The Ultimate B2B Social Listening Guide

Potential customers are discussing their need for a product just like yours on a social network. But you don't know this discussion is taking place.

These prospects encounter a blog in which one of your current customers is complaining that a feature on one of your products isn't working as expected. Worse, the customer reached out to your call center for support and was given the run around. Other participants react with alarm and the discussion spreads. Several people post that they are using a rival product that does not seem to have that problem.

The fact is, you were aware of the problem before this discussion existed. You know the problem is easily addressed—a virtual non-issue—but its not been made a priority and since the complaints were not elevated by your call center, you don't know the discussion is taking place and can't respond.

The result is you have lost potential customers you didn't know existed due to an online discussion you didn't know was taking place. Unfortunately, your main competitor has been monitoring social networks, has gained important insight from this discussion, now has several sales leads and will embody this information into new campaign messaging.

Companies that choose not to communicate with customers over social channels will damage customer relationships just the same as avoiding their phone calls and emails. Continuing to ignore these customers will not silence them, in fact just the opposite.

You have made the investment in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software solution and are working hard to transform your company into a customer-centric enterprise. You've created a single customer profile and eliminated information silos among different business units. Your call center is automated and incoming customer data is gathered, analyzed and put to competitive use. CRM ROI is coming along as expected.

And yet, for all this financial investment and customer-centric activity, you find yourself on the outside of a growing customer conversation. For all the care you've taken to merge your customer channels—bringing together phone, chat, email, website—new channels have been developing outside your enterprise—channels that you don't own and can't control. These social media channels are, nonetheless, impacting your business.

Social Listening

With the growth of social media customers are connected to each other in multiple, independent ways. They no longer have to wait for you to establish a users forum to find each other or contact your customer service department to resolve a problem.

LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and countless other social networks allow people to connect and engage in spontaneous discussions about common experiences. Customers can pan your product by posting a bad review on a review or shopping site or, even worse, by posting a satirical video on YouTube. Any negative message can find its way around the world virally taking on a life of its own and damaging your company's reputation.

CRM and Social Listening

Traditional CRM systems were not designed to handle social media. Yet, according to Forrester, three-quarters of U.S. online adults use social technologies and that number continues to grow. Social media is a communication game changer that transfers conversational power from the company to the customer. It is pervasive and companies must adapt their service, sales and marketing technologies and processes if they are to continue to be competitive.

The power shift from the company to the consumer creates a loss of control over the business relationship. However, along with new challenges come opportunities that can improve a company's ability to compete. In the two lists below you will see how some of the challenges can be turned into growth opportunities.

Social Media Challenges

  • Exposes the company's reputation to risk.
  • Escalates customer problems to the public domain for all to see.
  • Weakens the company's control of the customer relationship.
  • Limits the one-to-one relationship in terms of gaining a 360-degree view of the customer.
  • Limits the ability of the company to lead and shape customer opinions about products.
  • Reduces the ability of salespeople to control the sales process.
  • Empowers customers to give product and service problems a life of their own on the Internet.
  • Outdates CRM software toolsets that are solely based on automating business processes.
  • Loss of control of brand and intellectual property.
  • Requires companies to invest in and master social monitoring tools.

Social Media Opportunities

  • Provides dynamic new sources for customer feedback.
  • Enables customers to provide support to other customers.
  • Delivers customer insight into product problems.
  • Enables opportunities for viral marketing.
  • Allows salespeople to locate and develop relationships with potential customers.
  • Facilitates product design, development and improvement through conversations with customers.
  • Provides new opportunities to engage directly with customers.
  • Allows companies to partner with influential customers.
  • Allows companies to develop a rich customer ecosystem that will lead it into the future.
  • Provides insight into competitive intelligence through social networking conversations.

The initial fear of social media gives way to new business opportunities once this new communication revolution is understood. As companies learn to harness social media, the insight they will gain will allow them to turn business hazards into opportunities.

Since customers do so much of their information gathering online before making a buying decision, salespeople lose the opportunity to develop one-to-one relationships with their leads. But by taking part in the social conversations that form around their products they develop new introductions that lead to sales.

Social CRM is the Enabling Technology

CRM software has expanded to include Social CRM, but the purpose of the technology remains the same: to extract value from customer interactions and use that data to create mutually rewarding customer relationships.

The challenge is to find a way to extract value from conversations in channels that are outside the company. The key to achieving this is to treat social networking as a new customer contact channel and applying methods and metrics to extract measurable value. This requires a change in process and adaption of CRM technology to gain insight into the conversations.

Listen, Engage, Analyze, Act

In a social CRM environment, customer strategy has to be aligned with company strategy. The conversations that are taking place will drive the company in terms of its marketing, sales and customer service as well as product planning, development and evolution. Here is the four step model to make that happen.

Listen. First, to succeed at social CRM the act of B2B social listening must be elevated to an art as well as a science. Listening to the buzz or sentiment about your company in social networking sites is the first step in creating metrics from which customer data can be extracted.

If your CRM software solution doesn't provide or integrate with social network monitoring tools, many vendors offer listening platforms that scan, monitor, report activity and enable triage to resolve issues as they arise. From there you would choose the most significant sites (blogs, wikis, forums, etc.) and create keyword filters to begin the online listening process.

Engage. In addition to monitoring activity in high-value communities, you will want to have your sales, marketing and service agents proactively engage with voices in the communities. The key here is to help, not sell. Get to know your influencers and advocates and reward them with access privileges, a job title (community leader) or other benefits. Do the same with customers who help other customers. If you haven't started a users' community for your products, you should plan one. It will become a social channel that you own and can more easily mine for data and insights.

Analyze. Establish online listening metrics and apply analytics to develop profiles of participants. Group them and target the groups for soft sell marketing campaigns. Track results and refine your model.

Act. In a social environment responding immediately to conversations is essential. As data is analyzed, act on it, changing processes and tweaking messaging to keep pace with customer preferences. Connect research and development staff with the communities to collaborate on product improvements and new designs. Test new products and upgrades in social communities before launching them.

CRM software is the underlying platform technology tool, however, other purpose-built tools can add big value. Forrester released the "Listening Platform Landscape" report which broke out technology tools into the three categories of i) social dashboards made up of web-based tools which integrate with the social streams, ii) multichannel analytics which mine social media data, and iii) listening services for finely tuned social media monitoring.

Social Customer Profiles

With the right technology in place, prospects and customers in social networking sites can be segmented for analysis and response purposes. Some people are extremely active, knowledgeable and influential. Others are information gatherers. The more you examine behaviors in social media the more complex the picture becomes and the greater the potential for specific and actionable insights.

The study of sociographics has long been used to get a handle on online behavior. Sociographics track what people do and how they behave in online forums. Behavior patterns predict future behavior, whereas demographics only suggest customer profiling and categorization.

Forrester created the following Social Technolographic Profile of online adults that breaks down social network participants by socially observed behaviors and demographic patterns.

  1. Creators. These online participants publish a blog, publish your web pages, upload other peoples videos or music and write articles or stories.
  2. Critics. These commentators post ratings and reviews of products and services, comment on other peoples blogs, contribute to online forums and insert or edit articles in wikis or other online locations.
  3. Collectors. These gatherers use RSS feeds, bookmarks and online query tools to source, categorize and append information.
  4. Joiners. These community members maintain profiles and visit social networking sites.
  5. Spectators. These bystanders read blogs and online content, listen to podcasts, watch videos and read user generated content such as online forums and customer reviews.
  6. Conversationalists. These socialites tweet or update information they find interesting or controversial.
  7. Inactives don't do any of the above.

Each online profile is associated with a specific set of demographics. Conversationalists, for instance, are 56 percent female with an average age of 36, and average income of $81,200. Such specific information is a gold mine to marketers and salespeople. Designing your conversation topics and responses by member profile is proven to improve responses and achieve desired outcomes.

Extract Value from Social Interactions

Performance metrics form the basis for measurement and continuous process improvement. To extract the right data from social media, conversations need to be monitored for values to which metrics can be applied.

There are many good online listening products on the market that will track conversations about your brand, products and services. The following list, developed by Forrester Research, demonstrates one method and 10 social metrics to bring structure and learning to social conversations.

Top 10 Social Listening Metrics

  1. Conversation Buzz. The amount of discussion around certain topics, generally determined by the number of responses to blog posts or online discussions. A widely read news site may post a story, but if there are no comments and no readers discussing the topic, then it shows little consumer interest.
  2. Conversation Value. The revenue contribution correlated to a conversation about a particular product or brand. Originally proposed by Chat Threads, this metric comes from understanding how conversations spread through different channels and the incremental value each conversation adds to the brand's bottom line.
  3. Conversation Volume. The number of social media interactions (blog posts, forum discussions, tweets, etc.) discussing a topic. Volume is a stronger metric when measured over time — marketers use conversation volume to set baselines for future campaigns.
  4. Demographic Metrics. The collection of metrics making up the background details of online consumers. These tools can collect data on consumer location, gender, and age. Marketers use demographic data to determine whether their campaigns reach targeted consumers.
  5. Level of Influence. The authority of an online consumer, measured by his or her overall reach online. A consumer with a highly read blog and thousands of Twitter followers is assigned a high influence score, while a commenter on a small forum has low influence.
  6. Message Reach. The number of total impressions in an online discussion. Measured by the number of different sources covering a topic and each source's potential page views. Many discussions start small, but once picked up by a larger source, will reach a large number of consumers.
  7. Sentiment Type. The positive or negative attitudes consumers express, generally scored as positive, negative, or neutral. Although many online brand mentions are neutral, containing no sentiment, these tools track adjectives around keywords to determine consumers' tonality about a topic.
  8. Share of Voice. The ratio of discussion volume among multiple brands—often represented as a percentage and depicted in a pie chart. Many marketers track their brands against competitors' to determine which company has a larger share of voice.
  9. Topic Frequency. The most common themes for consumer discussion around a brand. Marketers use topic frequency data to collect insight into how consumers view their brands and how they discuss them online.
  10. Viral Propagation. The distance and speed at which a discussion spreads, measured by the number of different entries around the same topic within a certain time period. Around a highly viral event, such as the Motrin Moms saga, hundreds of bloggers write posts in the following days.

Now that customers have evolved from passive listeners into active participants that literally drive the conversations that impact business performance, companies can apply the above performance metrics as part of a well defined social business plan. The benefits of harnessing customer interactions for mutual engagement will include increased customer acquisitions, improved customer relationships, higher customer lifetime value and lower customer churn.