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What Sets Social Innovators Apart? They Listen. They Measure.

No matter how puny your current social-media strategy, your brand needs to invest in analytics tools that will let it listen to customers--and competitors. Here's why.
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Last week, AdWeek announced the contenders for this year's Shorty Awards honoring the best brands on Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and beyond. For the most part, these social-media masters are not glossy publications with reams of content to disseminate or Hollywood powerhouses with meme power. They are consumer-product companies with social strategies that share two bits of DNA: a strong personality and the power to help people.

In other words, these brands are the Iron Man of marketing. They make it look easy, but it's not--particularly without a big audience-development budget.

So the average small and medium-size businesses are left tinkering on Facebook and Twitter, or wondering whether an investment in Instagram, Vine, or Pinterest could really, truly pay off. They are distracted by shiny new things, but eager to find the best avenue for customer connections. The fact of the matter is, it takes a tremendous amount of knowledge, patience, and effort for social-media marketing to bear juicy fruits.

And then there's the complexity of paid media. Many times, corporate content rises above the static only when it's boosted and supported with significant media dollars. Brands are paying to acquire fans, to promote individual posts, and to score celebrity tweets that garner attention. It sounds a lot like traditional media, and that's because it is.

Still, many small and medium-size brands are experiencing great returns by simply being present, helpful, and interesting to customers and potential clients. What the most successful among these companies realize is that publishing is undergoing a fundamental paradigm shift. Brands can create content (in text, images, audio, and video) much in the same way that a publisher can; they are no longer at the mercy of the publisher to run the content or negotiate the ad space. It's overwhelming, but also game changing. Here’s a three-step plan to getting started--smart.

Step One: Be quiet.

The most critical first step in launching your social-media strategy? Listen.

Spend some time listening to consumers. Are they mentioning your brand, your competitors, or the industry that you serve? Use free tools such as Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts to follow keywords including your company and product names, as well as those of your competitors. Pay attention to where conversation volume is highest, and begin following the social influencers who are heavily invested in those conversations.

That can give you an overview of what's being said, but times have changed. Social media is now close to 15 years old (or even older, if you really want to get specific about when blogging first took off). There have been many layers of maturation in the space. Now, brands can (and should) be doing a lot more than just listening when they decide to take the plunge into social media.

In fact, if you're still on the fence with social media, there's one big and fascinating thing you can do to better understand not just social media but how your brand is competitively performing in the marketplace: invest in a social media analytics tool. So:

Step Two: Analyze this.

Invest in a social media analytics tool. This isn't about measuring your brand's efficacy in digital marketing (at least not yet); it's about making your first steps more powerful and profound. As a brand, you can gather insights about your business, your competitors, and the industry that you serve like never before.

Last week, eMarketer posted a news item titled, Marketers Adopt Social Media Analytics Tools, that looked at some new research on how close to two-thirds of companies in North America have adopted some kind of social media analytics tool, with a great surge in adoption over the last two years. Here's how they are being used:

Campaign tracking: 60%
Brand analysis: 48%
Competitive intelligence: 40%
Customer care: 36%
Product launch: 32%
Influencer ranking: 27%
Owned/earned media analysis: 18%
Product innovation: 11%
Category analysis: 11%
Risk management: 3%
Partner monitoring: 3%

Even if your current marketing strategy comprises nothing but local newspaper and radio ads, these social media analytics tools can tell you whether a campaign is drumming up conversation online, how well your brand is perceived, what people think of your competitors, how well you're handling customer service issues, and so much more.

Step Three: Make social resonance a metric.

Sadly, most brands think social media analytics tools are only useful in measuring clicks, Likes, and retweets. Instead, the true opportunity is in using these tools to check on the overall health of your business and brand.

Have you had success on Facebook? What about Twitter? If your peers are trying to talk you into (or out of) using these channels to build your business, it's in your best interest to adopt a strong social media analytics tool before building a true marketing strategy driven by business goals.

No need to hop on the latest craze, and no need to just listen to chatter any longer. Do yourself, your business, and your future a favor: Start paying attention to everything buzzing in the social-media space, and use these analytics as a barometer for what's happening in your business and what you can do--with each and every passing day--to improve it.

Last updated: Mar 12, 2014

MITCH JOEL | President of Twist Image

Mitch Joel is President of Twist Image, an award-winning digital marketing and communications agency. His first book, Six Pixels of Separation, is a business and marketing bestseller.




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