What's the Buzz, Tell Me What's a Happening – Conversational Monitoring

The Web Chef's Café will focus on giving you insights, tips and links to free and fee resources on some of the latest developments in online marketing. Our Web Chef encourages you to send topic ideas and to comment on the postings as the bi-weekly series continues to evolve. Read Full Bio

When the Apostles sang "What's the Buzz? Tell me what's a happening?" in the seminal rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, they didn't have the advantage of using the sophisticated Internet listening platforms, social media monitoring and brand reputation tools that are available today. These tools, are being used to monitor the pulse of the conversations taking place on blogs, forums, Twitter feeds, opinion sites, social networks, Wikis, Podcasts, forums and other online properties where companies, brands and individuals are being praised and trashed all day long.

With news and opinions, both good and bad, traveling quickly, it is all the more important for your business to stay on top of what is being said about your people, your company and your brand.

People trust opinions of people they know. In fact, Nielsen Research did a study in 50 countries with 25,000 people that found that 90% of people trust opinions from people that they know and 70% of people trust opinions found online that they don't even know. This means that it is very important for companies to monitor what is being said about them in real time or as close to real time as possible.

A good example of rapid negative market buzz is the recent Whole Foods debacle. Whole Foods Markets instantly fired up an angry cyber mob when CEO John Mackey wrote an editorial published in The Wall Street Journal, "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare," which laid out eight libertarian health care options that infuriated the progressive community.

The news of his editorial spread like wildfire — on Twitter, many people immediately began calling for a boycott of Whole Foods by tweeting their anger with the inclusion of the hashtag #boycottwholefoods. Twendz, a tool to track what is being said in the Twitosphere, showed an immediate increase in noise about this topic.

At the Whole Foods Market forums, people rapidly posted their disappointment with his position. Elsewhere, on Facebook, a Whole Foods Boycott Group was set up. Within hours of the establishment of the group, there were almost 2,000 members — and at the time this article was written, membership had swelled to nearly 34,000. All of this negative noise may inflict real harm to Whole Foods if consumers vote with their wallets by moving their shopping dollars elsewhere.

The mainstream media and investors have begun to hear about these actions and the potential for further damage to Whole Foods continues.

In another example of the need for not only better customer service, but also to monitor the marketplace, United Airlines faced the wrath of the band "The Sons of Maxwell" after breaking band member David Carroll's guitar and then failing to reimburse him $1,200 for the damage. The group developed a song and video "dissing" United that was uploaded to YouTube and now has been viewed by over 5,000,000 people. This demonstrates yet again the power of social media to produce a groundswell of negative conversation about a company brand.


In an interesting example, closer to home, recently I discovered that Charter Communications is carefully and effectively monitoring social media. I had been having some cable connectivity problems that lead to having to periodically "re-boot" my modem. While this had happened occasionally in the past, the frequency of the disconnections kept increasing. I was planning to call Charter or bring in my computer support person to diagnose the problem. In the meantime to vent my frustration, I Tweeted the following message:

I thought I might get a reply with some suggestions from the "Twitosphere," but was impressed with the reply that I got from Charter within 4 minutes of my message:

I proceeded to follow @Umatter2ChtrG one of a five-person Charter Twitter customer service team and had a dialogue with the team leading to a technician being scheduled to evaluate the problem, which I'm happy to say seems to be solved.

I was curious as to how Charter went about tracking Tweets, so I contacted the company and asked them the following:

"I'm curious what tool you're using to monitor the Twitter Chatter? Are you simply monitoring a keyword search for "Charter" on Twitter or are you using a more sophisticating listening platform for your Twitter care team?"

Within minutes of my e-mail, in another great example of customer responsiveness, I had received the following from Eric Ketzer, Charter's Social Media Communications Manager:

"Currently we bounce between Seesmic and TweetDeck running a standard search string that includes Charter and negates a variety of words that could be associated with a 'charter.' We also use TweetLater and TweetBeep to aggregate the searches and track our conversations."

What all three of these case studies show is that companies no longer "own" their brands. Their brands are now, in part, at least defined by the conversations that surround them — conversations generated by different players in multiple communities, by the level of influence of these various conversants and by the tenor of their conversations.

While these case studies involved negative noise and positive chatter about a national retailer, a global airline and a regional telecommunications company, the same potential exists for a local company. The consumer content creators and the mainstream media are talking about local restaurants, local shops, local outlets of regional chains, so the need to stay on top of the conversational buzz starts right here at home.

For example, local Twiterrer Christopher Robin @madisonfood covers restaurants, food carts, etc. in the Madison area. He recently tweeted the following message about the closure of a downtown restaurant, Old Market Bistro, that had only been open for a short period of time.

Beyond this tweet, the Old Market Bistro had 3 reviews on Yelp including a 1 star, 4 star and 5 star. In the mainstream media, at 77 Square, a review of the opening of the restaurant generated a number of comments including one that started out "Last night I had the worst dining experience of the six years I have lived in Madison." While this was only the sentiment of a single disgruntled customer, it is indicative of the indicative of the negative vibe that local businesses should be monitoring before they mushroom into permanent damage to the brand.

One thing to be aware of in your analysis of this conversation is the "planted response," both positive and negative. Many PR firms and marketing agencies have gone rogue and are now in the unethical business of hiring people to propagate positive comments about their clients. For example according to Mobile Crunch, Reverb Communications is hiring interns to seed online comments with positive reviews of iPhone applications in the App Store.

In addition, there have been anecdotal stories of competitors trashing other players in their market without cause. This seeding of the conversation with biased feedback could prove detrimental to the whole social media concept.

So, what factors are being monitored?
According to "Smart Brief for Social Media," the factors that are being tracked, especially by the more sophisticated tools, fall into 4 main buckets — volume (how much is being said); sentiment (polarity of negative, neutral or positive conversations); virality (how far and by what means messages are spreading) and financial results (what's the impact of the conversation).

How can your firm go about monitoring what's being said?
This all depends on your resources, both people and financial. At a minimum I'd recommend that you utilize the free keyword tracking and monitoring tools that allow you to get a snapshot of what is being said. From the Charter example above, you can see some of the tools that they are using. For those of you with an enterprise or larger budgets, you might want to take a look at the more sophisticated listening platforms including those developed by Madison-based Networked Insights and their Social Sense listening platform.

Here are some other tools for you to investigate:

User-Provided Opinions

Free Keyword Tracking

Free Twitter Search and Trending Tools

Fee Services — From Low Cost Brand Monitoring to Higher Cost Listening Platforms