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Blogs, Twitter and Traditional Media All Still Matter at the North Pole and Beyond: What Santa Claus Can Teach PR About Media Monitoring

By Frank Strong, Director of Public Relations, Vocus

There’s still one more unopened Christmas present under the Christmas tree. Santa left a few lessons about media monitoring—both traditional and social media—that PR professionals can apply in the New Year.

Last October, here at Vocus, we began monitoring the words “Santa Claus.” We monitored Google blogs and the top 100 U.S. newspapers, including the wire services, such as the Associated Press. Finally, we added a sample of select social media sites: Twitter, YouTube, FriendFeed, Digg and Flickr.

What did we find?

• Blogs. Santa Claus was mentioned 411 times in blogs through January 7th—of which sentiment analysis toned 10 percent as negative, 32 percent positive and 57 percent neutral. Blog coverage grew steadily from five mentions the week of October 4th to a high of 63 the week of September 20th. Interestingly enough, the most blog mentions Santa received on any single day came on December 6th—14 posts—despite Christmas still being several weeks away.

• Social Media. Old St. Nick was referenced more than 120,000 times in social media outlets over the same period. As with blogs, just over 10 percent was toned negative, although about 19 percent was positive and 73 percent was neutral. Unsurprisingly, 85 percent of those mentions occurred on Twitter, while the next largest percentage occurred in YouTube—just over eight percent.

• Traditional media. An astonishing 9,775 news articles cited Santa Claus through January 7th, with roughly 11 percent toned negative, 14 percent positive and 74 percent neutral. As with blog coverage, Santa’s mentions in traditional media grew steadily over time and peaked the week of December 20th with 2,455 articles. The Associated Press wrote about Santa more than 700 times, while newspapers, Morning Call, Star-Ledger and the Oklahoman, followed with 239, 190 and 189 respectively. Unlike blogs, the most coverage Santa earned on any single day was Christmas Eve—with 655 articles.

Media monitoring is a prerequisite for responding to social media crisis or clarifying misinformation. For example, on December 15th, @nikbv suggested on Twitter that Santa Claus might have a nefarious association with pirates: “Do you think there’s any connection between the pirate’s •yo-ho-ho’ and Santa Claus’ •ho-ho-ho…'” Surely, this is a mere rumor Santa’s PR department would like to dispel.

In another example, a little past 3 p.m. on October 9th, @TheCaitallo, wrote, “So, I’m thinking about being Santa Claus for Halloween. xD [sic] Good idea or totally stupid?” Santa’s press secretary might want to be prepared for that question at the next morning’s press conference (it’s bad enough the Christmas sales start before Thanksgiving—must they now start before Halloween as well?).

These are clear examples, but what’s not always as clear is the applicability of media monitoring for market research and PR planning. Santa’s reputation monitoring project caused me to think of five:

1. Starting point for social media. A key issue PR professionals face when kicking off social media programs is determining where to start. Finding customers by “listening” is easier said than done—since there literally are hundreds of social media sites. Given the momentum around Twitter, it’s not surprising that upwards of 80 percent of Santa’s mentions in social media stemmed from Tweets. However, the fact that YouTube followed second presents an opportunity. To build a following, forget momentarily the concept of audience identification and key message development and instead start with the community you have right now. Identify who cares about your organization—right now—and grow your community from there. For Santa, there’s a budding community on YouTube.

2. Recognize and react to crisis. At some points, Santa Claus was earning more than 10,000 Tweets a week. It’s simply not feasible to be able to read and respond to each Twitter post. However, by applying automated toning, you can isolate the negative posts, analyze them and respond accordingly. For example, as rumors of “Claustrophobia”—the fear of Santa Claus—circulated on Twitter, Santa’s marketing team could respond accordingly. Few things could ruin Christmas more than if people actually feared Santa.

3. Traditional media still matters. For all the benefits of social media (and it is a valuable undertaking), traditional media still matters: In many cases, it drives the buzz on social media. Especially for those working in b-to-b markets, with complex products and long sales cycles, it’s hard to communicate the value proposition in a single page—let alone 140 characters. For Santa, his crisis played out when the U.S. Postal Service attempted to end a program started in 1954 in the small town of North Pole, Alaska. The AP’s Anchorage bureau took note, writing several reports that were syndicated throughout the country that helped fuel the conversation in social media.

4. Marketing program planning considerations. The fact that Santa’s buzz spiked the week before Christmas is no surprise, but the rapid descent was astonishing. Santa drew nearly 20,000 social media mentions the week of Christmas, but plummeted 75 percent just after the New Year. Keeping track of who is naughty or nice is a year-long job, so Santa’s team might consider what they’ll do in the off-season to keep the buzz alive. Who says you can’t have Christmas in July?

5. New market opportunities. Santa was referenced 53 times in publications based in his home state of Alaska, while New York area publications wrote about Santa 1,568 times. That’s not surprising, given the media hub in New York, but it defied expectations to see that publications in Kentucky mentioned Santa 210 times, Louisiana 161 and Kansas 133. What would Santa find if he compared his coverage to that of a competitor—perhaps the Easter Bunny—and then cross-referenced that data with new customer acquisitions? The answer might be revealing—and would likely have an impact on the PR strategy and drive a shift in budget allocation to the geographic areas that represent the greatest opportunity. This process can easily be replicated across vertical markets and present the opportunity to clearly tie PR efforts to business results. You might even end a planning meeting with a larger PR budget.

This article is offered tongue-in-cheek, but the point is that comprehensive monitoring of your brand—in both traditional media and social media—is important. Clearly PR professionals need to monitor and listen to the conversation online if they are going to be able to respond. Moreover, in aggregate, the data can help provide a very clear and compelling case that validates PR efforts and provides insights for areas of improvement and opportunity.

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