The Art of Listening

Online Elle Canada & Flare Magazine

As an exploration of online listening tools, I chose to listen for two traditionally print-only brands, Elle Canada and Flare. These are both Canadian fashion and lifestyle magazines targeted at Canadian women. However, there is a trend towards digitization in the magazine industry, with both brands presumably working hard to increase their online presence and online consumer engagement. With Twitter accounts, densely populated websites, and Facebook pages, I thought it would be interesting to look into how two Canadian magazines are making headway with social media.

Consumer Perceptions

One of the more unexpected results of my online listening was the overall lack of both positive and negative original consumer interactions with both brands. The vast majority of brand ‘traffic’ is related to article, photo editorial, and cover-page reproductions and postings. A small amount is related to what the editors are up to, such as this tweet by model @onlyoneclaudia on Oct 11, 6:23pm, “Amazing crowd tonight! Jeanne Becker, Dwight Druman, Julie Black, Editor & Chief of FlareMagazine, Brazen Hussy Girls.” I expected to find many more comments expressing a consumer’s love for one or the other magazine, and a significant portion of comments expressing frustrations or dislikes. However, there were not a lot of either one.

It could be argued, though, that reproductions and repostings of magazine content are predominantly positive, not neutral. If a consumer finds the content interesting enough to reproduce, then this should be considered a positive interaction. There are also a few cases where content is reproduced with a negative tone, such as this blogger critiquing Flare’s over-airbrushing of Kirsten Dunst in their feature piece.

Overall, it is remarkably difficult to distinguish differences between the two brands. This includes their tweeting styles, website voices, Facebook content (Flare’s Facebook page; Elle Canada’s Facebook page) and comments directed at them and about them. With a general social media community philosophy to simply generate interesting content, there is very limited interaction between the companies and consumers. However, there is a significant amount of consumer reproduction of this content, and depending on the companies’ goals, this may be the extent of their desires for consumer engagement.

My Listening Tools

Hootsuite

In Hootsuite, I set up several streams for both brands in order to monitor both sides of the companies’ interactions. In other words, I set up one stream populated by a list of all the individuals that I could find that were involved with the production of each magazine, and several other streams populated by searches. The search terms I used were “Elle Canada”, #ElleCanada, @ElleCanada, “Flare magazine”, #Flaremagazine, @FlareCanada, and #FlareCanada. These searches would produce a list of the comments that others had made about the two magazines. Hootsuite streams were the most effective way that I found of monitoring Twitter, as it was the most thorough, providing the most information in one place and easy comparisons.

Hootsuite Analytics

Originally, I had intended to try out Hootsuite Analytics. However, after starting to set this up, I was informed that I would have to pay $5.99/month for this service. For large companies who may not be able to keep on top of social media monitoring, and who would like more in-depth analytics on the effectiveness of their Twitter communications, this may be a worthwhile monthly expense. However, as there is no way to view a report or the information that would be provided before purchasing the service, I don’t know for sure if Hootsuite Analytics would actually be a useful tool or not.

Addict-o-Matic

Addict-o-Matic is a particularly interesting free tool that creates a social media dashboard for you. All you do is type in the term or search phrase that you would like to listen for, and the dashboard is populated with results from both regular social media channels (Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Ask.com) and some I hadn’t actually heard of before (Twingly, Blinkx). However, limited information is provided for each of the social media channels, making it difficult to compare or get a whole picture of the tone of one channel’s communication without leaving the Addict-o-Matic page.

IceRocket

IceRocket is a tool for social media listening searches. You type in a search term, similar to any Google search, and the results that are found are categorized into four main social media types. These are blogs, Facebook, Twitter, images, and ‘Big Buzz’ which is a conglomeration of the best of all of the four social media types provided. As Google searches cannot be refined by listening channel, IceRocket is a very simple and effective way to keep track of several listening types in one place.

Google Alerts

I set up daily Google Alerts for both magazines. However, the results of these searches were either unrelated, or could be found by using other free listening tools, like IceRocket, mentioned above, and Google Reader, mentioned below. The option to have only the best results sent in the alert effectively eliminated the unrelated search results, however, this also eliminated some of the less popular posts that actually were related to the search topic I was listening for. My largest problem with Google Alerts, though, has always been it’s intrusiveness. I prefer to choose when I obtain information, and, like many people, don’t particularly enjoy unnecessary e-mails.

Google Reader SM Dashboard

The SocialMedia Examiner outlined a free and effective way to use Google Reader to set up a Social Media dashboard in this article. This was a much less intrusive way to use Google to listen than having to sign up for Google Alerts. As long as results are viewed in the Google Reader application, this option has the added benefit of counting and highlighting the results that you have not actually read yet. This benefit would be very useful for making sure that every comment found by this dashboard was read, and none were passed over accidentally.

Another interesting idea presented by the SocialMedia Examiner was the inclusion of Wikipedia updates on pages relevant to your company, as well as any corresponding discussions going on about these pages. Unfortunately, while listening for Elle Canada and Flare magazine, no updates were made to their Wikipedia pages, however including these updates is a great way to make sure that any changes to your company’s page and any Wikipedia discussion about it are monitored and heard.

Social Mention

My favourite part about Social Mention is the specific numbers that are provided to quantify consumers’ overall perceptions of the brand, and their attitudes towards it. It was reassuring to find that the numbers produced by Social Mention matched quite well with the general tone and feeling that I had deduced from my listening activities.

Social Mention is yet another free online listening search engine, and as such, produces many of the same results as other listening tools. However, due to the quantitative summary data of consumers’ tone and attitudes, I added my Social Mention searches to my Google Reader SM Dashboard, allowing me the ability to monitor any changes.

Conclusions

Overall, I found that there are many useful and practical listening tools available. However, no matter how effective these tools are, a certain amount of time has to be invested into them in order to get the most out of them. These tools could be very effective for all types of companies, especially since every tool described here is free (with the exception of Hootsuite Analytics).

The question of these tools’ scalability is a little more complicated. If the company’s name is unique enough to produce meaningful and applicable results in searches across several platforms, then the size of the company may not be an issue at all. However, if the company’s name is not as unique, then the use of a large amount of search terms and various combinations of key terms will be required in order to listen thoroughly enough. This complicates the listening process, making it more difficult and time consuming, which would be more of a challenge for small businesses that do not have the time, or large companies that do not have a full-time social media employee.

During this listening exercise, I also discovered that I am particularly partial to tools that allow me to easily view and organize large amounts of data, especially for companies that are large and popular online. My favourites included Hootsuite streams, Social Mention, and the Google Reader SM Dashboard, all of which had unique features that made a large amount of information easily understood and compared.

Insights for the Future

If I were a 3rd competitor, such as Fashion magazine, I would first make sure to have a name that is easily identifiable and recognizable in searches. After attempting to find comments and information across the web, the most frustrating part was the unrelated comments that so many searches produced. While I know that it would be next to impossible to completely eliminate these unrelated search results simply by having a unique name, a recognizable name would make a significant impact to a company’s ability to listen effectively.

Secondly, any company that wished to set themselves apart online could easily use these tools to listen and create conversations with consumers, something that Elle Canada and Flare seem reluctant or uninterested in doing. While women’s fashion and lifestyle magazines usually attempt to create engagement through publishing features such as ‘letters to the editor’ and ‘ask the expert’ columns, it would be a natural extension to genuinely engage consumers and start discussions online to build the brands.

The Listening Tools

Addict-o-Matic: www.addictomatic.com

IceRocket: www.icerocket.com

Hootsuite: www.hootsuite.com

Social Mention: www.socialmention.com

Google Reader: www.google.com/reader

Google Alerts: www.google.com/alerts

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