About a year ago, I began looking at the competitive landscape of Social Media Intelligence (SMI), aka Social Media Monitoring, tools to advise a software company’s strategy to build its own service.
In the process it also gave a good handle on the potential of SMIs for travel and hospitality, and I wrote the following article for Tnooz.com in March, 2011, featuring the attached report:
The idea has been around for a while, but in the last approximately 18-24 months, well over 100 generalist SMIs have burst on the scene to scour the social web for content on explicit topics like airline brands, hotels, destinations, or anything travel-related in a “Listen, Engage, Analyze” model enhanced by sentiment and “Influencer” analysis.
How do they apply to travel?
Most of the social marketing buzz now revolves around Facebook and Twitter, but SMIs can capture content from those and millions of other sites to enable travel companies to do a myriad of things:
Southwest can track sentiment and volume on its Bags Fly Free campaign while doing the same on competitors – and potentially engage and convert travelers fed-up with their fees.
Virgin America engaged “influencers” to help launch a new flight route using (questionable) Klout scores, Marriott can capture sentiment about its hip new Edition Hotels, while Hipmunk can track the impact if Ashton Kutcher tweets his 7 million followers.
Airlines can monitor Netflix and Nordstrom for insight on how world-class merchandisers relate to customers, and even Andre Balazs can capture conversations about Lindsay Lohan’s latest exploits at the Chateau Marmont to drive a little more viral PR (discreetly, of course).
Peeling back the onion
The possibilities now are compelling, but as with any nascent technology space, the hype (“Listen to 9 BILLION conversations about YOUR brand!”) can easily obscure the realities.
In one telling case we tested, the top influencer identified by a prominent brand in the space, for its own brand keyword, was an Amazon video product page for “Breaking Bad: Season One”.
So while the technology is fascinating and will continually improve, there are holes, it can be overwhelming to evaluate them all, pricing varies considerably across self-serve, full-serve, and hybrid business models, and you could incur significant indirect costs to develop effective marketing and brand intelligence.
Since different companies have different needs and we didn’t feel ranking a select group of the 100+ companies works, we set out to help you “peel back the onion” in the key areas of competency to separate the bells, whistles and hype from truly practical and strategic capabilities, and we also believe 7 key trends still hold true:
- Low initial barriers to entry enable a hot, but highly competitive market space
- Listening is commoditized – what matters is quality of content and what you can do with it, not the quantity
- Continued consolidation, roll-up, and failure
- Vertical-specific players (like Revinate and ReviewPro) will continue to emerge
- Pricing varies considerably, and a key challenge will be understanding and managing direct and indirect costs
- Convergence of the SMI space and broader web marketing and analytics services
- Integration of social media Listening content into search results
Consider #6. The ability of SMIs as a whole to “Analyze” topic-specific trend and sentiment analytics is impressive, but we felt their capabilities fall short of what’s needed to develop effective market insight or brand strategy and cannot deliver tangible conversion and revenue analytics (yet).
We did believe the gaps could begin to close if Omniture entered the space and experienced audience marketing powers like Nielsen continued to invest, and sure enough, just last Thursday, Adobe (which acquired Omniture) announced its new SocialAnalytics product, following Nielsen’s recent relaunch of BuzzMetrics as NM Incite in a new JV with McKinsey.
The impact? Continued convergence in the social media marketing and web analytics space, along with more integrated value propositions for customers.
But that whooshing sound you may have heard was the collective balloon deflating for a bunch of startups trying to claw their way into corporate markets.
The bottom line? The SMI space is hot, and the need for technology and analytics to improve will only intensify as social media use continues to expand – especially as a younger generation sharing everything online grows.
But be diligent to separate promise from reality and gauge how effectively SMIs can help your business. If you’re currently using one of these tools, feel free to share your experience.