Social Media Research at Smith
When a video of unhygienic behavior by a Domino’s Pizza employee went viral on
YouTube and came to the attention of bloggers nationwide, company management turned
to Twitter to address the issue and ease its customers’ food safety concerns. The
episode was a graphic (revoltingly graphic!) depiction of the way online communities
and the content they create have the power to boost a company’s sales and reputation,
or sink it for good.
Social media is ubiquitous, and companies are eager to take advantage of social
networks (and also to avoid brand-killing online missteps). Smith School faculty
have a robust research agenda encompassing a wide variety of issues related to the
challenges and opportunities inherent in the Web 2.0.
Some faculty research reveals better strategies for reaching the right customers.
One recent study showed that if you’re conducting an online viral marketing campaign,
you don’t necessarily want to reach out to the person who has the most friends on
his social media platform. It turns out that just having a lot of friends doesn’t
translate into having a lot of influence. Instead, companies should be targeting
people who have the most varied interests, because their networks extend into more
groups—and results in a wider reach of potential customers.
Social tagging is also a hot research topic. Recent studies are examining the
ways that social tags provide informational value about brand equity and stock returns,
how social tags on Amazon can be used to forecast demand for books and customize
pricing strategies for different genres, and the way social tags reveal information
about customer sentiment on Twitter.
Other Smith research is helping to make sense of how user-generated content affects
a company’s brand and sales. It’s important to know what people are saying about
your company or product online, but you can’t take comments or reviews at face value.
A recent study showed that people who are very active online—those who consider
themselves “experts”—tend to be more negative, and their activity may scare off
less active customers with more positive opinions. A company’s social media strategy
should seek to engage these “mass market moderates,” and companies evaluating online
product reviews or opinion sites need to account for the disproportionate volume
of highly negative voices. But the self-avowed “experts” can bring you important
positive word-of-mouth too, a different study found—if they are satisfied with your
company or product, and if giving a positive review lets them show off their own
knowledge and expertise.
Network Structures and Connections
Corporations need to monitor online conversations and actively engage people
in a positive way. But which community members are worth watching? Quantitative
models can be an important tool for better decision making. Smith faculty developed
a model that identifies influential users in a social network—those who influence
the site activity of others—to help advertisers more effectively target their online
marketing. Another model helps track the way influential users promote products,
to help companies better structure their rewards for viral promotion. One professor
developed a model that even helps companies identify and take advantage of the influence
social networks will have on purchasers while they are still in the design stage
for the product.
The Web also offers a treasure trove of information that companies can exploit
to better understand their customers, and to more effectively monitor their brands.
Smith faculty are working on studies that show managers how to use social media
for faster, more immediate and more data-rich brand mapping. Content-creators like
bloggers are of interest to managers. How can companies leverage these influencers
and their networks? Smith faculty are examining both the network and the content
of blogs to better help companies monitor information diffusion in the context of
brand monitoring and predict which author blog channels are worth watching.
And some of the school’s research is just plain cool. Smith faculty are studying
what social media strategies are effective in helping rock bands grow their audience
base, how Twitter can be used to predict where an album will debut on the Billboard
Top 200, and even how social tags can help predict stock market returns. Stay tuned
to Smith for more results!