two friends talking
Direct feedback from consumers improves the accuracy of consumer sentiment insights gained by social listening tools PHOTO: whereslugo

Good customer intelligence can be as precious as gold for a brand’s marketers and business planners. Unfortunately, many companies are chasing after fool’s gold in their intelligence-gathering by using passive methods to monitor social media rather than engaging directly with customers.

Making effective business decisions, including those involving what-if scenarios and in-the-moment opportunities, requires focused intelligence and real-time information. Social media monitoring alone can’t provide the information required to address many what-if scenarios or capitalize on real-time opportunities because the data simply is not there to find.

Seek Direct Feedback

For example, the data required to decide whether to bring a new product to market will not exist in the social media realm. In such situations, rather than making vague inferences based incomplete or nonexistent data, a brand should let its community members sample the product and provide direct feedback.

Likewise, data gathered through social media monitoring will only allow you to make indirect inferences about whether customers will welcome a new product feature or design. If you want accurate and immediate results, take the pulse of a brand’s own community and conduct sampling exercises.

Unmet Expectations

Companies use social media listening with the aim of understanding how people feel about their brands. They hope the information they glean from social media will enable them make better decisions. However, time after time, that passive approach falls short and fails to reveal customer insights that support solid business decisions.

One reason for this is that people tend to turn to social media sites to report negative experiences with a brand more often than they report positive experiences. A 2013 Dimensional Research survey found that people who suffered a bad experience were 50 percent more likely to share it on social media than people who had good experiences.

Those findings suggest that data gathered by social listening presents a skewed view of the overall customer base’s actual feelings about a brand. Direct and pointed engagement with consumers within and outside a brand’s community will elicit much better information about people’s feelings.

Another reason information gathered through social listening doesn’t reveal the true character or scope of consumers’ feelings is because it isn’t necessarily culled from a representative cross-section of the whole audience. For example, members of one demographic group might regularly use Facebook to comment about a brand while members of another demographic group may not. Thus, the brand will get incomplete data if it relies heavily on Facebook monitoring to assess consumer sentiment.

Big Data Doesn’t Help

Even when big data analytics are employed to analyze buyer behavior and sentiment within social media data streams, the results will be based on historical data that may not reveal the more up-to-date customer intelligence that is needed to make many types of strategic decisions.

Of course, social listening can yield some useful information — trends in customer complaints, for example. But companies can only get the reliable, comprehensive data needed for many important business decisions through direct engagement.

As author and marketing consultant Jay Baer points out, “Owned, on-domain social communities offer more control, enhanced engagement and interaction capabilities, deeper customer insight opportunities, and reliable reach.”

Rich Engagement Gets Richer

The real-life results that brands have been able to obtain through community research have proved to be superior to the insights that can be gained by monitoring social media. Better returns on ad spending, more effective messaging and better product decisions are among the advantages brands have enjoyed.

And it’s getting better. The number of methods and channels for engaging customers within a branded community is growing by the day, with technologies like chatbots, geolocation, video research and automated external surveying making an already rich community platform even richer.

Companies can glean highly focused information from the interactions between chatbots and consumers. Besides enabling brands to personalize offers and engagement, the treasure trove of customer data that chatbots are able to accumulate can guide business decisions about strategy and product designs.

Another effective means of obtaining customer data directly is through mobile geolocation. With almost every consumer carrying a smartphone, mobile geolocation enables brands to engage with people in real time and learn about their feelings and impressions while they are attending events or visiting certain locations.

Video surveys are another excellent means of engaging consumers directly. Although video is among the best methods for conducting market research, a problem has been the amount of time it takes to view and analyze video footage. Automated video analytics services solve this problem by reducing the amount of time required to analyze videos from days to just minutes.

The Tribal Factor

In contrast to eavesdropping on people’s random social media conversations, direct engagement vehicles like communities, chatbots, targeted surveys and geolocation systems enable brands to obtain highly focused data and garner actionable insights, while at the same time forging more meaningful relationships with customers.

Real human engagement is the key to market research. The best intelligence is gained when subjects feel they are part of a community, or tribe, of fellow enthusiasts in which they are contributing information to a brand that is rewarding them for their input.

In general, people don’t think that companies listen or care about how they feel. Giving them the opportunity to participate in a branded community fosters enthusiasm and loyalty. Direct engagement with enthusiastic brand loyalists will yield immediate and precise intelligence that can be used to inform product decisions and marketing directions, and that helps drive the revenue growth that companies are seeking.