How Sony connects social media monitoring to ROI (and you can, too)

How Sony connects social media monitoring to ROI (and you can, too)


The words that customers use in social spaces give you significant insight about how they think—and feel—about your product or services. If you mine social media conversations for word trends, you’ll probably be surprised by the results. But surprise or not, you can learn exactly what action to take in your marketing campaigns.

Why? Because the customers told you exactly what’s important to them—and even exactly what words you can use when you market to them later.

Social media monitoring word trends can help guide your decision-making process and execution of email campaigns, content creation, content marketing and even search engine optimization. They can validate your product decisions. They can even draw a direct line from social media to ROI.

But for this kind of sophisticated analysis, an online marketer will need to mine social conversations with more than sentiment in mind.

Social media monitoring for word trends vs. sentiment analysis

Sentiment monitoring is good for a general overview of a brand mention or keyword term. At Raven, we do a lot of this, and we recently released two real-time social media monitoring and management tools to make this easier for our customers.

But there are two things to understand about social media sentiment monitoring:

  1. Sentiment is hard to define. That’s true whether you’re using an automated tool or you assign sentiment to each mention manually. Typically, you can choose from three categories: “positive” “neutral” or “negative.” Those are limited words to describe a large range of emotions customers and potential customers might use when talking about your brand, service or product.
  2. Sentiment is your value of the mention, not the customer’s. A customer’s specific words and opinions are more always more valuable than a marketer’s catchall categories. For example, perhaps a customer needs help and asks for it in a blog comment. Is that a negative sentiment? Neutral? The easiest way for a company to take action is on the word “help,” not the word “negative.”

Typically, online marketers assign and report general sentiments because they’re dealing with the problem of scale: too many people talking too many places can feel like a firehose of data, and sentiment gives them somewhere to start. If your sentiment analysis tells you that you have too many comments you would consider “negative,” then you know there’s a problem. A savvy online marketer can probably use that sentiment analysis to go about fixing those problems, or at least letting the right people know about them.

But then what? What does sentiment have to do with ROI? This is where analyzing word trends becomes extremely useful. Social media monitoring for word trends gives you more specific insight than surface-level sentiment monitoring.

Lots and lots and lots of people talking in lots and lots and lots of spaces is actually a great thing for marketers: it’s a statistically significant sample size.

Case in point: Sony.

How Sony uses social media monitoring to define ROI

At a presentation at the Direct Marketing Association 2011 conference in Boston, marketers from Sony and their digital marketing agency Harte Hanks discussed how they’re using social media monitoring and word trends to connect the dots to ROI.


Take the Sony VAIO, for example. They expected to hear people talking about the VAIO’s technical specs. People who buy laptops, after all, are generally concerned most about speed and memory and weight…all those portability things.

Instead, common words were emotions: “love.” Customers named their VAIOs, even some consistent names: VAIO-licious was common. But most of all, they talked using words like “design” and “style” and especially “color” (with those strong emotion words like “love” right in front).

Sony completely changed their marketing plans. “Style” and “design” became the exact words they used in email campaigns. Color images were more prominent. They added an accessories product line, because they discovered that customers enjoyed decorating their VAIOs. They even changed their plans for retail displays to place a greater emphasis on color. The traditionally sleek platinum-and-black Sony website uses more color on its VAIO product pages, too.


This wasn’t an easy sell internally—when is the last time you got an email about laptop technology that didn’t emphasis technical specs? But the marketing team sold the revised pitch solely on those word trends. It probably helped that click-through rate on the email marketing campaigns increased significantly, as did product sales. When pressed at the conference session for a general percentage, one Sony manager said, “I believe the technical term is ‘lots.’ ”

Social media monitoring improved product sales—a connection from social media to ROI. It even gave Sony ideas for new product lines, another revenue stream.

There’s another thing Sony got from VAIO social media monitoring: validation. Someone at Sony—undoubtedly not someone on the marketing team—made the decision to make a colorful product. Sure, Apple led the way with the original iMacs, but it had been a while since a Sony laptop was anything less than white, silver or black in color. A colorful laptop was a risk.

The product decision came first. Sales were good, but it was the social monitoring of word trends done by the marketing team that led Sony to keep emphasizing color, design and style as key words in campaigns.

Today, “color” is the No. 1 reason that people say they buy Sony VAIO. Social media monitoring provides product development validation.

Sony CyberShot

Then there’s the Sony CyberShot. The Sony marketing team had learned from the VAIO experience to expect emotion words. But surprise! What they found instead was that people were talking about technical aspects, and most especially asking for advice, technical tips and tricks and help.

Once again the word trends led to a change in strategy. Sony developed how-to YouTube videos designed to help CyberShot and other Sony camera owners. They used the actual words people used in their social media questions as video headline titles.

(Sony also said they created a Flickr community group that encourages CyberShot owners to help each other. I couldn’t find the official Sony Flickr group, and I’m going to guess that they have moved these discussions and/or prefer them to happen in Sony’s own Help forums. The existing non-official Flickr community for Sony CyberShot is 3,500+ strong and active. If someone finds a link to the official one, please let me know.)

The result? When customers could get help from on-demand YouTube videos and social forums, fewer of them telephoned Sony directly to ask for help. Sony assigns a specific cost to each phone call, and fewer calls from frustrated customers means fewer costs. Also, the Sony representative said fewer people returned their CyberShots after these initiatives.

Social media monitoring directly reduced costs associated with the traditional help call center, and it reduced product returns. That’s another connection from social media to ROI.

Sony Reader

Finally, take the Sony Reader. Social media monitoring of word trends had one word popping up over and over: moms. Moms were buying Readers or getting them as gifts. They would then turn to their social networks to ask which books they should download or recommend the Reader to other moms.

Guess how Sony changed their marketing? You know it by now: they reworked campaigns to focus on moms. Not only did this pay off in terms of better sales (again, a social media connection with ROI), it also gave them early insight about the strongest potential customer market. Exactly one year after they identified this trend from social media monitoring and adjusted their marketing, Nielson released a report that said that the people buying e-readers the most were…moms.


(Okay, the Neilson report said older women. Everyone who reported on it said moms. I don’t know why.)

Social media monitoring gave Sony early insight for a competitive advantage. Imagine getting a one-year jump on the competition, just from smart analysis of social conversations.

Does this work only for B2C?

B2B or B2C, if you’re in business, you’re selling something. (One could argue that even nonprofits are selling a cause, or governments are selling their services.) Regardless of whether you’re selling services or products, customers use words in social media networks to describe what they think and how they feel about what you’re selling. That means you can use the same social media monitoring strategies to improve your sales, validate your decisions, reduce costs and beat competitors.

It’s not just Sony catching on to the social media monitoring advantage. IBM’s recent social media analysis of women’s heel heights in recent years (yes, a bit of a gimmick) also illustrates how social media monitoring can guide product decisions. IBM went further in considering the implications in their press release:

The IBM project illustrates how sophisticated analysis of social media could be used by manufacturers in planning future products, by retailers in choosing which products to stock, and by marketers in planning advertising campaigns.

It could also help a city or government better serve its constituents. The ability to analyze social conversation in real-time can help officials see how constituents are responding to policy decisions or how outreach could be varied across different channels to get the word out about specific events. Social media analysis could also serve as an early warning system for governments around special events and unexpected occurrences.

For example, public safety officials could use this technology as part of a rapid response system for flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters; or to identify areas of public services delivery that need improvement.

What matters is where and how you’re monitoring those networks.

Where? Forums, associations, community groups and LinkedIn…these are spaces where B2Bs may get the most benefit from word trend analysis. B2C companies may prefer to track Facebook and Twitter.

How? Small businesses may find that free tools like Social Mention give them enough data. Fortune 500 companies may prefer enterprise products such as Alterian SM2 or IBM’s Business Analytics for social media data sources. Raven uses uberVU to power its real-time Social Monitor and Social Stream tools for marketing and advertising agencies and in-house professionals.

Regardless of the tool that’s best for your business, the key is to make the connection from data to insight to decisions to actions. Good decisions and good actions are the final steps to return on investment. Social media monitoring can help connect the dots to get your business there.

Arienne Holland

Arienne has spent 20 years in communications, ranging from graphic design to journalism to PR to marketing and formerly Raven's Director of Marketing and Education.

Arienne has spent 20 years in communications, ranging from graphic design to journalism to PR to marketing and formerly Raven's Director of Marketing and Education.