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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Create a Research Station For Your Social Media Strategy


Why Research is Key

Back in the day, if you wanted to know how successful your marketing had been you had to use expensive and time-consuming analysis.

You might have spent time putting together a direct mail package that had a call-to-action to return a slip with a customer’s details on it, and the amount returned to you would show how successful that campaign had been.

Of course, the problem is, if you sent out 10,000 flyers, you don’t know how many actually arrived at a home; how many were read versus how many were put in the bin; and how many never made it out the post office.

The only gauge of success were the returned slips, and when you’re spending money and time creating and distributing 10,000 flyers, knowing what worked and what didn’t becomes pretty damn important.

The same goes for radio ads, TV ads, newspaper ads – sure, you’re guaranteed airtime but unless you know who saw or read your ad and what their actions were afterward, you’re no better off than that wayward flyer.

Thankfully, that was back in the day. Now you have a lot more power at your disposal when it comes to grabbing results – and by using the research from that to tailor your future moves, you can have a research station ready for every campaign.

A Research Station?

Sales are great. Sales are what helps pay the bills, pay the employees, pay stakeholders – without sales, no business will succeed. Of course, to get sales, you need to market.

But to market effectively, you need to research and then use the research to prepare your future marketing for your next batch of sales. This is where your research station comes in.

All a research station is is clever use of information-gathering tools, and collating these tools into a cohesive action plan. There are a ton of tools to use, but I’m going to look at some of the best free ones and how you can use them for your needs.

So, first things first – where to start.

Building Your Research Station

To build a solid and practical research station, you need to know where to grab your information from. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds (although the level of information will vary – free is good, but premium research will always offer more).

The best way to carry out any research is to have the information at hand you want to know about. Then you start collecting the bricks to build your station.

  • Google Alerts. Still one of the best tools for knowing what people are saying about you and your company. Set up your keywords, set up the frequency of alert, and let Google Alerts do the rest.
  • Social Mention. One of the best free solutions for finding information across the social web, Social Mention even gives a basic overview of sentiment and shared value.
  • Social Search. Not a single tool as such, but using platforms like Twitter Search and Facebook Search (amongst others) can yield a ton of information.
  • Vanity URL’s. Having a call-to-action is great – having a call-to-action that appeals to your audience is better. Use URL services like or budurl are great for providing URL’s to increase your level of attraction. (budurl is premium but offers a free trial.)

These are just some options I recommend. As I mentioned earlier, Google is your friend, so use its search to see which other platforms might interest you.

So now the bricks are in place to build, it’s time to solidify the foundations by mixing them together.

A Research Station Campaign

Because each tool above (and any you find to use) offer different strengths, the easiest way to show an example of how to use them together is with a dummy campaign. Hopefully, this can be transferred to your needs.

Let’s say you have a widget to sell. It’s not a revolutionary widget, but it’s a damn cool one. So you want to market the heck out of it and sell a ton, and retire to Barbados.

While you still use TV, or radio, or other “traditional media” to advertise, this won’t tell you why your widget is selling (other than folks like your advert, possibly). This is where you combine the research station with the media station.

Media station

Every flyer or ad you send out comes with a vanity URL (make sure the URL appeals to your audience and the needs your widget meets). This URL sends interested folks to a micro-site built specifically for the campaign.

Every area of advertising or marketing also has its own URL – so newspapers, radio, TV, etc, would be URL/tv or URL/radio (just as an example – you can be more creative).

To make your campaign even more effective, use multiple URL’s to take people to different pages of your site, based on demographics, type of widget, location, etc.

The micro-site has more call-to-actions, like a downloadable mobile APP or a QR code to scan, along with a newsletter sign-up for free updates about the widget, etc, where to find you online and more. Or you have coupons to download to get discounts from offline purchases, or to share with your friends.

You have your analytics package set up ready to grab the information about your visitors as they arrive and leave.

Your campaign is also set around specific keywords, which should also be in your micro-site URL for added visibility and measurement.

So now you have all the pieces in place, and you’ve sent the marketing out, it’s time to use your research station to gauge, measure and act upon.

Planning New Stations

By setting up your research station before your campaign – alerts, URL’s, micro-sites, type of media, what message is going to each, etc – you’ve created the basis of what information you want to receive.

This, coupled with sales of the widget from the campaign, can give you focused information that will make your next one even more effective.

So what do you take from each nugget?

  • Google Alerts. Set your keywords up from your campaign, as well as the widget name, the company name, the website address and “blog posts about WIDGET NAME”. See when you’re mentioned; where; who by; what topic they normally talk about, etc.
  • Social Mention. Type in your keywords and marketing efforts (WIDGET X on the radio, for example). Bookmark the most relevant mentions from the network results. Measure the Positive/Negative/Neutral feedback for each term.
  • Social Search. Much like Social Mention, but this time view more about the demographics on who’s talking about you. What Groups do they belong to on Facebook? Are they part of a bigger picture (mommy bloggers, widget enthusiasts, etc). Are they sharing you with their networks? If so, good or bad?
  • Analytics. Which URL’s were used? Which landing page had the biggestbounce rate? Why? Did your call-to-action work? How many apps or coupons were downloaded? What nationality was your biggest visitor base?
  • Vanity URL’s. Which keyword URL drove the most traffic? What medium offered the most return? Were location-based URL’s useful?

By collecting all of this information and more, you’re painting a picture of your customers, and how they want to be marketed to.

You’re no longer guessing about which media worked and which didn’t. No longer questioning traffic spikes and who was responsible for them. No longer wondering if people were liking your approach or if they bought on a whim.

Once you have that, it’s not rocket science as to what comes next – you use that information to get rid of the crud and build upon the good.

You eliminate the need for costly mistakes and solidify the best parts of your previous campaign into your next one. And your next one. And your next one.

You win, the customer wins – result.

How about you? How are you building stations and what binds yours together?

About the author:
Danny Brown is co-founder and partner at the SRM Group, offering smart marketing and social media business solutions with a socially responsible twist.

His blog is featured in the AdAge Power 150 list as well as Canada's Top 50 Marketing Blogs, and won the Hive Award for Best Social Media Blog at the 2010 South by South West festival.