Social Media Tools – Capabilities, Categories and Warnings

Marketing is all about understanding customers, knowing how they behave and knowing what will capture their attention and eventually their business. Social media marketing is no different – and like anything else, the right tools for the job will save a great deal of time and money.

Social media tools are one way that a brand can question its customers,find out what they do online and how they interact with each other. There is no substitute for talking to customers – this can also be done via the social platforms. However social media tools can provide valuable quantitative data to help target a campaign. Examples include:

· Categorising the social media behavior of a customer base

· Analysing the activity and demographics on social platforms – both posting and viewing

· Monitoring trends, ‘hot topics’ and brand mentions

Categorising behavior provides information on what users do on social sites – something that has a very wide variation. For example, Forester Media categorise social media users on a ‘ladder’. At the top are the creators, those who produce their own content and upload it to sites. Slightly less active are conversationalists and critics, who take part in discussions and provide feedback about products, services and events. Then there are spectators, who do not add any content of their own but read what others say or post. Finally there are the ‘inactives‘ who have no social media presence and who probably cannot be reached even by the best social media tools.

There is also another type of user, who could be dubbed ‘refusers‘. These are the people who do use social media, post their own content and communicate via the platforms, but do their best to be proof against advertising and data mining. Their behavior is worth noting for a marketing ‘reality check’.

For example, the refusers will use Facebook – but their profile will be blocked to all but friends and will contain no personal data. They will have trained themselves to ignore the right-hand side of the screen (where the advertising is), and will have disabled all apps to protect what little data they have shared. They may use mobile media, but will not ‘check in’ with their location, due to concerns about both home security and having their movements tracked. These are the people who only watch commercial television on a recorder so that they can speed through the adverts, tip up magazines to remove the inserts before buying and return direct mail unopened. They are more numerous than many think, and a marketing strategy should not ignore them.

Analysing activity and demographics can provide detailed information to help target marketing spend. To make the best use of social media, it is important to know what the users are doing, how they reached your website, how long they spent there and exactly what they did. If your site has members who have to register, these are the important people to follow – they are the ones who are sufficiently engaged to spend a few moments giving you details.

Website traffic analysis has moved on in recent years, and now covers much more than simply counting website and page visitors – but this can have downsides. For example, some social media tools will ‘trigger’ when a user visits a site, even if the ‘back’ button is pressed immediately and there is no real interaction. It is also important to track unique visitors, and to differentiate between crawlers and ‘real’ users. There are simple ways of doing this – one of the available tools, Quantcast, is a free and independent service that produces reports on the composition of the audience for websites. This allows a brand to see what sites are popular for their audience.

Traffic analysis should also track the activity of the brand itself, to avoid duplication and wasted effort.The postings and comments made by the brand are just as important as those made by the customers.

Monitoring trends is the third ‘pillar’ of social marketing analysis. For this, it is important to take account of the blogosphere – this is the space where most non-Facebook online conversations take place. Social media tools such as Google blog search and Technorati can capture the useful metrics. These include number of brand mentions for both you and your competitors, the ranking of the blogs that mention you, the frequency and number of comments made on the blogs and many other parameters.

The way that people use social media varies widely. One way to make the most of a campaign is to use social media tools to categorise a customer base by activity and behavior. The marketing activity of the brand can then be tailored to each group of potential customers in a way that will engage them.