Are You Listening?

Monitoring customer chatter on social networks can yield big benefits, especially if IT gets involved.

People react to the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes in one of three ways: Some hope that the next knock on the door will be a member of the company's Prize Patrol carrying a giant check; some think the whole thing is a joke; and others exploit its brand for scams.

Tracking the buzz from all three types -- and responding to it -- has grown ever more complex with the spiraling growth of social media, says Josh Glantz, vice president of Publishers Clearing House Online, the Internet arm of the company that claims to have awarded more than $200 million in prize money in the past 30 years.

In addition to a small, internal social media team that uses tools like Google Alerts, Glantz recently hired an interactive marketing company to provide a more thorough social media reputation management service. It provides him with reports and analysis of all of the chatter on blogs, microblogs, forums and chat rooms, as well video-sharing and social networking sites.

In just one month, Glantz says, these efforts uncovered 73 blog posts mentioning scammers who call people and pretend to be from the sweepstakes giant. "We look at social sentiment very aggressively, because we have a sensitive brand to protect," he says.

Monitoring, analyzing and responding to what consumers are saying on social media sites are no longer just activities for big-name companies. With consumers sharing their experiences through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other outlets at "the speed of thought," as Gartner Inc. analyst Toby Bell puts it, this is quickly becoming an essential piece of any company's risk management and customer engagement strategy.

Social media monitoring efforts usually start in marketing or public relations departments. But as they become more important and expand to other areas of the company, the IT department will need to play a role.

"These systems open up opportunities that cross organizational silos, and CIOs are in the right position to understand the technology layers and how the data should connect to the business strategy," says Nathan Gilliatt, principal at Social Target LLC, a research and consulting firm in Apex, N.C.

At a minimum, he says, IT leaders should understand the goals of social media monitoring and engagement initiatives. And as practices mature, they should help to combine social media analysis with data from other systems to gain new customer insights.

The clock is ticking

It's a big challenge not only to draw a bead on what's being said on social media, but also to figure out how to respond effectively -- and to do so within an increasingly compressed time span.

"Companies used to believe a 24-to-48-hour response time was sufficient, but the clock has been reset," Bell says. "If a customer service representative doesn't respond to someone complaining fairly quickly, it looks like I'm ignoring the customer."

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