From Short-Term Engagement to Long-Term Strategic Direction: Go Social
Business Development Director & Commercial Lead Search & Social, Africa
Brands and marketers are acutely aware of the value that search and social feedback offers but struggle to translate the many tracking and insight options available to them into a clear plan of action. This is partly driven by the nature of the data itself. It is often chaotic and unstructured, which makes it difficult to organize and has resulted in marketers focusing on more superficial metrics, such as likes and engagement. Finding the real signal in the noise requires a combination of machine intelligence and human brand experts to turn “that is interesting” into “I can take action from this”.
Before we jump to specific recommendations, it's worth explaining the differences between search and social and the value that each offers.
- Search data tracks everything that is entered into the Google search bar. It tends to be functional in nature, including how-to, retail operations, category usage, trending content, and the partners and brands for specific needs. Search also offers a good indication of lifestyle and category needs, brand message associations, and links between brand and product functionality.
- Social data is everything that is discussed, liked, shared, and commented on online. It offers insight into corporate brand reputation, areas of potential risks, the strengths and weaknesses of brands and competitors, and what people feel passionately enough about to put “out there”. You can think of social data as online word-of-mouth, shared in the language of the consumer.
If you’re looking to derive value from certain social data, you have many options, ranging from short-term engagement to long-term strategic direction.
Short term engagement: campaign-specific KPI tracking
Among other things, social media content enables a brand to communicate a campaign message. It has been shown to be an effective driver of the call to action, though it is not typically used to drive longer-term brand equity.
As with any touchpoint, tracking your performance and using the results to make improvements are key. The exact metrics you use depend on the objective of the campaign. For brand messages, ad recall and view-through rate (VTR) offer feedback on creative content, audience impact, and key message breakthrough. For engagement, the metrics should be more sales and conversion-focused, such as click-through rate (CTR), cost-per-click (CPC), and click-to-purchase (CTP). It’s important to analyze these metrics side-by-side with internal sales data, with an understanding that you cannot fully isolate the impact of social media from other sales touch points. You should also compare social media touchpoint KPIs to past campaign performance as these will offer learnings over time.
Medium-term engagement: on-going performance tracking
Outside of specific campaigns and owned accounts, social media can be used to track brand perception and experience over time. This can help inform and tweak strategic direction and influence campaign content. Here, the tracking is less tactical and includes monitoring of social media influencer content, own and competitor brand sentiment, on-going brand discussion themes, as well as customer churn.
To understand the impact of influencers, brands can keep an eye on fame, nature of content, the extent to which they connect content with other social communities, and the risk they pose for a brand that chooses to partner with them. Brand sentiment and on-going brand themes provide valuable insight into how well messages are landing over time as well as opportunities to leverage competitor strengths and weaknesses. Social media can also help predict customer churn, which can prompt both short-term action and long-term course correction.
Long term strategic direction: insight into brand reach and category white space
A long-term view of search and social content looks at strategic, opportunity-based needs that are spontaneously searched and expressed. This type of exploratory research uses a longer period of historical data (usually around 12 months) to highlight areas for additional product and marketing investigation. Such research is best done with a research partner in order to control for subjectivity and properly weight relevant insights. The process is multi-layered and starts with an investigation into the human truth underlying functional category needs. Another workstream assesses brand associations (own and competitor) to determine brand reach. Together they direct brand positioning and innovation opportunities.
In conclusion, there are multiple ways brands can gain insight from search and social data. Marketers have been challenged by the difficulty of translating unstructured data into tangible action and have often focused instead on more superficial engagement metrics. In Africa, that social media was typically accessible only by a minority is changing, and has implications for the type of research that brands can do. The option chosen should align with the brand or marketing objective.