Emanuela Zaccone
Emanuela Zaccone

Social Business is not just about marketing. It’s also about monitoring. Especially during the last six years, companies moved from a “fatalistic attitude” regarding social media (“my competitor is on Facebook, what do I have to do? Well, let’s sign up…”) to a broader consciousness of the “social value.”

The idea that being present on social media, investing in them and setting up campaigns and activities, does not just mean generating leads or improving brand awareness, but also offers the chance to redefine brand strategy and reputation, is quite recent.

It’s what I call the second wave of social business consciousness: behind the acquisition of competitive positions, companies understood that being on social would mean having the possibility to interact with fans and establish a long-term relationship with them. But at what cost? The ROI issue became central in every social media marketing strategy (and discussion), and monitoring necessity came along with it.

Social media strategists, companies and whoever was working in social began to feel the necessity to monitor the effects of the activities held on these platforms. Nevertheless, the passage from being conscious of the relevance of these relationships to understanding the importance of monitoring was not easy or automatic.

The importance of the social media monitoring process
The importance of the social media monitoring process

In the beginning, there was a non-organic approach: businesses began collecting all the different insights coming from Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, the Twitter platform and so on. There was a lack of a unique analysis framework and, often, a lack of a unified vision that could conjugate brand mission and social media activities. Being conscious that constructing an integrated brand communication could offer a wider brand perception both to “offline customers” and to “online users”, was the first step towards a monitoring culture.

The birth of digital command centers

If it made sense being active on social, then it made sense to monitor the results and effects of social media activities on the business and brand reputation. Activities that are not measured are activities that don’t exist: a waste of money, waste of time and waste of engagement opportunities.

The third wave of social consciousness was characterized by two key factors: the rise of a broad variety of analytics tools and platforms and the birth of digital command centers inside companies.

While the first ones can be purchased or freely used by everyone or integrated in social media command centers, it is about more than a mere monitoring unit, and it is really interesting that companies themselves gave birth to command center structures.

While in many cases, social media management has been outsourced to third parties, the social media command centers born inside companies-but Edelman Digital’s SICC can be considered a new and very good example of third party social intelligence command center, see below), as core elements of the business and corporate strategy, were clearly going to have an increasing importance and role soon.

Gatorade, Dell and Intel – all among the first companies which founded digital command centers, starting 2010 – used external tools and platforms (such as IBM technologies, Radian6, etc.) to monitor what people were saying about their brands. This included the brand performance and how all this could be improved by feedback coming from monitoring.

Social media monitoring is always a three-sides process: it is necessary to measure growth and online performances (both during advertising campaigns and during regular editorial activity) and brand perception, as stemming from online conversations.

The Edelman SICC – via David Armano
The Edelman SICC – via David Armano

From insights to relationships

The constant feedback provided to the operational teams and other business units involved in monitoring, can reshape marketing and communication strategies and provide a measure of the impact of online conversations on brand reputation.

Today we can monitor aggregated data (such as the ones obtained from online and offline surveys), but also detailed interactions among people. Big data allow us to do that but they mean nothing without a structured process and well-identified models and KPIs.

Moving from simple engagement measurement to relationship building, is indeed the next big step in social media monitoring and strategy.

That is why social media monitoring must be at the core of an effective circular and never ending process. Thanks to monitoring, it is possible to know what people are saying about our company but also how they interact and how these conversations can be transformed into a strategy.

Obviously, tools and processes can’t function without the right people to acquire meaning. So, it is equally fundamental that the data scientist – who has at least skills in both statistics and marketing – is able to apply classic quantitative analytics (engagement, reach, etc.) and qualitative ones. In this sense, social network analysis can play an interesting role in (re)defining the position of the brand and its relationship with its followers online.

Transforming monitoring insights into strategy

During the first phases, many social media command centers – including the one of Telecom Italia – worked on quantitative KPIs, aimed mainly at measuring the engagement, produced by social activities with a strong focus on conversions (the easiest indicator to measure and one of the few to be directly connected with investment), growth rate (followers, fans) and traffic data (pageviews, impressions, reach).

However, while these data provide insights on the online brand dimension, they say almost nothing about how the brand itself can be redefined by the actual interactions with fans and followers (or with its detractors).

Since big data collected from social monitoring allow us to observe every single interaction between brand and users and between users and users talking about the brand, it is necessary to transform these observations into strategy and action.

Social network analysis then becomes the enabler of a new way to turn the analytics, that are necessary to leverage monitoring activities, into brand relationship tools.

We can be part of more than one community at the same time, due to the volatility of the ways we build relationships online and, especially, on social media. When we take part in a discussion on Twitter using a certain hashtag or when we participate in a Facebook group, post a picture on Instagram and pin some nice images on Pinterest, we are creating value inside a community which is not ours nor an exclusive one. Brands are part of our daily social interactions: we talk about our favorite (or most hated) ones, interact with their online initiatives and show our love towards them.

Brands need to monitor these activities and create the possibility to interact with them. However, that is not enough: they also need to reshape themselves according to the role they assume inside these communities.

There are several questions to be answered. Which kind of networks can be observed around a brand? Which is the role of the brand inside these networks? How can it “model” them to change or improve its value and reputation? Who are the influencers of the brand or which are the users-bridges that connect significant clusters of users? And a step further: how can the mix between quantitative “classical” analytics and social network observation help data scientists to make predictions about the success of brand initiatives? In this vision, ROI is no more the holy grail of every Web activity; relationship is as well. Economic return can’t be the main role of social activities: this is not the just the kingdom of business. It is a republic in which brand reputation is the result of a wide range of relationships between the brand itself and its customers.

Social media monitoring then works as an enabler:

  • It is a social media strategy builder, since it gives quantitative and qualitative insights on activities.
  • It is a relationships creator: thanks to the study of the networks, monitoring can help to understand how to exploit and model these networks or how to play an active role inside them.
  • It is a brand awareness builder: better strategies and an active builder role inside networks of users can leverage brand awareness and positively change brand reputation.

Monitoring online activities and brand perception can, for example, be transformed in co-creation initiatives that can leverage brand-users relationships and reduce investment costs, with a relevant feedback on brand reputation.

Going deeper in understanding the social graph and tracking interactions, interests and demographics of users in brand networks can also result in gains regarding CRM strategies and forecasting. Users can create value for the brand and with the brand.

Case: The Reputation Monitoring Room of Telecom Italia

The Reputation Monitoring Room of Telecom Italia – first of its kind in Italy and active since June 2011 – is a real time monitoring facility, focused both on quantitative and qualitative analytics.

Telecom Italia Hub
Telecom Italia Hub

Its main purpose is to analyze online conversations and trying to conjugate them with offline surveys and researches, in order to understand which is the impact of online conversations on brand reputation and how communication and marketing strategies can be reshaped by these analyses.

The RMR – as it is called – is part of the Department of Corporate Identity, Research & Digital Communication, Brand Strategy and Research Unit. This means that the main purpose of the facility is not just to monitor the online activities and social media engagement, but also to act as a bridge among different business units.

As I wrote, social media monitoring is not just about metrics, it is also about people: people to interact with and ways in which people and brands interact. Social network analysis and engagement indeed play a role which can leverage the Telecom Italia brand image and modify it, thanks to the analysis of brand perception and reputation.

The Reputation Monitoring Room has a central position in this process of monitoring and reshaping strategies. It takes into account the digital activities and the online conversations, but also the offline surveys and researches, in order to find a touch point between these two monitoring dimensions.

We don’t just monitor growth and performances of our online properties, but we also analyze more than 1.500 conversations per month, as emerging from Facebook, Twitter, mainstream news websites, blogs and aggregators; every conversation is manually reviewed, tagged and classified (most of the conversations around our brand are in fact in Italian, and we could not yet find a trustworthy tool for accurate automatic sentiment analysis).

The RMR also sends alerts to the press office, in order to quickly give answers and react to reputation and communication crisis.

Thanks to our researches about analysis models and KPI sets – which we constantly modify and improve – we take into account all the different interests of the various business units involved. The RMR has a strong research component: both the RMR founder and I have a an academic past – as respectively Santa Fe Institute Fellow and PhD – regarding Web measurements and social network studies. The wider competence of the Corporate Identity, Research & Digital Communication workgroup – which has a long lasting experience and excellence in offline researches and brand reputation and identity – allowed us to open wider our research objectives and analysis models.

Our activities so far reduced the response time in case of crisis, allowed our community managers to better invest in social advertising and to better structure their activities on Facebook and Twitter. It provided various business units the opportunity to be better connected to Web influencers who could be interested in one of our cultural initiatives, which represent an important element of Telecom Italia corporate strategy.

To us monitoring is not just about observation, it is about action and relationships. This is where the real value of social business lies.

Emanuela Zaccone
Emanuela Zaccone

About the author

Emanuela Zaccone is a Social Media Analyst and researcher at Telecom Italia, where she works in the Reputation Monitoring Room.

She is also a Social Media Marketing blogger, trainer and consultant. Emanuela completed her PhD in 2011.

You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.