Social media is a window to how consumers co-create or re-create a general perception of a brand. It is a rich data mine of insights which when put together like puzzle pieces reveals unlimited possibilities.
By listening to social media buzz, businesses can strategically position their brands in the minds of the consumers and in the market.
Listening, however, requires making sense of the online discussions and content creations which sometimes seem 'chaotic' and disorganized. Each buzz, every voice, all responses, each comment, and practically all contents have to be analyzed carefully so that these insights could effectively assist businesses in decision making in the different departments in the company, be it in the marketing department, corporate communications, PR department or customer relations management.
Here are some of the most common types of buzz across various social media platforms:
Complaints. For some reasons, netizens love complaining in various platforms. Many times, instead of going directly to the customer service representatives, netizens tweet or post a blog entry to complain about issues like defective products or poor customer service. Some even take photos of the brand they are complaining about to show how bad the product is.
Compliments. Though a huge number of netizens go to social media to complain or just 'moan' about product dissatisfaction, the truth is, a lot of netizens are also quick to compliment brands. Some netizens tweet to say "I love the service. It's simply perfect!" And yes, this single expression of praise could go a long way once retweeted. Similar to complaints, compliments are remarkably contagious. Netizens with the same feeling towards the brand usually agree or 'like' such kind of positive remarks.
Product usage experiences. Sharing is exactly the point of social media conversations. Good or bad, better or worse, the best or the worst - all these kinds of product usage experiences are found in forum sites, on Twitter or Sina microblog, on various blogs, or even on Facebook fan pages.
Recommendations. Many netizens initiate discussions in forum sites to ask for recommendations on various products and services in many different industries, like FMCG, automotive, technology, telcos, luxury items, cosmetics, banking and finance, hotels, restaurants, etc. Many join the conversations to recommend brands. For instance, in forum sites dedicated to notebooks and laptops, netizens usually ask for the best brands which could be used for specific purposes, like office use or gaming, but still affordable or within their budgets. During holiday seasons, like the upcoming Chinese New Year, recommendations on gifts to give, places to go to, and hotels where to stay are all part of regular social media conversations. Indeed, the insights that could benefit brands and businesses are enormous.
Suggestions. Regardless of whether the netizens are giving recommendations or complaining online, it is also normal for them to offer suggestions. For instance, netizens complaining about laptops with overheating issues usually suggest other brands without such issues, and highlight that sometimes, the most affordable brands are those with overheating problems. Some suggest ways on how to reduce 'overheating' in case the netizens can only afford those brands. More often than not, suggestions and recommendations are based on product usage experience, and so it is very crucial that the netizens talking about the brands are those who have good experiences to base their recommendations on.
Comparisons. A forum site is basically a hub for comparisons and contrasts. A mention of one brand is always tied up with mentions of its competitors. In fact, describing a particular tablet almost always leads to comparing it with the iPad. Similarly, discussions on which credit cards offer the best perks often trigger conversations on which bank is the most lenient in approving credit card applications. These comparisons are practically one of the best ways to decipher where the brand is, as far as the industry and the competitors are concerned.
Purchase intention/buying behaviour. Netizens generally ask around even before they buy items. In discussing luxury goods, for example, netizens usually express intention to buy specific brands and talk about why actual purchase is not likely to happen, i.e. because the brand is too expensive, other brands offer the same quality with less price, etc.
Switching behaviour. With brand dissatisfaction comes the switching behavior. With the endless recommendations from fellow consumers, conversations indicate that there's always a possibility of a consumer switching to another brand as a result of the discussions. This type of conversation is most common when discussing services or FMCG. For example, a discussion on Internet connectivity often leads to identifying which telecommunication network offers the best Internet speed in particular locations. Unhappy subscribers often jump to another service provider following online discussions.
These are only the most common types of conversations online; there are, in fact, as many conversations as there are netizens in the social media. All of these, in many ways, contribute to how brands are co-created or sometimes "recreated" by the consumers themselves.
Learning about the content and context of these conversations vis-à-vis the brand is the first step to building relationship with the consumers, managing the brand's reputation, generating leads, or engaging potential product ambassadors.
Finally it is important to note that it is better for businesses to know what consumers say about their brands before the competitors find out.