commitment to them.

Capitalizing on the conversation with Social Listening

Counting "likes" on Facebook or followers on Twitter does not indicate what those people will buy or when. The rapidly evolving science of social listening entails more than monitoring social media channels to hear what customers are saying about you. It requires interpretation to understand what they are doing about their perceptions and an active social media strategy that engages consumers at the same time it provides for intervention when conversations take a negative tone.

Companies today have a superb opportunity to listen to and interact with these consumers, using what Empower Research calls the new marketing trifecta: mobile devices, email and social media. In addition to the near-universal use of email, 92% of U.S. households have a mobile device and 75% of internet-connected households use social media. This enormous audience is not just receptive to communication, but actively seeking it. To encourage and deepen such goodwill, some major companies are actively using and refining social listening to open a window into three critical areas:

Consumer insight helps companies assess purchase intent, profile customer segments based on behavior, interests and attitude and determine where to focus their efforts and spend by identifying which communities their customers associate with.

Brand insight uses KPI tracking to understand how awareness, perception, sentiments and consideration of the brand are evolving. Event analysis helps the company understand the impact of a particular event on various stakeholders, while negativity tracking helps to spot and manage emerging crises with regard to a particular product or brand. Social media also allows for rapid hypothesis testing.

Category insight helps the company determine how to best capitalize on opportunity landscapes as well as identify areas for innovation.

Social listening can be initiated by giving your customers the tools to interact with you: blogs, websites, Facebook pages and the like, that easily allow them to express themselves to you and to each other. Monitoring this free-flowing conversation avoids the bias of structured questions and allows you to go where the discussion actually is and hear what people really think, when they're thinking it. It can lead to solutions to multiple stakeholder issues, faster, at much lower cost and provides a flexible means to alter the scope and focus of the research.

By listening in on the online communities where their customers participate, companies are able to develop powerful e-commerce portals and highly targeted strategies for influencer marketing, advertising, promotion and branding.

How vital is an open channel to these consumers? A Bain & Company report on social media found that customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20-40% more with those companies than do other customers. They also award them higher customer loyalty scores, demonstrating a deeper emotional commitment to them.

Getting the most from Social Listening

Social listening can be used either as a precursor to traditional research, to augment it or as an alternative to it. With so much to gain from well-constructed social listening efforts, CXOs should take the time to quantify their goals and if necessary, enlist a knowledgeable partner to assist in maximizing their efforts.

Implementation requires proprietary or third-party tools for aggregating data across multiple input data sources, the methodology and processes to harness online opinions with statistical significance and the ability to generate insights and learning through human analysis. A holistic effort consists of:

Media monitoring and measurement: This provides daily monitoring of all media sources, from print to television to online social media channels and generates weekly and quarterly reports to track trending and provide pre- and post-event analysis.

Social media listening and measurement: Listening assesses consumer comments as well as brand-related, category and competitor chatter. Measurement looks at tone, volumes and trends, channel breakout and other key factors. It requires a good balance between technology tools and human analysis; language skills across geographies of interest; and development of methodologies and metrics to attain answers to the company's most pressing questions.

Social media brand tracking: This gauges awareness, perception, consideration and sentiment related to the brand. It is tracked by competitors, geographies and segments and allows a high degree of customization in frequency, metrics and scope.

The market is evolving from pure tool-based listening efforts to active attempts at generating usable insights. The most effective social listening efforts use pattern recognition tools to refine iterative search strings built around categories, brands and stakeholder needs. These are backed by human analysis of results to determine what consumers are thinking.

Putting Social Listening to use

After conducting social listening and using the right tools to understand trends and interpret what customers are saying about the brand, the question then becomes: What do you do with this wealth of information?

Now is when the company needs to starts talking back and interacting with customers. One good example of this is how Stride Gum gave its fans a chance to say how they felt about the company's products in an online campaign. Once these videos started to catch on, with people loving or hating the Stride mystery flavor, Stride staff began talking back and interacting with fans to discuss their opinions. It showed that Stride was truly listening to their customers and that they wanted start a dialogue, which made their customers feel important.

To be most useful, social listening requires 24/7 monitoring and response and a refined execution strategy. The scope may be daunting in resources and knowledge but companies can jump-start their efforts through partnership with a third party that is both experienced in setting up and monitoring social media platforms, analyzing content and quantifying the input and that has the staff required to respond to customers in their own language, wherever they are. The partner's capabilities should include human-enabled filtering, multi-language analysis, access to closed communities not accessible to the usual social aggregation tools, source agnostic data aggregation and 100% accuracy in analysis of tone, context and content.

Barriers CXOs will face when considering a Social Listening strategy

The biggest challenge marketers expect to deal with in 2012 is a lack of resources (funds, manpower). Other issues relate to a general lack of knowledge or experience in measuring, managing, integrating and monitoring social listening, demonstrating the difficulties marketers still face in the social media marketing practice. Per Forrester, some 77% of companies identify a lack of sufficient resources for social marketing efforts as a challenge, while 58% say measuring ROI is another. Some 42% see managing and growing their social presence as a challenge.

An investment in growth

In today's competitive world, businesses must watch for trends, because how the online audience reacts to a trend will shape how and what they will buy from the business and the competition. There will be a need to identify influencers—those users who have most clout and sway online opinion, the business must engage these people, whether they are journalists, academics, analysts, shoppers or moms and try to engage and develop a relationship with them.

One leading baby care company analyzed chatter in Gen-Y mom communities that not only identified eight distinct "mom" segments, but led to a new campaign that generated 12% growth. A global beverage leader achieved 30% higher engagement in the targeted segment by identifying top online communities of interest and understanding customer behavior there.

As shown below, the journey toward full engagement with customers via social media is progressive. Most companies begin by monitoring social networks and then craft a strategy that incorporates the best of "old" and "new" marketing techniques until they arrive at an operational structure that works best for them and their particular customer base. Engaging a third party expert can help to speed this process and drive faster business returns.

In the end, social listening will allow a company to manage customers proactively, in real time, changing the game by anticipating issues and desires and providing fast resolutions. The tools already exist for keeping up with today's proactive consumers; companies must now seize the opportunity to hear what they have to say in ways that lead directly to market advantage. With 75% of online households participating in social media, it is time for modern companies to start listening.

For more information, contact consumergoods.services@genpact.com and visit, genpact.com/what-we-do/industries/consumer-goods

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