How important is social media listening in understanding customer sentiment?

Comments on social media can be skewed towards either gushing praise or damning criticism by a largely younger audience, but social listening is an important addition to the mix of customer feedback. So what are the options for businesses who want to keep an ear out on Twitter, Facebook and everything in-between?

Marcus Gault, Managing Director of Insight at Kantar Media, spoke to The Times Raconteur on the importance of using social media listening to understand consumer sentiment.

Raconteur: Can firms rely on what consumers say online? Are digital profiles always the best representation of consumer behaviour?

Marcus Gault: "Broadly speaking, yes they can. Digital platforms are one of the primary ways that consumers express their views, which makes them a valuable source of information for businesses. For example, in the past companies had to rely solely on consumer surveys to understand how they were perceived; now they can tap into a huge volume of detailed, real-time data on how they are being talked about. In turn, they can use this insight to direct their strategy.

Of course, there are caveats. Firms must anticipate that consumer sentiment will be skewed towards the negative, because digital channels are a popular way to make a complaint or raise a customer service issue. Additionally, with social media use more prominent amongst some sections of society than others, this content will not always provide a true representation of the company’s customer base.

At Kantar Media, we advise companies to avoid treating online conversations in isolation and instead combine different types of measurement - including more traditional market research - as part of one holistic approach."

Raconteur: What methods are companies using to dig a little deeper than simply what pages Joe Bloggs 'likes' on Facebook?

Marcus Gault: "To capitalise on the rich insights that online platforms produce, companies have to go beyond counting up quantitative metrics such as ‘likes’ and understand the sentiment and topics of conversations.

There are two primary ways that firms are doing this. First, there are plenty of cost-effective, automated tools designed to isolate consumer conversations from other kinds of content, such as marketing content, and analyse what exactly is being said. But these have limitations when it comes to accurately identifying sentiment and analysing editorial content.

Second, many businesses are now choosing to make a bigger investment in services that offer human analysis of online conversations. This gives a much more sophisticated understanding of how and why consumers are talking about a company or subject, but does come at a higher cost.”

Raconteur: Are social listening strategies used by professional companies - banks, law firms - to garner information about their customers in the same way as the retail sector?

Marcus Gault: "Social media may be playing an ever-growing role in how businesses understand and engage with consumers, but it’s not equally relevant for all sectors and this is reflected in variations in how listening strategies are used.

For professional companies, such as wealth managers, accountants and law firms, their customers simply don’t discuss these services on social media channels in the same way as they do for B2C businesses, such as retailers, which means social listening doesn’t create such a high return on investment.

What we are increasingly seeing both consumer and professional services firms do is use social measurement as a tool to inform a range of different departments and functions - from marketing to customer service, PR and product development - rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach across the business. As social media becomes a more dominant part of consumer and business conversations, we anticipate this approach being replicated further across all sectors.”

Read the full article from The Times Raconteur here

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