The Best Strategy for Online Monitoring – Always Listen Broadly

by Robert Madison on November 13, 2012

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When companies engage in web and social media monitoring, one of the first things they do is listen for mentions of their brand.

That is essential to do, but … it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

I had a great conversation recently with Frank Cotignola, Consumer Insights Manager for Mondelez International, about the uses of social data. Frank had a lot of really good advice for brands, but his best advice was this:

Always Listen Broadly.

Why? Well, as Frank pointed out, a lot of brands tend to think they are synonymous with the category they’re in. But what if they’re not? The example of the railroad industry, who assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business, and who subsequently lost market share to cars, trucks, and airplanes comes to mind, as does Kodak for film, or Blockbuster for movie rentals.

Frank Cotignola

Frank Cotignola

The fact is, most brands are not synonymous with their category, and most consumers do not mention brand names when they’re posting comments online.

In a great post on how to listen better, Stephen Rappaport (author of Listen First!) mentions that – depending on the category – people often don’t mention brand names when they’re posting comments online, noting that among foods, the percentage of people naming a specific brand is 5% or less. Additionally, there are several studies that report that the percentage of tweets (i.e., consumer comments that are specifically on Twitter) mentioning brands is somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25%. While it’s a significant number, it also means that 75-80% of tweets do not mention brands.

Furthermore, a recent (Oct 2012) study by Bazaarvoice shows that of the tweets that do mention brands, about 22% (in terms of volume) are retweets; people/bots/brands just adding to the overall online noise. In 2010, 85% of brand mentions on Twitter were original, and 15% were retweets. In 2011, 18% of brand mentions were retweets. So far in 2012, 22% of all brand mentions on Twitter have been retweets, and only 78% of brand mentions are original.

There’s good news and bad news for brands in this data. The increase of brand mentions overall means there is more data to learn your customers’ thoughts about you, but as the retweet analysis shows, that data is increasingly redundant.

All of which speaks directly to Frank’s main point of how brands must listen broadly.

Examples in Real Life
Let’s say you were a Blockbuster social media guru who, in 2008, was monitoring the web specifically for mentions of Blockbuster. What might you think about the future of the business based on the trend shown in this graph?1

Blockbuster – Online Volume/Mentions: 2004-2008

Aside from trying to replicate the spike of Dec. 2005, it’s hard to say. I suppose you could assure everyone that “minor fluctuations in online chatter would could no doubt be increased by staying the course and continuing to update high profile social media accounts on a regular basis, until the 2009 strategic direction and…” [insert more mind-numbingly meaningless and obfuscating corporate-speak here]. You’d obviously be in complete disconnect from what the stock market was saying, but that’s a separate discussion which is only applicable for companies that are concerned with how social media affects their business.

Since we’re being hypothetical, let’s now assume that instead of just monitoring for Blockbuster, you were also monitoring for your competition. For the sake of simplicity, let’s limit our competition to one company, and let’s say that company was Netflix.

Blockbuster vs. Netflix – Online Volume/Mentions: 2004-2008

A different story emerges. If you were looking at the above graph, you might be concerned that you were losing your social market share. And you’d have been right to be concerned, as the below graph illustrates:

Blockbuster vs. Neflix – Online Volume/Mentions: 2004-2012

The Bazzarvoice study I mentioned earlier referenced Adidas, so I thought it’d be illustrative to apply Frank’s lesson to Adidas to see if it held water. Here’s Adidas:

Adidas: Online Mentions/Volume from 2004-Present

Clearly, the trend is up, but that’s not the whole story. Here’s Adidas compared to Nike:

Adidas vs. Nike: Online Mentions/Volume from 2004-Present

And here’s Adidas and Nike compared to “shoes”:

Adidas & Nike vs. “Shoes”: Online Mentions/Volume from 2004-Present

Clearly the discussion about both “shoes” and/or Nike are both bigger than the discussion about Adidas, so if Adidas wants to know where their brand fits in the conversation about their category (e.g., shoes, athletic apparel, sportswear, etc.), they should be listening broadly.

Confirmed: Frank’s lesson holds water.

The point: Always listen broadly, lest you misunderstand where your brand falls in the conversation.


  1. This has nothing to do with the fact that Blockbuster charged me full price for returning Starship Troopers just minutes after the computer said I’d crossed over the line into the next billing cycle.

Image: Planet Science

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