You are the Vice President of Marketing/Market Research/PR... at a very large company. Your role includes ensuring the business stays healthy. Your company is #1 in the marketplace and the key to your success has been the expert way you have managed understanding your consumer. Over the past five years, you have successfully managed the business by always bring quality products to the marketplace focused on delivering against the promise of your brand. Your brand is viewed by consumers as having high quality. They believe in the brand promise of keeping my family safe and your long standing reputation as a good corporate citizen who has been a leader in fair labor practices. Regardless of whether to new products on the market are innovative or merely line extensions/product improvements you have a great grip on your consumers. And while many may consider your products boring, the history of the brand has made your a stalwart with the boomer generation and their children. You are very aware that you need to reinvent yourself with the younger consumer but because your brand is associated with their grandparents the market research being conducted suggests you are slowly winning them as well because it reminds them of the comfort of their family.
The phone rings. It is 5AM Tuesday morning. You roll over to answer the phone knocking it over. From the floor you hear the frantic shouts asking if you are there. Startled, you grab the phone to hear your boss the COO on the other line. He/She is panicked. In fact, they can barely get the words out to you. As the severity of their emotion strikes you, you quickly awaken from your slumber to reality.
"What happened?" you ask.
"You need to get to the office right away. I was waking up to head to the gym and you won't believe what I read on our Facebook Fan Page. A consumer asked some pretty serious questions about our product safety. A consumer stated that their child nearly died when they used too much of our newly launched product. They referred to a report talking about recent findings by a University that our main ingredient across our product line poses potential health risks for children under 14. The study is by a very influential assistant professor who continues to look for the link between ingredients and health issues in children. You remember the guy. He was the one who spent two years showing how powdered formula made babies obese and that certain brands were more at fault than others. Holy crap. The number 3 player ended up number 1 because they had moved away from the less expensive material towards the more natural one. This guy is a big net influencer. His twitter stream has over 150,000 followers and his blog posts are picked up by all the mommy blogs. What are we going to do? I need you in the office in 30 minutes so we can game plan on this issue."
You quickly jump in the shower thinking through the problem. Over the past two years, your brand trackers have shown time and time again that there was little to no risk from your main ingredient. In ethnographies, parents often told you that while there were some trade offs using the product your long standing tradition of quality limited the risk. You quantified the consumer panel time and time again. Your vendors assured you that your brand equity was one of the strongest and that you had beat back any local questions around this issue, because the science showed there really wasn't any issue. Focus groups worked and your facebook fan page allowed you to talk to your consumers to keep a pulse on how much they loved your products. In fact, your follows show great passion and love for what you do. You don't expect the question to blunt the followers. Your agency continued to give you buzz reports showing how much traffic your brand has been getting launch after launch. In fact month over month it was growing by 5%. You are confident that your listening tools will help you answer the question because they will help you monitor where the buzz is and if it is dying down.
When you arrive at the office, you check in and call your social media manager. They quickly check the facebook fan page and see there is a small group of people asking questions of the post, but the faithful followers swamp them out. You look at your listening reports show that while your traffic is up, there is nothing unusual occurring that you can see. The story doesn't seem to show a dramatic increase in impression beyond the facebook fan page. Calmly you report to your boss that your social media report seems OK and you don't think the issue will pick up because the question on the fan page has been met with skepticism and the buzz seems stable.
What is wrong with this picture????
This executive is stopping at listening. Just because your direct marketing effort to your fanatics on your facebook fan page is calm AND you know the buzz is up or at least steady is not enough to help you UNDERSTAND if this is an issue. Any company who feels safe under this type of analysis with the speed of insight in social media is taking a risk.
Here are few questions...
1. Does this executive have any idea beyond their Facebook Fan Page (their only direct window into social media consumers) what the chatter is saying?
2. How can one UNDERSTAND the why within the data if they are just checking the BUZZ (mentions) to see where the volume is?
3. How could a few posts that are checked represent the meaning or sentiment of the potential millions of tweets are that out there the social media sphere?
What is missing from this analysis to make it more complete?
One could use a brand passion index (which looks at buzz, sentiment and passion on one chart) to understand if there was a change in the brands passion with consumers. You could also do a netnography (brand audit online) to understand what is happening specifically with the brand.
The point is this...Listening does not equal Understanding in social media and there are many holes in taking this approach. When companies can quickly find the RIGHT social media data and UNDERSTAND what it is saying in say less than an hour then you have a good way to deal with this made up scenario.
I have a feeling however it is like matter...Matter can neither be created nor destroyed but merely changed in shape or form. I would argue there are execs struggling with this right now. And regardless of what you think the best tool is...you should at least ask HOW LONG WOULD IT TAKE ME TO UNDERSTAND WHEN SOMETHING HAPPENS? If they say longer than an hour...you don't have a good tool!