"Unethical behavior by Beachbody...watch out!" wrote one customer on PissedConsumer.com, an online forum, in June. The customer railed against the Santa Monica, California -- based maker of fitness videos, claiming that it charged for something the customer didn't intend to order online. In the comment box, Tiana, a customer service representative from Beachbody, wrote, "I'm so sorry to hear that you had a bad experience." She left her contact information and added, "I would be glad to assist you and help to restore your faith in our company."
Facebook, Twitter, and Yelp have become essential components of many companies' online marketing strategies, but there are countless other sites on which customers rant and rave about their experiences. A question or complaint left unanswered on any of them has the potential to tarnish a company's brand and scare away prospective customers. That's why companies like Beachbody are using new tools to monitor what's been said about them online.
The most basic services, like Google Alerts, allow users to select keywords to track and to receive e-mail updates whenever they appear on the Web. Others, like Social Mention and HootSuite, specifically scour profiles on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace for relevant comments. Nate Bagley, a social media expert at Mindshare Technologies, a Salt Lake City company that makes software that helps companies keep track of customer feedback, uses Google Alerts and Social Mention to keep track of references to his company, as well as news on its clients, competitors, and the industry at large. "It's a good way to gather business intelligence," he says.
Companies with several brands may require more sophisticated tools. "Eighty percent of companies do fine with Google Alerts," says Andy Beal, founder of Trackur, an online monitoring software company. "But once you have 30 different keywords to monitor, you'll outgrow it very quickly." Companies such as Trackur, Radian6, and Viralheat offer Web-based dashboards specifically designed to monitor multiple brands. Though the most expensive of these can cost more than $6,000 a year to use, many services offer less expensive packages for small businesses. Most of them provide detailed analytics that track the popularity of online remarks and identify the most influential commenters. Some of these services, including Radian6 and Viralheat, detect whether a post is positive, negative, or neutral, so businesses can easily determine which mentions require the most attention.
Those features have allowed companies to maintain greater control of their brands. For instance, Case Design/Remodeling, a home remodeling franchiser based in Bethesda, Maryland, uses Trackur to search for discussions pertaining to each of its 22 franchises. If Joaquin Erazo, the company's senior vice president of marketing, finds a complaint about a particular franchise, he will alert a representative at that location to contact that customer. "You can be created or destroyed by the click of a mouse," says Erazo.
Such tools, in fact, are able to do far more than just ferret out snarky comments. At Beachbody, Radian6's software has helped the company combat piracy. By tracking mentions of its brands, such as P90X and Hip Hop Abs, it can identify fraudulent sites more quickly and warn customers on blogs and online forums not to shop on those sites.
In addition to helping companies defend themselves, keeping track of online mentions can create new marketing opportunities. Hope Neiman, Beachbody's vice president of online and e-commerce, learned that many active discussions on health and fitness originated from faith-focused sites, which were previously well off the company's radar. Reaching out to religious bloggers proved an especially good fit for Beachbody's latest product, Body Gospel, a series of workouts set to gospel and contemporary Christian music. "Health and fitness is an active area on the Web, generally, but this was surprising," Neiman says. "For us, it's an exciting presence to have."
Since Beachbody began tracking online conversations last winter, the company has seen its number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and YouTube views more than double. The increased activity has provided valuable feedback for developing extensions of Beachbody's most popular product lines, Neiman says. "Before, it was very hit or miss," she says. "Now, we're beginning to see some real engagement."