Understanding the social landscape of a brand and its competitors is an important first step in social business planning. Auditing a brand’s social and digital presence is a relevant step in strategic planning for both new business and longstanding accounts. In addition, digital audits become a physical asset and learning tool for clients, agency partners and agency teams.

Audits should be conducted by someone who understands the digital landscape, transmedia storytelling, and data-driven insights. The social intelligence analyst role is a new junior to mid-level role in agencies and digital consultancies that engages closely with senior-level strategy teams. And, as is the case with any piece of research, social media audits are not done overnight, they are most definitely not “cheap,” and they should always be done by trained analysts.

This week’s Friday Five explores some of the components of an audit, as well as insights on how to present and use an audit once it’s completed.

  1. What is the goal of an audit?
  2. While audits can answer many questions, the first component of executing an audit is to understand the big questions that need to be answered about how and what a community thinks about a particular topic. Some examples of audit goals include understanding the online audience, identifying the drivers of conversation within a market segment, how much a brand impacts conversation and sentiment, and who is influencing the conversation. The process of answering these questions through an audit is relatively consistent, but knowing the objective of an audit results in a valuable piece of research. Then, it is possible to hypothesize the “why?” that aligns with the social behaviors uncovered in the audit. That is where the valuable data points turn into actionable insights.

  3. Sentiment and topical analysis
  4. By analyzing public conversations about a brand and its competitors, a brand can begin to understand the social landscape, where it fits within that landscape, and where opportunities lie.

    It’s important to think like the consumer when evaluating whether a post is positive or negative. The big question: if a consumer read this tweet, blog post, or forum reply, would he or she perceive the brand to be good or bad? Would this be an endorsement or criticism? A deeper level of research can include a customized approach based on the brand, market segment, period in time, or even the online audience being listened to. Some topical data categorizations include consumer type (repeat user, new user, potential user, employee) and comment type (question, complaint, sales lead), but should be customized and amended for each brand.

  5. Digital foot-printing
  6. For both a brand and the competitive set, looking at owned online properties, such as a brand’s website or blog, and how they fit together with social media and messaging is a valuable exercise in understanding the brand’s approach to the digital landscape. To get a glimpse of a brand and its competitor’s social media strategy, take a look at its social media properties. As mentioned above around sentiment and topical analysis, this should always have a stakeholder-centric lens of analysis. When stakeholders look for a brand’s Facebook page, what do they see? This is the type of information that must be analyzed relative to the brand’s overall presence online, but also within the competitive landscape. You might find that the brand has a splintered and confusing social presence, or you might be able to begin analyzing and educating your team on a best-in-class social media strategy for a niche market.

  7. SWOT
  8. Anyone in marketing will recognize the single wrap-up slide in a deck presented in the four quadrant structure – Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  Applying this universal framework to your social audit can hit home the big insights. Ask yourself, “if I have one slide to explain what the brand is doing relative to its business objective, what would I put on it?” Feel free to get creative on the presentation of the insights, but the core components are the same as every other form of marketing. Does this drive business? Are the goals of the business being met?  This is a lot of hard work and data analysis put into a pretty box with a neat bow. Consider that the richness that comes from a social media audit – it allows for a simple SWOT analysis followed by supporting data. This supporting data helps tell the story that the SWOT highlighted.

  9. Visualization
  10. When an audit is complete, the key to data digestion is clarity. Ask a designer or visual thinker on the team to go through the audit, and ask, “What do you think upon first impression?” Common answers include, “whoa, that’s a lot of numbers.” or, “whoa, that’s a ton of copy.” The audience for the audit, whether internal, external, or both will think the same thing. Adjust the visual data and insights representation to hit home the big points. You won’t know this structure until the last moment of an audit, and often you will restructure the whole document. Just make sure to plan ahead to allow time for this – the all-important narrative required to convey any story – data or otherwise.

The audit is a resource that should be referenced often – from shifting communications objectives to aligning a marketing strategy with the social landscape – and evolved over time, it is a living, breathing piece of market research.

What are some of the questions that you are trying to answer by using social and digital audits?

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