Elaine Pofeldt, Contributor, Forbes.com
I cover serial entrepreneurs and their ecosystem. When you first start building a social media presence for a new business, every comment on your pages can seem overwhelmingly important. And you should be paying attention. These folks probably do business with you or are potential customers.
But as your company starts to scale up, it’s just not possible to pay the same amount of attention to each comment. You may start getting feedback from people who have no real relationship with your business, other than knowing its name. You may get snarky comments from competitors hiding behind the secrecy of the internet.
How do you focus your attention on the comments that really count? David Clark, vice president of marketing at SDL, a customer experience management firm that serves large companies from offices around the world, recently shared some insight on how to tune into the right messages and data on social media. Here are some strategies to help you.
Know what questions you’re trying to answer. Pinpoint exactly what you are trying to find out by reviewing your social media data. Are you looking to measure whether a branding strategy is having the desired effect? Are you trying to assess reaction to a new product? Do you want to figure out if customers are engaged with your brand? “You can get lost if you don’t know why you’re looking at a social data set,” says Clark.
Figure out what makes your target customer evangelize for you. Customers may become passionate advocates for your brand through many different routes. Maybe your funny advertising or marketing campaign gets them excited about your brand. Perhaps they had such a great experience buying what you sell at a particular venue, such as your website, that they told 10 people about it. Or maybe the way you interacted with them when they had to return a product that didn’t fit made them tweet about it to the world.
To identify what gets them inspired, you will want to filter conversations on your social sites to focus on particular points of the experience. For instance, maybe you’ll want to look at comments about customers’ shopping journey only. Look at that information over a year’s time. You may find that there is a change in comments after particular events. Perhaps something happened in the news that affects customers’ desire to buy your products. Maybe they have been happier with your store since you remodeled it to move the women’s department to the front. Paying attention to trends like this will help you do more of the things that are keeping customers coming back.
Don’t just listen from the sidelines. Keep an active conversation going with customers, so you can get closer to understanding what is working in the shopping experience–or blocking them from buying. ”You’ve got to keep communication flowing, and maintain an emotional relationship, such that they’ll continue to advocate on your behalf,” says Clark.
Understand who your main customers are.Big companies have sophisticated tools to figure this out, so they can focus their marketing efforts on the people who actually buy what they sell. They may know, for instance, that their typical customer is a 52-year-old male who owns a home and has two kids but behaves like a millennial when making online purchases. In a smaller business, you may have to use your powers of observation and tools like your database to put together a profile of your customer.
Knowing your customer’s persona will help you assign the proper weight to comments people make about your business on social media. As an executive at one of the world’s largest airlines recently told Clark, “I understand that everything we do as a business is going to be looked at negatively in social media. We can’t do anything about that.” He wanted to know how to determine if a negative tweet came from someone who was most “commercially valuable” to the airline–meaning that person was in the top 20% most profitable customers.
It can take a little offline dialogue with someone who posts a comment to find out if he or she really is a frequent customer. But those efforts can be worthwhile, helping you to strengthen relationships with people who really support your bottom line–and prevent you from wasting inordinate amounts of time with those who may not be customers at all and are just looking for a place to blow off steam.