The social web hasn’t just revolutionized communications between people (and communications between brands and the public). It’s also revolutionized the way organizations operate when it comes to monitoring conversations that relate to them, their industry, their products and their campaigns.

For the last few years, digital agencies and brand management teams have been leveraging social media platforms like twitter, facebook, LinkedIn, Google + and others to monitor conversations and mentions of their brands. This alerts them to shifts in popularity, perceptions and sentiment, overall mindshare, market relevance, the effectiveness of their customer-facing efforts, and an increasingly long list of insights that help them gauge the effectiveness of their activities.

Gone are the days of lengthy, expensive, labor-intensive 3rd party market research programs. Most of what happens in the real world of brick and mortar stores and cash registers and physical products that people can touch and feel finds itself projected online, primarily through social networks. If someone buys your product and loves it, they will share what they love about it with their friends. If they hate it, you can be sure that they will share that as well. Every experience relevant enough to be shared will be, because it can be. This is the new reality of the digitally connected consumer. Good or bad, this phenomenon yields its share of advantages for brands seeking to identify areas of positive influence on the market and areas where they still have a little work to do. Knowledge, after all, is power. And the kind of real-time, multi-channel monitoring available to brands today makes brings with it a tremendous amount of actionable knowledge.

If a consumer is particularly connected, the entire path from product discovery, shopping, purchase, unboxing and usage will be systematically documented across a breadth of platforms. At any given time, a photo of your product or retail location may be shared via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram or Pinterest (to name a few). User reviews, whether positive or negative, will invariably turn up on blogs, consumer-facing websites, and in the social stream of online retailers from Amazon to Overstock. If your brand reaches enough people, thousands of micro-mentions relating to you will flood the internet every hour. Making sense of it all, organizing the noise into some kind of manageable signal, takes a bit of deliberate focus. You need tools that will help you both quantify and qualify shifts in positive and negative perceptions, for instance. You need to build internal mechanisms that will help you sort through that mess of mentions and identify valuable insights and triggers like customer service opportunities, product improvement recommendations, and possible Public Relations crises looming on the horizon, for starters.

The complexity of this task increases with the reach of the brand. Here, size (of the market) matters. For some, the process can be relatively simple. For others, entire departments have to be mobilized (or created outright) in order to address this brave new world of brand intelligence and brand response needs. You need qualified people. You need big computer screens. You need specialized  software. Before long, what started as a loose collection of laptops and digital displays starts to grow into a formalized mission control center. This is the natural evolution of brand management in the social business age. Still somewhat novel in 2012, mission control centers will be part of every organization’s infrastructure by the end of the decade.

This raises a lot of practical questions: how do we build something like that? What will I need? Where do I start? How much will it cost? What tools should I use? These are all excellent questions, and over the next few installments of this series, we will try to point you in some helpful directions. For now though, the best thing is to look at what some companies are already doing in the mission control space, and see what we can learn from them.

If you want a couple of places to start, look at what Dell, PepsiCo and Edelman Digital have done already. They are among the first organizations to have embraced and experimented with the mission control concept. In fact, check out this video from PepsiCo showcasing Gatorade’s very own mission control center. (Disclosure: Gatorade uses Tickr.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InrOvEE2v38&feature=player_embedded]

If it all seems a little complicated for the average company, don’t worry.

1. The video was cut to look complex and exciting.

2. Most brands don’t need that degree of complexity (at least not yet).

3. (And this may be the most important reason not to fret…) while some tools can be complicated, expensive and difficult to use, others are designed to simplify the monitoring process rather than making it more difficult (or pricey). We understand the need for both, but we prefer to fall in the easy to use category. Less headaches that way.

One of our goal at Tickr, for instance, is to provide a tool that requires virtually no training but offers our users powerful, easy to digest, relevant information on one screen and in real-time.

Sure, you can drill down into tweets and sources, or run reports when you need to, but the idea is to give you a clean, actionable snapshot of conversations and content being shared about your brand right out of the box. Our design is purposely simple, our features deliberately easy to use, and the entire user experience behind the tool built to be as intuitive as possible. You can use Tickr as a stand-alone monitoring dashboard or as an integral part of a more complex monitoring ecosystem like Gatorade’s. It’s entirely up to you.

If you’ve been a little gun shy when it comes to building a social media mission control center from scratch, an easy way to get over that hint of tech anxiety is to take a few minutes to test-drive the most basic version of Tickr: our free trial. (Yes, it’s free.) You won’t be able to create multiple search tabs or access every single source or menu item in the free version, but it will give you a pretty good feel for what Tickr can do and how easy it is to use. Once you’re in Tickr and building pages of your own, it won’t take you long to figure out why it is already a staple of mission control centers for digital agencies and brands: it’s simple, slick and powerful  but really simple. Nothing overwhelming about it. The Pro and Enterprise versions are loaded with additional features, but just as user-friendly.

Take a test drive and let us know what you like (or dislike) about it. We’ll take it from there.

(To be continued.)

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