7 ways SAS uses social media monitoring to track the competitive landscape

Listen to competitors as well as the chatter. Develop your keywords—to track and respond to mentions—with internal help. Here’s how the analytics firm gets results from its reconnaissance.

Social media monitoring tips

Social media monitoring has taken on heightened importance in a wide range of business concerns, from communications to customer service.

In PR and on social media platforms, monitoring—and responding—can be powerful tools for shaping your image and claiming a greater share of voice.

Paying close attention can also help you glimpse future trends in your industry, says Kirsten Hamstra, senior global social media manager at SAS, a North Carolina-based software analytics company.

“It’s not just listening to what people are saying about you,” she says. “It’s listening about where you want to go, what the future holds.”

Here are lessons from the way SAS runs its highly effective monitoring program:

1. Involve your experts.

SAS has a team that tracks any mention of the company and its products, including questions, comments, concerns and user issues, Hamstra says.

If needed, either the monitoring team responds, or it calls on its “social media first responders,” or subject experts scattered from throughout its staff of 14,300 employees, says Hamstra.

“They have a particular subject matter expertise where they might be able answer a question that those initial folks within our social [media] center can’t,” she says.

2. Track share of voice.

Three years ago, SAS began monitoring not only what is said about the company and its initiatives, but what its competitors and customers say about the topics SAS cares about, Hamstra says.

To establish share of voice, the social media team works closely with its marketing counterparts to gather analytics that provide insights to interested parties companywide. The team delves into platforms that include Twitter, news outlets, blogs, websites and even comments on blogs and articles.

SAS evaluates comments and conversation to identify how it is performing against its competitors in its core initiatives, including analytics, customer intelligence, data management and artificial intelligence. SAS also measures the overall volume of mentions. The social media team reports monthly to the marketing groups. Each quarter, the team also reports on share of voice to the chief marketing officer and his leadership team.

3. Unleash your internal advocates.

In June, SAS’ chief marketing officer encouraged the social media team to use its employee base to drive share of voice, Hamstra says. The team set a goal of increasing its number of mentions concerning AI and machine learning by 20 percent.

Pushing the message through its intranet and the team’s blog, SAS rallied its employee base, including 600 employee advocates who are trained on social media. They suggested hashtags to promote the company’s expertise in AI and machine learning.

SAS told the advocates, “We would love your help in getting this content out there,” Hamstra says. “This is why it’s important for the brand, and this is the challenge.”

The initiative succeeded. Hamstra thinks any company with the right tools could do the same. It begins, she says, with “looking closely at what are you listening to besides mentions of your own brand.”

4. Collaborate to establish—and refine—the keywords.

When you are monitoring something as complicated as a major organization with multiple initiatives, start with core taxonomy, or a set of keywords important to you.

SAS has many products and competitors. In each area, taxonomies are will look vastly different, Hamstra says. Social media and communications can’t go it alone.

“Relying on those product marketing teams and field marketing teams to refine those taxonomies is crucial,” Hamstra says.

Similarly, you can’t remain passive—establishing the taxonomies and leaving the machine to hum along on its own. Continually refine the words and phrases you are monitoring.

“A competitor might come onto the scene that didn’t even exist a year ago, especially when you talk about software and technology,” Hamstra says.

That’s why product marketing teams are vital assets. When the market changes, they then inform the social media team, Hamstra says. Same goes for the developers, who also gain insights from the intel.

5. Monitor traditional news media.

Of the quarterly reports SAS shares with marketing leaders, social media is just half the picture, Hamstra says. The other half is traditional share-of-voice reporting from newspapers, TV networks and other media outlets.

In addition to the full-time staffer who runs social media monitoring, an employee within PR tracks share of voice in traditional news media, comparing SAS against its competitors.

Over the years, SAS leaders requested reports listing traditional media and social media coverage—side by side, to reveal the bigger story. “We wanted to see if there were trends in both over a given period of time,” Hamstra says.

For instance, if there was a major product announcement at SAS, management wanted to see whether the spike in traditional media coverage filtered to platforms such as Twitter—or vice versa. They also tracked trends within the competition, so social media could better inform marketing.

If a big announcement by competitors—or a shamefaced admission of a decline in earnings—causes a spike in coverage, what does that mean for relative reputation? (SAS is privately held.) Such intelligence on sentiment can give your internal stakeholders an advantage in a dog-eat-dog world.

6. Track trending content.

Social media monitoring technology enables SAS to watch what content is trending for each of its initiatives. Its exhaustive list of terms includes its own product names and those of its competitors.

Hamstra’s team can examine individual pieces of content and know what was the most popular and most shared among SAS and its competitors.

This helps marketers understand what resonates with customers and SAS’ wider audience. What webinars or white papers are they gobbling up? What do they yawn about and pass over? Which pieces of competitors’ content are performing well?

The value of monitoring goes beyond marketing and sales, Hamstra says. Other areas of your company—such as training, and research and development—will value the intel you provide. They want to know what your competitors and industry influencers are sharing and talking about.

Writers, marketers and other content producers need more than what time of day to post. “They want to know what’s working and what isn’t,” Hamstra says. “I really want to see what content is helpful and is resonating with the right audiences.”

Often SAS and its competitors produce content on similar topics—say, a white paper on artificial intelligence. Did the two papers perform differently? How did the other guys share theirs? Did it do better? Why? Was it more controversial? Did they use an influencer to promote it, or a series of short videos?

“We all look at each other,” Hamstra says. “We all can learn from each other.”

7. Keep modifying your search terms.

Social media monitoring and PR intelligence projects will always be works in progress, because of the constant state of change. New competitors emerge. Technologies evolve.

When you’re starting out, especially working on taxonomies, the results aren’t always illuminating. Keep refining, Hamstra urges. But don’t narrow your search terms too much, or you will miss a lot.

“Don’t be afraid of failing,” she says. “Don’t be afraid of refining. Get as many eyeballs on the results as you can.”

This means developing relationships with the front-line people who are selling or developing your products or services. The more they help you refine your monitoring, the better off you will be.

“The social team can’t know every single topic in and out, and can’t build these terms alone,” she says.

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