Archives for posts with tag: market research

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Yesterday, we introduced you to a handful of new features involving common data sources like Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr and Yelp! You guys seemed to like that, so we figured that we should also mention – for those of you who haven’t worked with the enterprise version of our product – that Tickr can be made to work with data from pretty much any source you want.

In other words, if news sites, blogs and social media feeds aren’t enough, you can feed Tickr whatever else you want to. It can be internal data like sales numbers and volume of phone calls into customer support. It can be marketing-specific metrics like share of voice, web traffic, conversions and  even Klout scores. You can basically plug anything you want into Tickr and plot it on a timeline.

Let’s look at three examples of what that looks like. First, here is a basic version of what a purely quantitative custom Tickr screen:

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Note: the above example is just a mock-up to illustrate the functionality. The data isn’t real. You can also go watch a live version of it here so you see how it behaves. (Most of the tabs and links have been deactivated but you’ll get the idea.) The point is to help you visualize what Tickr can do outside of the standard functionality that you are probably used to. Think comparative analytics, data correlation, market intelligence, product line comparisons, competitor monitoring, and so on. Your imagination is the limit.

If you prefer a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, you can build your report to look more like this:

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You can go see the live version of that mock-up here. Same thing as before: the data isn’t real and some of the functionality has been turned off. It’s just an illustration of what Tickr can do with a mix of standard and custom data.

In this example, pay particular attention to the tab titled Correlation Score (in green). If you’ve ever tried to map ROI paths along a timeline, guess what: Tickr can do that. (Note: if you want to, we can talk about how to properly measure ROI in a future post. It’s an important topic and we can definitely help you with that too.)

The screenshot below looks a little more like the Tickr overview screen you are used to, but if you look carefully, you will notice that it is a quantitative/qualitative custom configuration that combines news, stocks, unit sales and Tweets along a common timeline. As always, the timeline is completely searchable.

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If you are an executive team, a PR firm or a CEO working on a big announcement (like a major government contract, a much anticipated new product release, a major acquisition or a quarterly earnings report,) having the ability to simultaneously monitor mentions of your brand in the news and social channels and see in real time the impact that this event is having on leads, website visits, sales and even stock price, is pretty powerful. (Sorry… long sentence.) The point is that Tickr lets you do that. We’re a lot more than just a handy monitoring platform.

If you have any questions about any of this, don’t hesitate to contact our customer support team. If you don’t feel like being quite that formal, it’s okay to approach us on Facebook and on Twitter. That’s what we’re there for.

Until we chat again, we hope we’ve given you a lot to think about.

Cheers,

The Tickr Team.

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While we have your attention, be sure to enter our Command Center beta/contest (going on right now):

The categories are non-profitjournalism, and for-profit.

The way it works is simple: 1) Sign up. 2) Enjoy free access to Command Center. 3) Submit a brief case study or summary of how you used Command Center before mid-March.

Make it as simple as you want. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The most creative and/or interesting case studies/summaries will win. That’s it. We even have prizes and everything! So sign up here and have fun playing with Command Center.

 

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At long last, we can finally unveil our new baby: Command Center. We’re super excited to finally be able to share this with you.

What can you expect? More power, more data and more screens, for starters. More search and monitoring customization too. Command Center basically takes Tickr and gives it… well, superpowers.

You know what though? We’ll get down into details of how to use it next week (we’ll also be launching a contest that will let you use Command Center to help you tell your story to the world). Right now, check out our revamped website and this quick one-minute demo of Command center‘s key features, how it works, and what it can do for you. (Click here or on the image below.)

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See? Digital monitoring and social business intelligence just got 100x simpler, slicker, and more powerful. (You’re welcome.)

Cheers,

The Tickr team

Also feel free to join our growing digital community on Facebook and on Twitter and tell us what you think. (We won’t spam you. We promise.)

If we spend a lot of time talking about the need to use social media for market research, it’s because a lot of what we do revolves around that. Like most monitoring tools, Tickr is a pretty handy companion to Google when it comes to studying keyword  trends, digging up brand mentions, capturing consumer insights, and so on. You’ve seen our multi-channel dashboard. It’s simple. Today, let’s look at some numbers relating to businesses incorporating social media into their market research, courtesy of Social Media Examiner and Mediabistro.

First things first: Remember how in our last post, the study we shared with you suggested that increasing brand exposure and increasing traffic to a website were among the top goals of social media programs? We run into the same theme here, with 85% and 69% of respondents identifying them as the top two most valuable benefits of social media. Marketplace insights came in at number three (65%). We were also pretty excited to see lead generation and developing loyalty rounding out the top five.

Unfortunately, the report also tells us that almost half of B2C companies still don’t use social media for marketplace intelligence. (59% for B2C and 68% for B2B.) That’s shocking. Remember what we said in our last post about too many companies still chasing the wrong goals and not understanding how social fits into their business model? We see that reflected clearly in these two numbers.

The rest of the infographic isn’t super helpful, unfortunately, so let’s talk about some of the types of market intelligence a monitoring tool can help you with:

1. Tracking keywords (including hashtags) can help you track a campaign’s reach, stickiness and demos across demos, channels and regions. The same principle works for product releases, press releases, event awareness, etc.

2. Monitoring changes in sentiment and changes in the use and frequency of specific keyword combinations can help you graph consumer perceptions of a brand or product.

3.  Looking for sudden spike in mentions of your brand or product could signal a looming PR crisis. Use monitoring software as an early warning system.

4. Monitoring for mentions of your brand or products will alert you to customer service opportunities in real time. Airlines, cable providers, hotels and retailers are already using channels like Twitter and Facebook to respond to customer service issues in real time. Benefit: Reduces customer erosion, increases customer loyalty, increases the chances of positive WOM, positive PR, cost efficient alternative to call centers.

 5. Monitoring for mentions of your brand and key product categories will alert you to consumers considering a purchase. Weigh in and you could tip the scales in your favor.

6. Add a geolocation feature to your monitoring tools, and you will be able to map all of the above. What does that mean? More localized targeting of campaigns, responses and community engagement, for starters. You can see if a PR problem is limited to certain geographical area, connect a potential customer to the sales team closest to them, or identify areas of the country (or the world) where your latest campaign isn’t hitting the right notes.

(Above: You aren’t dreaming. That image is a sneak peek at one of the new screens available in Tickr‘s soon-to-be-released Command Center suite. And yes, we’re bringing map functionality to you guys this year. That’s all we can say for now, but… you spoke, we listened, and… you’re welcome.)

Anyway, knowing what we know, the fact that 59% of B2C companies report not using social media for marketplace intelligence really bothers us. We get the content publishing piece, but… all that talking without really listening? That’s an ocean of opportunities not even being tapped, right there. Given that real-time intelligence has a direct impact on marketing reach, net new sales, brand perception, customer loyalty and a slew of other business-relevant points of focus, we want to help change that this year. If we accomplish one thing, let it be that.

We’ll be back soon with more.

Cheers,

The Tickr team

PS: As always, we invite you to like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and of course try Tickr (it only takes a few seconds to create an account).

Don’t get any ideas. We don’t actually have a crystal ball in the office. Well… there’s the magic eight-ball and it’s never been wrong, but a crystal ball, no. Not yet at least. But as we have begun to find out, combining a few pairs of eyes, a little curiosity and some solid monitoring software is kind of the next best thing. Over the last few months, we have been looking at technology, culture and business trends to see what business wanted, what consumers wanted, where technology was and who was working on what, and we have come up with a few predictions for where things seem to be headed in the world of digital over the course of the next twelve months. Here are five that we feel pretty strongly about:

1. Mobile gets even bigger.

The trend has been pointing to an increasing shift from desktop internet access to mobile internet access for years now. This will not change in 2013. A few bits of relevant data:

A year ago, ebay bet big on mobile. The result: Roughly $10B in mobile revenue in 2012 (more than double what it was in 2011). That’s a purchase every 2 seconds. The company plans to continue to create mobile-specific transaction vehicles and content to make it even easier for sellers and buyers to use mobile devices. Mobile now also drives 22% of QVC’s digital sales. If you are not continuously working on making it easier for your customers to transact with you (or each other) via mobile devices, you need to. (Even if you are a small brick & mortar retailer, take a serious look at the possibility of enabling mobile checkouts.)

Of all searches on the web, roughly 30% now come from mobile devices. According to a BIA/Kelsey report, mobile searches will continue to catch up to desktop searches, generating 27.8 billion more queries by 2016. Even now (still at about 30%), this trend is especially important for brick & mortar businesses as the majority of mobile searches are local. Restaurants, bakeries, hardware stores, florists and other specialty retailers, take note.

Mobile paths to purchase are hot. A 2012 study by Telmetrics and mobile ad network xAd suggests that roughly 50% of mobile search queries in travel, restaurants and automotive verticals result in some kind of transaction. The number is highest for restaurants (85%), followed by automotive (51%), with travel lagging in third but at a no less impressive 46%. As stated earlier, the study also notes that local searches tend to have higher conversion rates.

If your digital strategy is not yet focused on mobile, time to change that.

Bonus: you can find pretty much every relevant 2012 mobile statistic here.

2. Apps take a bite out of the “old” web.

As tablets and other mobile devices are increasingly becoming our web interfaces of choice, apps are redefining how we think of digital access and web experiences. The “web” is quickly moving away from websites and turning to apps. While this does not signal the death of websites, businesses will have to think very seriously about how consumers are now accessing digital content, and what their expectations are in terms of digital experiences.

Some stats: There were 45.6 billion mobile app downloads made this year, nearly double the 25 billion downloads in 2011. Over six years, the progression looks like this:

2011: 24.9 billion

2012: 45.6 billion

2013: 81.4 billion

2014: 131.7 billion

2015: 205.3 billion

2016: 309.6 billion

Just as companies found themselves adding Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Youtube channels to their digital footprints four years ago, apps are cementing themselves as the new digital interaction frontier. Successful brands will continue to create a variety of digital experiences based on the types of interfaces their customers (and potential customers) use, and apps will become the increasingly crucial gateways between them and their markets.

3. Social media continues to be a mess of confusion for businesses, but… insights.

Confusion about how to properly use social channels to grow consumer communities, increase meaningful engagement, drive new business and increase brand loyalty will still plague organizations focused more on traffic and likes than on actually changing consumer attitudes and behaviors. Social platforms like Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter will continue to struggle with their revenue models and long term value to users. Measuring success (including but not limited to ROI) will continue to mix sensible, business-focused data points and social media guru-driven nonsensical value equivalency equations and ROI calculators.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel: digital intelligence tool will make it easier to dig through social channels for consumer insights and paths of opportunity. By combining digital monitoring tools and a new generation of social channel-facing CRM solutions, brands with the will to derive more pertinent insights from specific consumers and their target markets at large will be able to do so faster and cheaper than ever before. Data analysts and consumer insights specialists will increasingly see their disciplines merge as their tools become more powerful.

4. Digital mission control centers to the rescue!

With an ever increasing need for real time market data and insights from Customer Support, Marketing, PR, Business Development, Sales, and other business functions, expect to see greater investments in digital infrastructure. Major brands and the agencies that serve them have already begun to build digital mission control centers that allow them to keep tabs on a variety of channels (many of them social) and track mentions of their brands and products, monitor shifts in perception (positive or negative), track the success of specific marketing and advertising campaigns, monitor consumers’ reactions to a product launch and correlate that data to sales numbers in real time, prevent (or manage) PR crises, conduct market research, and so on.

These mission control centers will vary in size and complexity, but the trend towards creating multi-screen environments for project management teams is accelerating and for good reason: the complexity of digital channels demands new solutions and a new approach to real-time information management. Don’t worry though. This new complexity is balanced by a new generation of digital monitoring, management and visualization tools that make it easier than ever for companies to manage campaigns and workflows and organize themselves around data.

(Speaking of that, we will be releasing a pretty hot new product very soon, so stay tuned. We’re pretty sure that you’re going to like it!)

5. Big brother gets pushed out by big mother.

We’ve all heard about big brother. Looking at the amount of information collected on us each day by search engines, social media platforms and even our mobile devices, it’s easy to start feeling as if our privacy is being incessantly invaded. Many consumers have already begun to push back against digital intrusion, or at the very least, distrust it. Well, the flip side of the privacy coin may just be the concept of big mother.

Unlike big brother, big mother is not interested in exploiting your data. Big Mother has your best interest in mind. Her main concern is to analyze your tastes and habits so she can better understand and predict your needs. If you are familiar with Apple’s digital assistant, think of a more focused and insights-driven Siri. So how does big mother look on the consumer side of the digital divide? For starters, she shields you from ads you don’t want to see and instead makes ads that are both time and topic-relevant visible to you. She allows you to control the degree to which you want your digital experiences to be interrupted by commercial messages. (For instance, you may want to turn off targeted ads and special offers while you are at work, but turn them on while you are out shopping.) She also allows you to be more or less open to local ads and offers where and when you want to be. Big mother is essentially an intelligent filter whose degree of initiative you can control. “It’s almost lunch time and I want to eat someplace new today” becomes a prompt for action driven by big mother’s insights about your tastes, the time of day, your spending habits and your surroundings.

On the business side of big mother, what you have is data. If you are a pizza restaurant, big mother can let you know that right this minute, 130 people who like to eat pizza twice per week are within five blocks of your location, and that 25 of them have their local notifications turned on. For a small fee, you can choose to push an ad or an offer their way through a social channel or SMS. This push notification will not come across as spam since those 25 individuals have made themselves open to them. If, like mobile search, 85% of passive prompts from a big mother-enabled device result in a transaction, an investment of a few dollars could result in significant net new revenue and potentially a whole new set of new customers.

This organic approach to real-time, predictive marketing works because consumers are in control of it. Remember “permission marketing?” This uses mobile devices to make it a reality. It also eliminates spam and scattershot targeting (which is no kind of targeting at all), cuts down on ad spend waste, increases conversions, and does it all without betraying consumer trust. Side benefits: increased potential for social discovery, more opportunities for word-of-mouth recommendations (digital and otherwise), facilitates (and relies on) mobile payments, and above all, saves consumers time. Done well, the experience itself will be fun and cool.

The idea behind big mother is to create value for both consumers and businesses. It’s to give everyone more of what they want and less of what they don’t. By combining consumer data, social data and mobile functionality, big mother is will begin to become a reality in 2013. The first company to successfully create a slick, user-friendly interface, the connective tissue that makes it work across an ecosystem of digital channels and the marketplace that makes it all possible will literally revolutionize digital marketing and mobile commerce. It may be premature to expect something like before December 31, 2013, but as the conditions are right (the technology is available and there is a real revenue model attached to it), we could very well see the first versions of a big mother app turn up sometime in 2013. We’re crossing our fingers.

There’s a lot more exciting stuff on the calendar for 2013, but we’ll leave it at that for now. Happy 2013, everyone!

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Red Bull Stratos Mission Control: Not a Bad Template

Today, let’s take a look at 5 key considerations in the development of a digital mission control center. You didn’t think that it was going to be as easy as throwing a few monitors and monitoring tools together, did you? It’s a good start, but if you want to do it right, make sure that you follow these five guidelines (or at least give them some thought).

1. Let purpose be your guide.

We’ve talked about this before, but it bears bringing up again: don’t back yourself into a shiny-object-syndrome corner. You aren’t investing resources in a state of the art digital mission control center for the sake of having a state of the art digital mission control center. Instead, give some serious thought to what you hope to accomplish with it. Let purpose be your guide. And by purpose, we mean value, utility, benefits, advantages. The two most important questions driving the development of a digital mission control center are “how will this make us a better at (insert whatever you want here)?” and “how will we incorporate this into our day to day business processes?”

2. Move beyond buzzwords like “monitoring.”

The purpose of a digital mission control centers is rarely just to “monitor” the internets. Dig deeper: Why are you monitoring social channels? Why are you monitoring mentions of your brand or products? To what end? What do you intend to do with the information you uncover? This brings us from purpose to function. Monitoring digital channels without some follow-up function is pointless. You have to think beyond the obvious. What business functions does monitoring ultimately serve?

First, think about the monitoring piece as the first in four phases of action: Discovery. Reporting. Analysis. Response.

Second, think about whom the reporting would be geared towards. It depends on the type of information discovered, right? Here are a few examples:

Can your monitoring of digital channels help a product marketing team track reactions to a new product they just released?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help an online reputation/crisis management team spot a problem early enough to keep it from  snowballing into a full scale PR crisis?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help a consumer insights team measure changes in sentiment towards certain products, features and product trends?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help your HR department identify potentially dangerous social media behaviors in some of your employees that could be curbed through internal training?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help your marketing department adjust the tone, frequency and message of a digital campaign?

Can your monitoring of digital channels help your community management team and customer service department effectively address customers and potential customers’ questions and concerns in real time?

These are just some of the things that should drive the development of a digital mission control center. Monitoring is only the first step. Make sure it plugs in with steps 2, 3 and 4: reporting, analysis and reaction.

3. Plan for scale.

Understand the importance of your digital mission control center to the entire organization. Do this early. At first, your control center may just be three or four screens sitting in a cubicle with one person managing the monitoring function. Invariably, you will reach a place where the mission control center will outgrow the cubicle and require its own room. More likely than not, the three or four screens will quickly turn into six to eight. Instead of one person managing this, you will likely have two or three. Before long, your mission control center will grow again. Plan for it.

Take a look at mature mission control centers (NASA and CIA are good places to start). What you will see are walls of screens and rows of desks with their own banks of screens and controls. If you are a small company, you may not ever reach that kind of scale, but of you are a national or a global brand, before long, that is what you will be replicating. Same with digital agencies: if you intend to offer monitoring services for more than one or two clients, you will need to hardware-up and build capacity.

In item #2 (above), we touched on the breadth of departments that should be (and will be) leveraging your digital command center: PR, marketing, product management, customer service, community management, tech support, business development, etc. Hold that thought for about thirty seconds. Tip: you won’t need to hire “digital monitoring experts” to fill those rows of seats. Ideally, you will assign at least one person from each of those departments to be a part of that monitoring, reporting, analysis and reaction team.

Note that once it reaches a certain size, someone will need to manage workflow, coordinate collaboration, and ensure that your digital mission control center is working at 100% efficiency at all times. This person must be senior to the rest of the team and own every aspect of the mission control center’s operations. The most complex piece of this scale puzzle may actually be the selection of this individual, as the ideal qualifications and temperament for the role may be a bit of a puzzle for HR managers at first.

4. Plan for new collaboration and approval processes.

We aren’t talking about breaking down silos between departments, but we are talking about building doorways and windows connecting them all in real time. This isn’t a pipe dream. It’s an operational reality. With real time data and insights coming in in real time, and the ability to also respond to threats and opportunities in real time, the nature collaboration between departments that may otherwise be siloed outside of the mission control center changes. With PR, marketing, customer support and community management working side by side as a team, new types of processes (internal to the command center structure and external as reporting, analysis and approvals radiate outward and back) need to be established. That also means fresh tactical training for much of your staff, based on the new requirements of their roles.

This isn’t complicated or expensive, but it is necessary. And yes, building these new processes and establishing new best practices across your organization will considerably improve its reaction times and overall effectiveness.

5. Consider your monitoring, collaboration, analysis and management software carefully.

Again, let function and purpose be your guide. It doesn’t matter how pretty a piece of software is or how many Fortune 500 brands already use it. If a less sexy, less well known piece of monitoring or data visualization software helps you do your job better, then go with that one. Substance first. Flash second.

The selection of the software you will use in your command center should be the first subject of collaboration between command center team members. You don’t ever want to find yourself in a position where a digital team forces their choice of software on a PR department or digital customer service representative. Collaborate. Discuss everyone’s specific needs. Share information on new digital tools. Test. Experiment. Repeat. Seek to continuously improve your team’s capabilities by improving on the current model.

In mature (large) digital mission command centers, you may find that twenty to thirty types of software are required to allow everyone to do their jobs properly. Big community screens may focus on macro views of what is happening across all channels while individual monitors focus on what individuals need to do. A community manager may be working almost exclusively with a Radian 6 or Spiral 16 dashboard, while a CSR might have a Hootsuite or Tweetdeck tab open alongside his CSR software. A business development manager may be using Tickr to overlay sales data, inbound call data and mentions of the brand right alongside a Google analytics dashboard. As a particular event (like a possible PR crisis or a campaign launch) becomes a priority, the mission control center’s team lead may choose to dedicate the large community screens to information relating to that event and thereby change the team’s focus for a specific interval. The specificity of certain types of monitoring and response software will obviously play a key role in this process.

We’ll have more pro tips on the way. Until then, we hope what we shared with you today will help.

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If you’re only now discovering us, take our free version out for a spin. (It’s super easy.) If you’ve already done that, make sure that you follow us onTwitter and Facebook. (If not for our awesomely curated feed, to be among the first to hear about the new product we are launching very very very soon. It’s going to blow you away.)

Cheers,

The Tickr Team

In Part 1, we talked a little bit about the complexity of big data, digital/social monitoring, and the inevitable rise of mission control centers. Today, let’s talk about how to stay on track and avoid shiny object syndrome.

Why the most important question is always why?

First, let’s acknowledge that discussions between revenue generation-focused executives and budget-spending focused executives about how to measure ROI can be difficult and sometimes problematic. Command centers, in order to be worthwhile, have to demonstrate value beyond “wow, that looks cool.” Here, we run into the same types of discussions about value (and more specifically ROI) that we were having three years ago in regards to social media:

1. What is the value of having a digital mission control center? What will be the benefit(s)?

2. What will this help us do that we can’t do without it?

3. What will this help us do better?

4. Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

A quick word about value:

Next step: Defining value for the entire organization. At its most basic level, the value of building a command center is twofold:

1. Built properly, it serves a real-time funnel for market data and consumer insights.

Examples: campaign management, product launches, competitive analysis, brand sentiment, message virality,  complaints, technical questions, lead evaluation, etc.

2. Managed properly, it becomes a catalyst for operational efficiency. (Though mostly, it adds velocity to consumer-facing response functions.)

Examples: customer service, PR, reputation management, crisis management, technical support, sales, etc.

Don’t just guess at the potential value of a DMCC. Sit down with every team and/or group in your organization and ask them how a digital command center could help them do their jobs better. Start with customer service, product management, marketing, PR and sales/biz-dev. They won’t just help you map out the operational value of building a DMCC, they will also tell you exactly how it should be managed, and by whom. (This will be the topic of Part 3.)

A quick word about command centers and the marketing function:

The primary function of any marketing-related endeavor is to help grow your customer community. That translates into three areas: customer acquisition, customer development, and customer retention. One way to address this particular focus is to link a portion of the activities enabled or supported by a command center to effecting changes in customer behavior. (Hint: When customer service monitors social channels, it begins to own a big piece of the customer development and customer retention parts of the community management equation. Add word-of-mouth to the customer development and retention mechanisms, and now customer service becomes a source of lead generation.)  Having a well thought out DMCC structure and building processes around it, a company can leverage real-time monitoring and turn data into insights, insights into opportunities, then seize upon those opportunities in real time.

A not so quick word about data, market intelligence and insights:

Hundreds of millions of people talking about stuff on the internet all day isn’t just data. It’s market intelligence. Throw in some simple programming that captures certain combinations of letters and numbers, and what you have now is the ability to track and capture mentions and keywords across dozens – no, hundreds - of channels. If someone mentions the word coffee in the interwebs anywhere in the world that isn’t behind a firewall, you can capture that. You can capture how many people are talking about coffee right now versus five minutes ago or an hour ago or a month ago. You can also look into how they are using the word coffee. Are they craving it right now? Are they asking for recommendations after a bad experience turned them off a particular brand? Are they simply comparing coffee to their personal preference? (Tea, for instance.)

You can even disambiguate: maybe they were talking about a color or a candy flavor. Maybe they were referring  to a commodities report or citing economic data from Colombia. You can see where in the world they are, you can look into their wants and likes and habits, you can see what they take pictures of, what TV shows they tune into, even track their movements by observing their check-ins. You can even divine some measure of their digital influence by using tools like Klout and Kred – however controversial they may be. If you sell coffee, that sort of thing might be pretty important.

Ten years ago, companies had to pay market research firms big bucks to be able to do that, and even the most sophisticated among them couldn’t provide this degree of specificity, this breadth of data, and certainly not in real time. Today, companies can bypass market research firms altogether and create their very own in-house market intelligence operations (at least when it comes to digital). In most cases, they will spend less and get more. But even if some feel like spending exactly the same amount of money they used to, they will still capture considerably more data and insights today than they could have ever dreamed of just a short decade ago. So it’s no surprise that digital monitoring has become a thriving industry. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a software vendor that sells some sort of digital monitoring, tracking management or measurement solution. And it’s been a while since I’ve run into a PR firm or ad agency that doesn’t offer some sort of social/digital (digisocial?) intelligence, expertise or service.

This brings us back to the new wave of digital command centers being erected at pretty much every digital agency and brand headquarters in the US today.  Some are still pretty rudimentary (one or two computers with a few screens running a handful of digital monitoring and management tools), while other setups rival mission control rooms like the ones you might expect from NASA and CIA. Even though it’s still early in the game and we all understand the capabilities open to us with these new technologies, the cost efficiencies brought to market research and business intelligence, and the quantum leap in effectiveness of this type of data and insight collection, it already seems that building digital mission control centers is becoming… a fad, something new and cool to do, the next play in digital services. We haven’t even gotten into this yet, and we’ve already forgotten why we were here in the first place. That’s the danger I want to address today.

Shiny New Object Syndrome – When style erodes function:

Pre-fad, the thinking around social media was this: “This could really help us fill marketing and marketing research gaps. Let’s figure out exactly how.”

Then, when ‘Social’ became a fad, the thinking switched to this: “We need a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Oh, and a content strategy.”

See the difference?

Pre-fad, businesses looked at investments in social media and social activity in terms of opportunities and outcomes: “How do we acquire new customers? Can being here help us figure out what they like and don’t like about us and our competitors? Can we use this to improve customer service  experiences? How can this take cost out of my model? Etc.” Once ‘social’ became a fad, the questions shifted to “how many new fans, likes and followers did we get this week? What’s our Klout score? How do we get more comments on the blog? How many visitors came from Twitter last month?”

What seems more valuable and business-focused: Pre-fad or fad?

We are now confronted with a similar problem with mission control centers – at least potentially: Pre-fad, a company considering an investment in its own digital command center would look at it in terms of concrete value. The evaluation might initially be driven by a question like “how does this help us do X?” (Campaign management, reputation management, customer service, consumer targeting, market research, sentiment tracking, ROI tracking, crisis management, community management, product marketing, lead generation, etc. Good stuff that will keep your hands full all day and then some.) But when the development of digital mission control centers becomes a fad though, what we shift to is this: “Can you build us the same kind of command center company XYZ has? How many screens can we fit on this wall? Should we paint the walls black?” (I’m not joking.)

“Cool” starts to trump function. Having a DMCC becomes a badge of honor, a status symbol, a digital marketing pastiche meant to impress visitors, clients, executives, investors and even potential hires more than serve a purpose. And you know what? There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. If the purpose of a DMCC is mostly to look cool, impress clients and make everyone at corporate feel pretty good about their investment in digital and IT, that’s fine. Aesthetics matter. If anything, it’ll boost morale across the company to have a state of the art digital Batcave. In a way, it’s no different than having an impressive lobby and gorgeous receptionists. BUT, wouldn’t it make more sense to also use that investment to drive more business? To increase customer loyalty? To know exactly what product gaps to fill in the market? To spot PR crises early, before they spin out of control? Doesn’t it make more sense, then, to focus on function before style? You know the answer to that question.

I am sharing these observations with you for a few simple reasons:

  1. To warn you of a common pitfall that comes with every adoption phase: Cool new toys can and will distract you from what really matters if you let them. As my friend Tyler would say, “this is why we can’t have nice things.” My hope is that if you understand how you might screw up, (and know the signs) you will hopefully know how to stay focused.
  2. To let you know that you can have a super cool DMCC that would make the producers of Jason Bourne movies and TV shows like Strike Back and not have anything concrete to show for it.
  3. To remind you that function defines design. Build a DMCC, but never lose sight of why. The why drives the how.

Stay vigilant and keep your eye on the ball. It’s easy to get distracted.

In Part 3, we will talk in more detail about operationalizing all of this and turning your DMCC into your organization’s secret weapon of awesome. (Yep, it’s a technical term.)

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In case you haven’t added Tickr to your list of digital mission control center apps yet, give it a test drive.

You can also follow us on Twitter and hang out with us on Facebook (we’ll be your friend, even on the weekends if you want).

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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