If customers gripe on Facebook about a lack of towels poolside at a property, the on-site manager is alerted so he quickly can restock them. Hotel operators also can access statistics and insight regarding their performance against local competitors. "Initially, hotel operators didn't understand the magnitude or value of an immediate review and response," Morton says, adding social media metrics has given them perspective.
Centralization yields benefits
Defense and aerospace giant Raytheon, with presences primarily on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, is gauging customer interest in Google+, Pinterest and other emerging platforms.
Similar to Best Western, Raytheon made some strategy adjustments since it first entered the social media realm. Namely, the company centralized all social media properties.
"Everything had been owned and operated differently across the enterprise," says Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications. "Human resources owned the Facebook page and their focus was on recruiting college students and other would-be employees."
Meanwhile, the communications team was operating a Twitter feed as a broadcast channel for corporate news. The company's YouTube stream had no central ownership to start, only random uploading of corporate videos.
In the past 18 months, social media oversight has been gathered under Wickham's group, allowing the alignment of social media content and user interaction with the company's carefully crafted brand and reputation strategy.
"We have always considered IT our strongest partner -- even well before social media became such an important part of our strategy," says Pam Wickham, vice president of corporate affairs and communications at Raytheon.
Wickham says the inflection point for true transformation lies in understanding the difference between merely having a presence on social media and engaging in social marketing. "Social marketing is the strategic use of social media channels to deliver and amplify specific brand messaging to a targeted audience," she says. "It's much more deliberate. One is targeting, the other is simply broadcasting your message."
Raytheon uses a combination of homegrown social media analytics tools and those commonly available on social media platforms to keep tabs on messaging and sentiment.
As Raytheon's social media presence grows, so does its risk of exposure to a negative PR event. Therefore, Wickham includes social media managers in all corporate crisis strategy planning and drills. "We've always had a robust emergency response plan within the company but now we've baked in a viral element," she says.
A recent corporate responsibility event put Raytheon's social response to the test. The company had partnered with a major football team to provide free game tickets to a group of veterans. One of the invited veterans posted on the company's Facebook page that he only received one of the two tickets promised, along with a negative comment.
Raytheon's team immediately contacted him directly and found that the distributor, rather than asking for more tickets, only handed out one ticket to each person. Raytheon was able to rectify the situation in time for the game -- something Wickham says wouldn't have happened if the Facebook page weren't so closely monitored.
To fully realize his vision, GE's Marcum says that social media platforms need to add attribution, so brands can track back content to individuals through re-tweets and shares. "Once we have the total picture, we can better understand where conversion pricing" -- or the cost to acquire a customer -- needs to be, he says.
Best Western's Morton contends that better attribution will help monetize social marketing efforts by showing the origin of sales -- for instance, an influential blogger sharing a hotel discount posting -- and "shorten the bread trail crumb to customers." His group wants to see "when and where the customer is making the purchase," he says.
The one major constraint in this vision is "making sure we can get the operational data included," Morton explains. "IT plays a crucial role here because Medallia gathers a large amount of customer feedback data, but the more we can tie customer feedback to operational metrics, then the more potential there is for insights and focused, impactful action... Hopefully as systems grow more integrated we can better automate some of these processes, allowing us to focus on deriving value from the information."
Ultimately the goal is for this process to be relatively instantaneous, Morton says, so "the second an online review or feedback pops up Medallia is already processing information captured by Best Western on what happened during the customer's stay."
For its part, PCH plans to use attribution not just to evaluate advertising ROI, but to identify influencers in the PCH social media universe as well as the audience members who are most active.
Also because of the company's large mobile following, PCH plans to keep the heat on Facebook to improve the quality of its mobile applications. "A third of our audience is mobile and that number is growing rapidly," Holland says. "Facebook apps are not completely compatible with mobile devices, but we are dependent on their developers to fix that."
Best Western's Morton, meanwhile, is studying ways to integrate social media analytics into the company's property management system. His hope is that someday if a customer tweets that he wishes he had a first-floor room, that information will be recorded as a preference in his customer profile.
Wickham, Holland, Morton and Marcum all are optimistic about the future of social marketing and are sure it will pay off for their brands. "There is a lot of work left to be done, but it's not an area of frustration -- it's one of excitement and anticipation," Marcum says.
Sandra Gittlen is a freelance technology writer in the Boston area. Contact her at email@example.com.
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This story, "Analytics boost social marketing efforts" was originally published by Computerworld.