Imagine the moment of pride when your new multimillion-dollar ad campaign breaks online. You and your board have placed high expectations on the campaign to capture mindshare and increase sales. Now, imagine the moment you learn that campaign has alienated the audience it sought to reach and the entire campaign is being scrapped.

Sound familiar? Last year's "Motrin Moms" uproar is a textbook example of social media's ability to amplify the voices of the few in a way that can force major corporations to change course. But, how do you know if they truly are the few or if they represent the sentiment of a larger majority?

Motrin's knee-jerk reaction to pull its ad campaign because it outraged some mommy bloggers may have been premature. Why? Because subsequent analysis found the negative comments were actually outweighed by the indifferent (i.e., neutral) comments - and the comments could have been brought under control without having to pull the campaign.

Here are several critical elements you need to know about measuring and monitoring sentiment regarding your company in social media - and when you should really begin to worry.

Who Needs Social Media Monitoring?

C-level decision-makers are measured by the financial success and stability of the organization. As part of that organization, PR and marketing's goal is to present the company in the best light as frequently as possible, with the presumption that positive awareness of the company/brand will translate to better financial performance. However, with the explosion of blogs, Twitter and social networks, reputation management is more difficult than ever before and, if done carelessly, can cost your company its financial and market prowess.

You need to know what's really going on: the good, bad and ugly. Social media's growing influence means your company's message and reputation are no longer solely in the hands of PR departments but in the hands of everyone with access to the Internet. While this shift has opened new doors, it has also become a frightening reality for companies of all sizes.

Any organization with a consumer-facing product should be thinking about social media monitoring. If you have a large client base that can't be managed through more personal means, you may have a community that should be monitored. Think of the blogosphere and Twitter as the new focus groups for your organization - you should be monitoring them for feedback, product ideas and sentiment.

React or Let It Ride?

It's not always easy to know when online comments about your company or product require an official response. One, two or three negative statements or articles can become viral and quickly damage your corporate reputation beyond repair. But in the case of social media, the squeaky wheel doesn't always need to be greased.

Often, cordial replies from within your organization to vet out more information is enough - because unless those one or two or three sources have a large, influential reach, they may quiet down rather than explode. Again, Johnson & Johnson's quick reaction of pulling its Motrin ad campaign because of some bloggers may have been based on social media's ability to amplify the voices of a small percentage of the Motrin target audience. The power of monitoring these platforms while gaining insight into the sentiment of the total audience helps drive those critical decisions in a more informed way. Only then can you determine when an action is warranted and justified.

You can't hide from bad news or commentary and should confront it head-on. This is not to say CEOs should personally respond to every comment or tweet, but you should look for trends that will affect your brand and potentially your bottom line. When one or two outliers are bashing your brand should you ignore them? Probably. But if your company can't risk those one or two turning into 200, then you should figure out what the issue is and deal with it.

For example, a large telecommunications vendor had news of a major security flaw in their newest product break during a leading networking security conference. Their initial reaction was to try and suppress the news, which caused an even louder outcry from their customers, so they quickly admitted their error and took the blame for trying to suppress the news. The speed with which they dealt with this series of mistakes saved their brand.

While social media monitoring and reputation management will always be a marketing/PR function, C-level executives must be primary consumers of the data these groups deliver. Only then can you have the big picture of source, context and sentiment needed to make the most informed decisions for your business.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access