Sunday, 17 February 2013

How to Monitor the WWW for Business Growth

I know you agree that the interaction between prospects, clients (former and actual), partners, industry leaders and even competitors is highly important, especially if the topic of discussion is your brand and your products/services. This has always been the case, but with the dawn of Web 2.0 the way Word-Of-Mouth works has changed. And with this change new daily/weekly tasks were added to the online marketer's job description. Apart from blogging and managing social media, monitoring what internauts say about your brand and other topics of interest became mandatory. Fortunately, the way we do this became easier thanks to the tools available to us now.

Why do you need web monitoring?
Before we cut to the chase it is important to recognize the benefits such a monitoring activity can have for your business. In my opinion the benefits can be separated into 2 main categories. Firstly, monitoring the web has a role in brand reputation management: where the good, the bad and the ugly of your business will come to surface. This includes you listening to what your prospects and clients are saying about you and thus getting to know them better (what motivates them, what are they actually looking for in your product/service and so on), information if used properly can benefit your business to a great extent. Secondly, when monitoring the web, opportunities may arise that might have less to do with your blogging and social marketing activities, but it can influence your public relations activities, product/service development activities and so on.

Step One - Establish Goals
The second step would be to establish your goals - as always :). Think about what you would like to achieve with this task. For Brand Reputation Management, goals that you could set could be to offer customer support on social media channels, discover customer complaints early and fix them, maybe turn unsatisfied customers into true evangelists for your brand, which leads us to building a relationship with possible brand evangelists, crisis management and so on. Discovering complementary opportunities could regard discovering possible newsjacking topics for press releases and other PR opportunities, developing a new product/service even better than the one your competitors launched and so on.

Step Two - The Tools
There are quite a couple of tools that you could use for this purpose, both free and paid.
The obvious and free tools would be Google Alerts, Social Mention and the search function from Twitter. Another tool that I like is Mention, especially because it has a free version, a desktop app and I believe it to be highly accurate.

Monitoring the web for brand reputation managementI did notice a flaw in a couple of these tools: if you have an abbreviation for a brand name or if your brand name can be abbreviated (for example SD4M), and believe me most of your customers will shorten your brand name if they can, then some of these might give you results when that string of characters appears in unfriendly URLs, as for the previous example, which might have nothing to do with your actual brand. This might not be the case thought for notorious brands.

Another service I really like using is HARO (aka Help A Reporter Out), as it is a great way to build up relationships with journalists and maybe even be mentioned in a piece. Of course, sometimes they are looking for your customers and not you. In these cases, what I usually do is to post on our social accounts that such an opportunity is available for our fans/followers. If we do get some positive feedback from our fan base regarding that particular post, than I let the reporter who submitted the query know what we did to help and mention that if any additional help is needed we are at his/her disposal.

When looking for a tool to use, depending on your budget, remember one thing: no tool is perfect, but you do have to search for the best tool that will work for your business.

Step Three - Setting Up 
What keywords should you monitor? Here are a couple of ideas:
Brand related keywords:
- brand and company name, with all of the variations this might take
- name of your CEO
For these I would monitor every result possible.
Non-brand related keywords:
- the main keywords from your industry, in order to monitor if any subject arises, which you might need to approach in a press release or blog post (this is the way )
- the brand names of your main competitors
For these keywords monitoring only the best result would be sufficient.

In order to practice newsjacking you must keep your eyes and ears open for any topics, which have potential, outside of your industry.

Step Four - Act
All the monitoring in the world won't have any results if you don't act on it. Thus here are a couple of pointers:
* When it comes to bad comments, it goes without saying that you have to be tactful. You should analyze if the person who posted the particular bad remark is doing it to troll around. If yes, then do not answer. If you believe that he/she is not a troll, then answer politely. It is a good rule of thumb to never answer when you're angry. I've read it recently in an article (I'm so sorry I couldn't find it again, if you do know which one I'm talking about please let me know and I'll link to it), in which it was advised not to use your brand's name when responding to a complaint, especially when this is on a complaint site. Instead use generic wording like "the company". The reasoning behind this is that the more your brand name is mentioned on that particular page, the chances are higher for it to appear in the first SERs (Search Engine Results) for your brand name, which prospects will most likely search for when thinking of buying from you. So if you want to avoid bad impressions appearing on the first results for your brand name this is a great tip.
* Respond to the good tweets or comments that come up regarding your brand. You will probably not be able to answer all of them, but try to respond a couple in one monitoring session.
* If someone is asking a question regarding your field of expertise do not hesitate to answer, but remember that trying to sell your product/service at this point is a huge no-no.
* If someone is complaining about your competitor, be there for them (favorably, before your competitor can respond to the complaint :) )
* If a topic comes up that could be a great subject for a blog post or press release, forward it to the person responsible. If someone has a problem that Customer Support can handle, forward it to them and so on.
* If a competitor launches a new feature or product, you might consider forwarding the press release to your Product Manager.

In any case the greatest advice that you probably already heard is to act human and listen to your instincts. Think about it this way: if someone said or asked something, how would you have reacted, if you would have been there in person?

In case you are saying to yourself "This looks like a lot of wrok, Csilla. I don't have the time for this". Remember: with the right tools all this can be done in 15 minutes a day and the benefits are definitely worth it :)

Did you monitor the web until now? What's the biggest success you had from it? Do you know of any other tools that can help in the monitoring process? I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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