How to Join the Social Club

Article excerpt

A tide of data is becoming available from social-media sources, but how can marketers establish what is useful to their brand, and integrate it with information from other sources, asks Melanie May.

Social-media data provides a window into the mind of the consumer on an unparalleled scale. Not surprisingly, every brand wants to make the best use of this information, but integrating it with other commercial data presents a challenge.

Social-media channels may provide a virtual 24/7 focus group, but the quantities of real-time data they generate are greater, more unstructured and less controlled than most marketers are used to. This means that integrating it with data from other sources remains a task many are still not up to meeting; yet doing so can bring significant rewards.

When fused with other customer information, social-media data can be used to influence everything from brand activity and marketing strategy to product development. In addition, while it can help marketers understand customers at an individual level, in an anonymised form, the data can be used more easily to uncover trends and drive insight at segment level.

Despite these challenges, some brands are forging ahead. Lavazza regularly uses social media to create an online buzz around product launches, including that in September for its A Modo Mio espresso coffee-maker, and to interact with consumers. It is in the process of integrating its customer data, including that gathered from social media, into one e-based database, with the aim of using the information to improve its overall marketing strategy.

'It allows us to access more information both about our consumers' purchasing and usage habits, and to understand, and target accordingly, promotional offers and consumption recommendations to much greater effect,' says David Rogers, Lavazza's home sales and marketing director.

Social-media data is also integral to Avis' marketing. It started measuring social media in 2005 and claims it was the first vehicle-rental company in Europe to start a blog. Last month it became the first in its industry to launch a social-media-only campaign, its ArtCar competition, which challenges consumers to create a design that will be used on its rental cars.

'Our customers spend most of their time online, which requires us to adapt to their reality,' says Xavier Vallee, director of ecommerce, EMEA, at Avis. 'As a result, we are transforming our marketing. The data we get from social media helps us participate in conversations with our customers as well as with several objectives, in terms of brand positioning, product development, customer sales and insight, and it does influence revenue.'

By measuring conversations on social networks, Avis is able to identify questions customers are asking, as well as potential issues such as difficult-to-find outlet locations at airports, and useful information, such as the fact that some customers would pay a premium for a product like GPS, and to react accordingly. 'It's a feedback loop we didn't have before,' says Vallee.

However, the consensus is that social-media data is not yet truly revolutionising marketing. Several factors lie behind this slow progress. 'The volume and variety of data is something advertisers and network-owners have not yet managed to translate and fully exploit to prove the value of the channel,' says Colin Grieves, director of propositions and strategy at Experian Marketing Information Services 'It will happen, but, as with anything this new and immense, it needs to mature and evolve.'

One challenge is deciphering who's who on which social-media platforms. 'Data can be accessed from so many channels that the diversity of sources can be an issue,' says Matt Rhodes, client services director at social-media agency Fresh Networks. 'People have different profiles and present themselves in different ways - LinkedIn for their professional persona and Facebook for more personal relationship-building, for example. …