Monitoring one’s brand or image is nothing new. In the olden days, companies might have held focus groups to find out what consumers thought about their product, brand or company. Today, it’s much more complicated to gauge your reputation.

Companies are no longer just producing print materials and television advertising. In fact, companies are not the only ones generating buzz about their product. Nowadays, social media can transform a relatively unknown company into a “household” name in nanoseconds. And though social media can have a meaningful impact on a company’s reputation, it’s no secret that it can also destroy them as well.

Social media monitoring has become its own industry, featuring a number of services aimed at monitoring what people are saying about you, your brand and their experiences online. By scouring the web for comments, tweets, status updates, blogs and more, it’s relatively easy for companies to understand how they are being perceived in the global world.

Yet, like most tools designed to give you information and analytics, it’s important to understand what to do with the information so it can best impact, influence and advance your position online. We’ll look at three tools that monitor the social web and case studies that show how they were applied to real life problems.

Case Study 1: / American Idol

Whether you live in one of the 100 countries that broadcast American Idol, or tune into your country’s version of the reality talent television show, you’ve probably questioned the outcomes that voters have produced. Recently, the finale of season 9 announced Lee DeWyze the winner, defeating the crowd favorite Crystal Bowersox. The media cried it an upset, but the folks at Idolstats spoke otherwise.

The Process

On April 1, provider of social media monitoring and market intelligence solutions, launched The site was designed to track and evaluate conversations so as to predict the outcomes of American Idol. By mining millions of tweets and social media conversations, Biz360 interpreted insights to predict which contestant would be voted off each week.

[Side note: on April 28, the Attensity Group, a leader in business user applications that generate value from unstructured data, acquired Biz360. Biz360 and Attensity have become Attensity360]

Using what is now Attensity360, social media conversations -- including blogs, message boards, forums, micro-blogs, online news media and social networks -- were aggregated and analyzed. Reports were reset weekly the evening of the voting show and continued to dynamically aggregate and report until the next voting show, allowing users to visit anytime during the week to get a near real-time snapshot of how the contestants are performing based on social media conversations.

The Outcome

While many were enamored with Crystal Bowersox’s performance and declared her the inevitable winner, Idolstats was indicating that Lee DeWyze was carrying over 60% of the contestant conversation.

Figure 1. This graph shows that Crystal has been a favorite all season long, and most often just ahead of Lee on that trendline, but it the final weeks, Lee began surging. (courtesy of Idol Stats blog).

On their blog, Idolstats explained how this conversation could accurately predict the winner:

Data tells us that he is much more popular than Crystal in social media, and twice as likely to be talked about online. As with our previous posts, we extrapolate that to mean that social media mindshare is a proxy for action in the form of phone voting. As far as sentiment goes, Lee has a slight edge over Crystal, with Lee at 66% positive and Crystal at 62%. In absolute terms, because Lee has more mentions, he has more positive mentions than does Crystal.

Not only was their prediction correct, it is testament to both Attensity360 and the power of social media. The fact that social media can be considered a proxy for public opinion means that companies need to start paying attention.

Case Study 2: / AAA

The Problem

In 2009, the American Automobile Association (AAA), a not-for-profit insurance company known primarily for providing emergency roadside service, maps and other travel services needed help monitoring and responding to customer issues being discussed via the social web. Because some customers had been voicing issues and complaints via social media instead of calling their local AAA office, AAA wanted to learn how to be as responsive as possible to customers but also to make sure member concerns do not snowball into a public relations nightmare.

The Outcome

Using Radian6, a company that hosts what it calls a “a listening platform” designed to help companies learn about what’s being said about their brand, industry and competitors online, AAA began monitoring an average of about 8,500 AAA mentions per month using social media.

With features developed on their platform API and Social Metrics Framework for integrating third-party data, Radian6’s listening platform can integrate social media monitoring and analysis with social customer relationship management (SocialCRM) and web analytics. By layering social media metrics atop referrer web analytic data, the process not only identifies what content is generating buzz across the web, but what content is generating website traffic, conversions and sales as well.

By setting up daily alerts for certain keywords, such as "AAA," and instant alerts for others, such as any mention of the company's executive leadership, the company was able to see what people were saying and devise appropriate responses. Soon, AAA began responding to everything from roadside assistance queries to website links that didn't work.

Figure 2. Radian6 offers the ability for users to get email or Jabber-compatible IM notifications for specific topic profiles at intervals they select. Alerts are delivered to your inbox or IM client as results are discovered, and include a link to open the alert in your web browser.

Though it can’t be accurately quantified, the impact that social media had on AAA has been noticeable from both a company and customer perspective. Of the 8,500 social media mentions the company generates per month, AAA responds to between 100 and 200 of those. If the company can't address the complaint or issue immediately, they are able to funnel it to the customer support team.

Perhaps most importantly, AAA found that social media monitoring enhanced the role of public relations because issues that have the potential to flare up on blogs and in chat rooms are addressed more quickly.

Case Study 3: Overtone / Yahoo! Music

The Problem

Overtone, a company that delivers real-time customer intelligence to businesses in an effort to uncover the hidden themes and sentiment among online conversations on social media networks and their own direct feedback platforms, began working with Yahoo! Music so that it could collect and analyze customer feedback so as to improve overall products and services.

Yahoo! Music is one of Yahoo’s content-driven business units, and provides a subscription-based premium and free digital music jukebox, among other free music offerings. Specifically, Yahoo! Music is tracking important issues related to software product releases such as new feature requests, product enhancements, software performance and error detection, and technical issues typical of online software applications.

The Outcome

Using Overtone's OpenMic platform, users are given access to a multi-channel, multi-dimensional and multi-faceted view of customer experience. Its artificial intelligence-based engine automates listening to all your customers, all the time, using customer comments and social chatter and breaking them into contextualized insights and actionable intelligence. Advanced text analytics, built specifically to handle "internet speak", such as misspellings and acronyms (i.e. IMHO), allows OpenMic to read each and every message, and analyzes it consistently in real time.

Figure 3. OpenMic features a real-time continuous listening system that incorporates best practices for collecting, categorizing, analyzing and acting on customer comments in any interaction channel.

Yahoo Music! benefited from using Overtone’s Early Warning System which identified a critical product issue through analysis of customer comments from Yahoo! Music's website. Because they were able to catch the comments about a product error in real time, development team members fixed the bug and rapidly released a new version of the software before it became a widespread concern for customers.

Overtone’s capabilities enable companies to become proactive problem solvers rather than reactionaries. Putting companies on the offensive rather than the defensive is always better and allows for opportunities to turn negative customer experiences into positive ones, building brand loyalty along the way.

The Impact of Social Media Monitoring

Managing one’s presence on the web is certainly not limited to companies. A recent Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project study found that online reputation-monitoring has increased -- 57% of adult internet users now use search engines to find information about themselves online, up from 47% in 2006.

In addition, the recent report called Reputation Management and Social Media found that social networking users are especially attuned to the intricacies of online reputation management.

Companies have been slow to catch up to what consumers already know: managing ones reputation online is crucial to how they are perceived professionally and personally. Likewise, individuals expect companies to be equally as savvy about managing their online persona. Lest we remind you again, social media begets transparency and immediacy. The more tuned in you are to customers’ comments, good or bad, the more favorably you will be perceived.

As well, social media monitoring not only provides a platform from which to listen, but to engage. Companies that actively engage with customers and potential customers in a venue that is most comfortable for them (i.e. facebook, twitter) can help increase their perceived approachability, which is desirable for most brands.

Though many of the vendors we referred to offer many useful tools and services aimed at keeping your ear to the virtual door, it’s always encouraged that you keep an eye on the competition's customer experiences individually as well. Visit other companies Facebook pages and follow them on Twitter to get a better sense of the terrain. Coupled with social media monitoring, the insights gained can influence your company’s brand online and in the world.