Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Case study in social media monitoring

The question is not whether people are talking about you online. We know that they are. (In fact, if people are not talking about you online, you'd better get out there and get the conversation going.)

The question is, "What are you doing about the conversation?"

Tolerating the conversation isn't enough. In order to derive the greatest benefit from online engagement, you need to monitor the conversations that are already happening, and then respond when necessary.

Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? As AAA learned, the alternatives (such as a PR crises) don't leave progressive organizations with much choice.

The good news is that there are tools available to help take some of the guesswork out of who is talking and where they are.

The case study below from Marketing Profs provides insight to the challenges and solutions that AAA faced as they began to monitor their social media conversations.

by Erik Bratt

Company: American Automobile Association (AAA)

Contact: Janie Graziani, social media manager

Location: Heathrow, Fla.

Industry: Insurance, Travel Services

Annual revenue: Confidential

Number of employees: Confidential

Based in Heathrow, Fla., and founded in 1902, the American Automobile Association (AAA) is a not-for-profit insurance company known primarily for providing emergency roadside service, maps, and other travel services. It has more than 50 million members.

With an increasing number of its members starting to talk about AAA via social media, the company decided it needed to start listening and engaging.


AAA noticed that an increasing number of members were voicing issues and complaints via social media instead of calling their local AAA office. AAA understood that it needed to be aware of these conversations, not only to be responsive as possible to customers but also to make sure member concerns do not snowball into PR crises.

AAA was challenged to better monitor and respond to customer issues being aired on the social Web.


AAA already had been using a social media monitoring solution, but the company needed a more robust enterprise solution that could monitor a broader range of social media outlets and also provide CRM capabilities.

At a conference for the Society of New Communications Research (SNCR), Janie Graziani, AAA's social media manager, discovered Radian6. The company's solution was what AAA needed. Within a short time, the company began monitoring an average of about 8,500 AAA mentions per month using social media.

Because of her expertise, Graziani became the focal point for the company's customer service outreach on the social Web. Working through Graziani and using Radian6, the company began responding to everything from roadside assistance queries to website links that didn't work. In one instance, Graziani helped provide support to a woman whose college-age son was stuck in his car along the freeway in another state. Because his car had broken down in an area where AAA wasn't allowed to tow, the situation required special attention. Graziani first noticed the problem in a chat forum for the parents of college students.

Graziani sets up daily alerts for certain keywords, such as "AAA," and instant alerts for others, such as any mention of the company's president and CEO, Robert L. Darbelnet, which may require a PR response.

As social media hits the mainstream, more and more motorists are beginning to shout out on Twitter and other social media channels for help. AAA is certainly listening. (Please note: Graziani says the best way to get immediate help is still to call the AAA hotline.)


AAA doesn't have enough data to quantify the specific impact of social media monitoring, but the company has increased the immediacy with which it responds to customer issues. Of the 8,500 social media mentions the company generates per month, AAA responds to between 100 and 200 of those, Graziani says. If she can't address the complaint or issue on her own, she will funnel it to the customer support team.

Social media monitoring has also been a boon to AAA's public relations because issues that have the potential to flare up on blogs and in chat rooms are addressed more quickly.

The company is also using social media for general customer communications, such as tweeting about the company's new iPhone application.

Though the company hears its fair share of complaints, most of the comments are positive. Graziani's favorite was one that appeared on Twitter recently: "Don't you think AAA service technicians should wear superhero costumes?"

Although Graziani is technically in public relations, her role in social media means she also has one foot in customer service—proof that social media continues to blur the lines between public relations, marketing, and customer service.

Lessons Learned

Consider incorporating your public relations staff into your customer service response process when it comes to social media. PR pros understand the medium.

Monitor other social media channels, such as chat forums, so you can catch important conversations.

Social media monitoring is helping AAA to achieve to important objectives, Graziani says: "We are finding out what people are saying about us … [and] helping us quickly respond when there are issues with our products or services. It's definitely helped improve our response times."

Check out Social Media ROI Success Stories, a MarketingProfs case study collection, to see how 11 companies are using social media to market to consumers and businesses in a new way, while measuring and monitoring the success of their social media campaigns.

Erik Bratt is president of Engage Social Media (www.engagesocialmedia.com), which provides PR and social media B2C and B2B consulting services. He is a former newspaper journalist turned PR and marketing professional with more than a decade of experience in online marketing. Follow him on Twitter @erikbratt.

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At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Lauren Vargas said...

Thank you for sharing this case study because it truly shows the value and need for a listening and engagement strategy.

Lauren Vargas
Community Manager at Radian6


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