Buzz monitoring: the difficulty in tracking generic brand names

Please note, this post was written by Catherine Pryce before she left the company.

Last time, I introduced you to the idea of buzz monitoring where companies can use tools, such as Radian6, to quickly identify where their brand name is being mentioned online and by whom. Such insight is invaluable as consumers are increasingly willing, and easily able, to share their thoughts with hundreds, possibly thousands of others through blogs, forums, reviews sites and social networks. Those companies that understand the need to engage with their customers through social media channels can use buzz monitoring tools to quickly identify disgruntled customers and respond to them in a public environment. Equally, buzz monitoring tools allow companies to see the positive conversations happening around their products and services, allowing their biggest fans (evangelists or advocates if you like) to be identified.

I’ve been a user of the more sophisticated tools, such as Radian6, for a while now. For most brands I have been monitoring the tool works fantastically well. However, what I have realised is that the use of a buzz monitoring tool is a great deal more difficult if you have a brand name that contains a generic word or phrase.

Let’s take the well-known chemist, Boots, as an example. On the high street Boots is an instantly recognisable brand with a store in most towns. However when it comes to social media, and in particular tracking their brand name, they are not just lost in the noise but effectively buried. Why? Because their brand name is a generic term. Finding mentions of ‘Boots’ (the chemist) is virtually impossible as it struggles to fight through the thousands of conversations happening online everyday on the topic of ‘boots’. Using Addictomatic, for example, I found just one Tweet mentioning Boots (a poor soul felt like their head was on fire having just washed their hair using tea tree oil – ‘going to Boots to get some head and shoulders’ was their plan of action!).

As you can see, this was nestled in a page full of conversations around UGG boots, cowboy boots and Wallmart. This makes it very difficult for Boots to fight through the noise.

Another example is to look at two of the giants of the mobile phone world, Vodaphone and 02. ‘Voda’ doesn’t necessarily mean anything (but if you are interested it means water in Russian!) but combined with the word ‘phone’ is a brand name that is highly distinctive, thus much easier to monitor using tools, such as Radian6. As a result, Vodaphone are well placed to monitor where they are being talked about online before responding promptly and accordingly. O2 however is a letter and a number, still a distinctive combination but seemingly more difficult to track in online conversations. A few months ago, Sales Director Ben and I, had become tired of the constant barrage of unsolicited text messages from O2. On a number of occasions we tweeted about our frustrations. Did we hear back from O2? No, we didn’t. Is this because they didn’t ‘hear us’ through the noise? It is difficult to know for sure in this instance. But bear in mind it only takes a space between the ‘O’ and the ‘2’, or a zero instead of the ‘O’ for tracking of this brand to be infinitely more difficult thus underlining the perils of generic branding, buzz monitoring and therefore reputation management.

Now you might say in the above examples; why not track more specific phrases, such as ‘Boots the pharmacy’, ‘Boots the chemist’, or ‘02 phones’? However, few consumers are likely to use such phrases when talking around the brand, particularly when using Twitter where the user is restricted by the 140 characters that a tweet allows. Equally, you could use the available filters in buzz monitoring tools but these are not always effective, particularly with a term such as ‘boots’ where there are potentially hundreds of associated words that would need to be filtered out. And using too many filters can almost have the opposite effect and leave you with very little noise at all!

What’s the solution?

For companies like Vodaphone, their choice of company name all those years ago, in the context of buzz monitoring, has to be considered more accident than design. However, in 2010, new companies coming to market need to carefully consider their choice of brand name. If you have aspirations of growing a successful business you need to accept that the Internet will play a pivotal role and inevitably customers will talk both positively and negatively about you online. It is therefore vitally important that you have the ability to track these conversations. A company name that uses one or a number of commonly used words may cause problems for you when it comes to monitoring the brand online. Should you dictate your entire branding strategy around the ability to track mentions of your company name? I perhaps would not go as far as that, as every situation is different, but it must certainly be a major consideration.

If you are a well-established company finding it difficult to track the conversations happening around your brand, you need to find ways of influencing the target audience to describe you in a way that makes it much easier to monitor noise. My solution is to use associated keywords in the information you push out to your community with the aim of encouraging the community to also adopt these keywords when talking about your brand.

To do this, you need to understand very clearly what it is that you stand for, what it is that makes you different to your competitors. Begin by creating a powerful message or tag line. You need to be crystal clear, able to sell your product, its features and benefits in a quick, keyword-rich, one-liner. Try and stick to around 140 characters or so. Think about relevant keywords that describe what you do and incorporate them into this description.

Online and offline strategies then need to be tied together so that the same, short, succinct message is used across all media. Online, a description of this kind should be consistently used in Meta data, anchor text, directory submissions, social media platform descriptions, press releases and so on.

Once you have established your message you can begin to use the closely associated keywords in online campaigns, promotions, hashtags and so on. Going back to our real life example, with Boots there are a number of keywords that you would closely associate with their products and services, ‘health’, ‘beauty’ and ‘pharmacy’ for example. Specific streams might be set up on Twitter when discussing certain product lines:

Boots Health: Blog post from Boots on vitamins for winter colds”

Boots Beauty: Get bikini beautiful in time for summer with these products (link) “

“Advice on quitting smoking from the Boots pharmacy #quitsmokingwithboots

By doing so you are encouraging your audience to also talk about Boots using commonly associated keywords. The conversations happening around ‘Boots’ become a great deal easier to monitor because you have encouraged the target audience to use associated keywords in how they describe the company, which in turn makes the use of filters in Radian6 a great deal more effective.

It is worth adding this is a longer term solution to the issue faced by companies like Boots as and by no means fool proof. But in my ealru experiments with Radian6 it does work.

I’d love to hear from anyone at Radian6 with their thoughts.

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