Web & communication software

How Savvy Firms Monitor Customers' Online Chatter

Altimeter calls this "social CRM," which Owyang says comprises the following five fundamental processes:

  • Monitoring.
  • Mapping (linking social profiles to customer records).
  • Management (creating business rules and processes).
  • Middleware (enabling data to flow between systems and dashboards).
  • Measurement (using BI tools to identify trends, gauge sentiment and make predictions).

Suresh Vittal, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., argues that social monitoring platforms gather data but don't provide marketing insights. "Marketing teams need a process in place to interpret and analyze data and produce actionable insight," he wrote in a recent report. "This means sharing insights with all front-end and back-end systems like CRM, call centers and Web sites that influence customer interactions." While it's possible to share such insights manually, he wrote, "eventually marketers must budget for systems integration."

Vendors last year began integrating their social analysis platforms with CRM applications, particularly Salesforce.com, Gilliatt says. With those systems, users can create or update entries in the CRM application without leaving the social media analysis tool and send the information to customer support teams. The episode is captured in the customer record for future reference. Most of the platforms also offer APIs for custom integration with other software systems, Gilliatt says.

Recovering a fumble

DirecTV Inc. is a good example of a company that's integrating social media data throughout the organization. The company began investing in social platforms more than five years ago, says Charles Miller, director of digital care and social media strategy, and today it uses several monitoring tools. One is Visible Technologies' online monitoring platform, which, Miller says, converts qualitative comments into a quantitative structure to help measure consumer sentiment and identify trends.

Online monitoring has proved to be an early-warning system that allows DirecTV to respond to problems quickly. On the opening night of the 2009 college football season, Miller recalls, DirecTV's social media group noted chatter about the loss of a high-definition version of a popular sports channel. "Within two to three minutes of spotting this, we notified our broadcast team, who went into immediate channel-recovery mode," Miller says.

Through forums and other online venues, the team advised viewers to watch the standard version until HD could be restored. Simultaneously, it notified customer care representatives of the issue and the resolution. "When this was solved, we directed followers back to the HD channel," Miller says.

DirecTV's IT group integrates customers' social attributes into its CRM system so that data can be mined for insights later. "As CRM social integration deepens, IT will be more and more involved," Miller says.

Social media insights also influence product design. DirecTV's engineering team gets comments about beta offerings from its customer-run online community and incorporates those suggestions in the company's products, Miller says. "We have also built relationships with brand advocates and influencers," he says. For example, he adds, "sharing our mobile DVR scheduler with iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Palm enthusiasts has been particularly effective in driving adoption rates and getting feedback on the [mobile] apps."

In the future, the key differentiator will be how organizations take what they learn from monitoring social media and share it with product managers, Miller says.

Gartner's Bell agrees. "Even companies that think they don't have a consumer-facing product will be surprised to know they're still being reviewed or reacted to," he says. "And if you [aren't] participating in that, it will have a negative effect."

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

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