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With the emergence of user-generated content, marketers have to keep up on the buzz around their brands and categories on the Web.
Something is lurking in the depths of cyberspace that could impact the credentials of your brand. If you think it can't happen, think again. Last year a client approached us with an alarming issue that involved YouTube and a woman referred to as the "Cat Lady."
Here's what happened (or, more appropriately, how the cat was let out of the bag): The client uncovered a YouTube video from a user who was making derogatory statements about their product. The "Cat Lady," labeled for her collection of cats that often made cameo appearances in her daily rants, was no ordinary user. She was passionate and angry, and drove our clients to a state of panic—so much so, in fact, that the situation became the focus of the marketing department. Neutralizing the Cat Lady's impact was of paramount importance.
This situation raised a whole range of questions and issues that the client was unprepared to answer: How do we assess the impact of this user's statements? Who and what else is out there eroding our brand and sales? How can we assess global online sentiment toward our brand? What steps can we take to counteract negative brand sentiment that exists online? What steps can we take to leverage positive sentiments?
With the emergence of user-generated content produced by any Joe or Josephine who happens to blog, Twitter, or participate in online forums, these questions are on the minds of companies in and outside of pharma. The universe of competing brands was crowded before, now it's populated with individuals who fight with companies for mindshare. But there's something you can do.
The first step toward influencing Web consumers is keeping your finger on the pulse of online attitudes. In other words, find out the buzz around your brand and category so that you can answer questions like: How does a particular group consume media? Are there unmet needs? How do consumer attitudes about your product compare with your competitors?
While controlled studies can provide answers to these questions, an online buzz assessment will be cheaper, faster, and more accurate. Here's a two-pronged approach to help get you started.
Online conversations and user-generated content have made it easier than ever for marketers to tap into consumer attitudes. To dip into this rich pool of insights, here are some do-it-yourself techniques for assessing the buzz from your desktop.
» Monitor community discussions Take a few minutes to sign up for popular health Web sites and join discussion groups specific to your brand and therapeutic category. Keep in mind that blogs create conversations in the form of comments. Search for relevant posts and notice the discussions that sometimes emerge.
» Watch YouTube Remain vigilant of video activity related to your brand.
» Join Facebook More than 100 million Facebook users log onto the site at least once per day. Join groups and pages related to your brand and monitor their activities.
» Search Twitter One of the most interesting monitoring tools out there, Twitter captures thoughts from a consumer's day-to-day activities (sometimes even while they are engaged with your product!).
» Track the blogosphere Technorati.com, a popular blog search engine, captured 133 million blog records through the end of 2008. Use Technorati to tap into a universe of opinions related to your brand/category.
» Consolidate with RSS RSS offers an easy way to aggregate all the search results described above into one, scan-able feed. Subscribe to RSS by looking for the word "RSS," or a small orange icon, after performing your searches. Activate those feeds, and within minutes you will have a custom subscription to consumer feedback on your desktop or mobile device.
» Get help If the prospect of doing any of this is outside of your comfort zone, ask a net-savvy administrator, intern, or co-worker for assistance.
While do-it-yourself assessments can serve as your daily spark for surface-level insights, third party assessments will cast a wider net. Third party assessments come in two flavors: private communities and brand monitoring.
Companies like Communispace can build custom online communities to solicit consumer feedback. The most popular purveyors of third party assessment—vendors such as MotiveQuest, TNS/Cymfony, and Nielsen BuzzMetrics—use proprietary technologies to scour thousands of blogs, forums, and social networks to find mention of keywords related to your brand. They then pull all this text into a business intelligence system where analysis can be performed. This analysis measures the extent to which people are discussing your brand, whether or not the sentiment is positive or negative, and answers questions you may have about consumer attitudes, behavior, and demographics.
The end result? A bound report of statistics, consumer quotes, and recommendations that can be turned around in a fraction of the time required for more traditional research.
Remember the Cat Lady? Well, after assessing our client's online scare, we immediately conducted a third party assessment on their behalf. We were relieved to find that neither the Cat Lady (nor her pets) had caused havoc for their brand. We did, however, identify several actionable ideas that could help their brand, or any brand for that matter, fit into a world where everyday people control the conversation.
» Prioritize If your buzz assessment was done correctly, you'll be able to measure the amplitude of influence across sites, identify those in need of your most immediate attention, and formulate the appropriate strategy.
» Counteract misinformation Inevitably, you will find misinformation about your brand or category. Take the time to develop a "myths and facts" page on your branded site. Drive traffic to this new page by purchasing media on targeted pages, discussion areas, and keyword searches within your high priority sites. This is especially useful if your company is not ready to directly contribute to the discussions themselves.
» RSVP for the party Pharma companies are reluctant to join the latest online party. So while you watch and wait, channels like Twitter grow at rates of 1,500 users per month. In fact, Joe Twitter may have registered an account with your brand's name. Stay abreast of trending sites and register accounts under the name "mybrand," rather than being stuck communicating under an account called "the_real_mybrand" when you decide to dive in.
» Contribute to the community Many will advise you to "join the conversation" to describe engaging in the world of user-generated and social media. We advise clients that "joining the conversation" is not enough; the end goal in social marketing is to become known as a valuable contributor to the community. How to achieve this is another matter. But only by providing genuine value through blogging, commenting, Facebook, Twitter, and the like can you really influence the dialogue.
» Appoint a community evangelist Designate an in-house representative to serve as an online community outreach rep. They can not only monitor and participate in public communities, but also educate management to ensure that "the conversation" doesn't go on without you.
» Treat bloggers as press Every time a blogger clicks "submit" on a new post, they put the modern press into motion. Acknowledge influential bloggers as you would traditional media. Think of ways you can help them meet their goals, short of sending an envelope of cash.
» Recruit ambassadors An effective strategy for communicating with consumers is through other consumers. Recruit and train credible, passionate ambassadors who can get your message out in high priority groups. Create a community by conducting annual meetings, tapping into experiences, and asking for feedback.
» Keep it real! Bloggers and online community members use a casual, style in their dialogues. It is important to match their tone. This is their discussion, and you can easily become the unwanted guest if you sound like a corporate sound bite.
Social relationship marketing represents a return to a simpler time, when people who sold stuff belonged to the same communities as the people who bought that stuff. Back then, it was face-to-face conversations in close-knit communities that supported the markets for goods and services. And by all accounts, we're returning to that dynamic, where conversations make or break sales, and marketers care about Cat Ladies.
For a moment, forget about Facebook, Twitter, and all technologies. Simply think about social marketing as human-to-human relationship building. After that you'll be ready to take the plunge into the user-generated information pool.
Jonathan Landau is chief technology officer at DKI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org