How Savvy Firms Monitor Customers' Online Chatter

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Both companies waited more than 24 hours to respond to the chatter on social media, and that was enough time for the incidents to enter mainstream consciousness. "Tweets become blog posts, YouTube videos or articles," Owyang says. "Companies have to respond in real time."

If a savvy company sees a Twitter complaint about long wait times on the phone, it might immediately respond with an apology and offer the customer a discount on his next purchase.

"The risks of not being engaged grow as consumers test this with their favorite companies," Bell says. And whereas it once might have been enough to monitor, measure and react to specific situations, it's now imperative to engage proactively and frequently, he says.

Besides, companies that are on the leading edge of social media monitoring are putting pressure on those that thought they could fly under the radar, Bell says.

Consider these examples:

  • Comcast Corp. and are both known for engaging customers on Twitter, particularly with quick responses to complaints. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh now has 1 million Twitter followers, and Comcast's Frank Eliason (a.k.a. @comcastcares) is one of the best-known customer service representatives in the U.S.
  • Microsoft Corp. engages with millions of IT professionals on social media. Using monitoring technology from Visible Technologies Inc., Microsoft identifies 3,000 blog and forum posts per day and then narrows them down to 400 posts that are scored as negative, positive, mixed or neutral. After further review, the engagement team responds to 30 to 60 of the posts.
  • Southwest Airlines Co., well known for its Twitter communiqués to 1 million followers, uses software from Radian6 Technologies Inc. to track social media. That helped it quickly respond to the Twitter storm that arose when film director Kevin Smith complained via a tweet that he was forced off of a flight for being too fat.

Not just twitter search

The field of social media monitoring has quickly grown beyond simple tools such as Google Alerts and Twitter Search to encompass specialized digital marketing agencies and software-as-a-service offerings that provide analytics via a dashboard.

However, the allure of real-time consumer opinion and brand sentiment available on social media -- along with growing alarm over how quickly public opinion can turn against you online -- is leading companies to combine social media data with enterprise applications such as customer relationship management and business intelligence systems. As that happens, monitoring-service providers are adding hooks to enterprise applications.

"IT is just waking up to this," Owyang says. "They're realizing departments are deploying their own systems and doing their own thing, and the challenge is that customer data is being spread out in silos. IT is starting to realize it needs to step up and come to the table with an enterprise view."

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