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BIG Changes From BIG Data: How Rural Telcos Are Using Analytics for Sales and Marketing [Rural Telecommunications]
[June 28, 2014]

BIG Changes From BIG Data: How Rural Telcos Are Using Analytics for Sales and Marketing [Rural Telecommunications]

(Rural Telecommunications Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Rural telcos looking for tools to crunch their Web marketing are in Dozens of big-data analytics solutions are available that will make most of their presence in the digital space.

"Before using Google Analytics, we were just blindly guessing who was using our website, what information they were going after, and [we] imagined everyone at a desktop computer," said Geri Salmela, marketing director at West Central Telephone Association (Sebeka, Minn.). "We spent money building a website that was to appeal to the masses. Now, we focus on the correct audience." Bridgette Northern, marketing coordinator at Adams Telephone Cooperative (Golden, 111.), also uses the free analytics program: "Google Analytics allows us to see what pages get the best traffic, longest time spent on a page, and lowest bounce rates and site exits. This data allows us to adjust our content to make it relevant to our users." Fortunately, market research firm Forrester has conducted a rigorous study of the crème de la crème of digital analytics tools focusing on the Web's hottest marketing opportunity right now: social media.

"The days of letting the intern manage the Facebook page are long gone," said Nate Elliott, lead author of the Forrester report on social media dashboards, "Social Relationship Platforms, Q2 2013." "Most larger marketers now maintain at least 10 Facebook pages," Elliot added. "And marketers aren't just on Facebook anymore. More than 90% maintain a presence on Twitter, nearly as many use Linkcdln and more than half even use Google-K" Aaron Everson, president of analytics company Shoutlet, added, "Social marketers continually face a building list of challenges-from execution to analytics-and the pressure to prove market return-on-investment to the C-suite is mounting." Q Who'e Using Uoun Sibe? West Central's Salmela said probably the biggest eye-opener she's derived from analytics was discovering that most people clicking on the telco's website are 55 and older.

"For us, learning that our 55-plus customers are the main users of our website allows us to tailor the website specifically to them," Salmela said. "Knowing this, our strategy is simplicity and ease of use. We have big revolving banners with concise information on current news and promotions that, when clicked, take the user directly to the full story. We also feature big graphics-in addition to Web buttons and text-to make it easy to find how to pay your bill online, for example." Salmela also has noticed a major spike in visits from mobile visits over time-"enough that we took notice and reworked the website making it mobile-user friendly," she said.

In social analytics, while Forrester stressed that none of the big-data program dashboards it evaluated can be considered perfect, most go a long way toward pulling together and managing virtually all the elements of a highly effective and highly interactive social media presence.

Kim Simpson, division head of sales, marketing and customer service at KPU Telecommunications (Ketchikan, Alaska), said she's had good luck using Sprout Social ( to analyze the telco's presence on Facebook.

Using Sprout, "we have discovered what topics are of interest to our followers and also what times of day are most effective for advertising and/or messaging to our subscribers," Simpson said.

Simpson said many insights from Facebook and other social media analytics packages can be transferred over to a telco's website. After studying traffic on Facebook, for example, KPU decided to "not mix too many topics on one Web page for the new site." "Our old site was very cluttered," Simpson said. "Not only will the new site be cleaner and each page more focused, but we will be able to get a better understanding of what is of most interest to consumers by watching the browsing habits." Rhead of bhe Pack Most of the social analytics products Forrester puts at the front-of-the-pack automate the scheduling and posting of text and multimedia across a wide array of social media networks.

Most also enable a telco to monitor how its brand is faring on social media-both among casual users of Facebook and other networks, as well as more engaged influences, like bloggers. "Once they've tracked customer questions and comments, these tools help marketers analyze which require attention and then allow them to respond to those posts," Elliot said.

Moreover, most of the strong performers also help telecom staff greatly automate the processing of social media-including reading and analyzing, and sorting out who at the company should respond to a specific post.

In addition, these "social relationship platforms" help marketers manage all their social accounts, as well as all the employees permitted to post to those accounts. And most of the solutions "can assign different permission levels to different employees, and offer workflow tools for routing inbound posts to the right teams," Elliot said.

Plus, most of the dashboards can also ensure that select-or even all-outbound posts are reviewed by appropriate staff. Legal may want a gander at some posts before they go live, for example. Marketing may want to fine-tune others.

All told, Forrester evaluated social media dashboards using a 49-point checklist. It also surveyed each vendor about its product, asked for product demos, and interviewed three to five actual users of each product.

Here's how the performers Forrester presents as front-runners stack up: * Sprinkler: "Sprinkler offers the most powerful technology on the market," Elliot flatly stated. "Sprinkler set out to build a potent technology, and it succeeded." Forrester especially liked how Sprinkler can both auto-analyze inbound posts, and auto-trigger reactions to those posts. On the downside, Forrester found the learning curve for Sprinkler relatively steep.

* Hearsay Social: Telcos especially interested in leveraging social media for sales will want to take a much closer look at Hearsay Social, according to Forrester. "It offers sophisticated content sharing and seeding features, and its permissioning and oversight tools arc among the best we evaluated," Elliot said.

On the downside, some clients were disappointed with Hearsay's reporting, according to Elliot. Plus, the tool is unable to create or post rich content to social media.

> Sprodfast: "Clients were most pleased with Spredfast's measurement and reporting capabilities," Elliot said. It also helps users monitor posts on a number of sites, and is available as an iPhone app. The downside: While the tool can monitor posts, it cannot analyze those posts. Nor can it automatically tag those posts or route them.

> Shoutlat: "Shoutlet doesn't have any one feature that'll steal your heart," Elliot said. "But its long list of very good functionality adds up to our top score for current offerings." On the downside, "the company's focus is squarely on tactical social solutions, rather than on helping social media provide broader business value to marketers," Elliot said.

> Salesforc«.corn's Buddy Madia: Overall, Forrester found this tool easy-to-use. Plus, Buddy offers one of the better tool sets for posting marketing content to social networks, Elliot said. On the downside, the product has limited monitor-and-respond functionality, and its client satisfaction score lagged those of the other vendors Forrester evaluated.

> Adoba Social: "Adobe gets the basics right," Elliot said. Unlike many of the tools evaluated, Adobe Social is more about measuring social success than creating it, he added. Still, the product "monitors a broad list of sites and analyzed posts for sentiment and influence. And it offers good post scheduling and targeting tools." On the downside, the product is no standout in comparison to any of the other tools evaluated.

One caveat: Once you decide on an analytics tool, be sure you thoroughly train appropriate staff on its use. Said Adams Telephone's Northern, "Unless website owners take time to review and analyze their reports on a regular basis, and then take time to use that data to make changes to their website, they are missing out on the biggest advantage that [analytics] provides." * For us, learning that our 55-plus customers are [ihe main users of oup uuebsibe alloius us bo bailor bhe tuebsibe specifically bo bbem.

Geri Salmela Marketing Director. West Central Telephone Association Using Sprout, "we haue discovered ujhah topics are of interest to our followers and also mhat times of day are most effective for advertislog." Kim Simpson, KPU's division head of sales, marketing and customer service.

Scott Donigen, a vice president at Sprinkler-blie most powerful social inedia dashboard on the market, according bo Forresber.

Before using Google Analytics, we were justi blindly guessing ujbu mas using our website.

Geri Salmela, marketing director, West Central Telephone Association Chief Euecubive Officer Mark Zuckerbeng's 1 billion-plus Facebook members represent an eebremely lucrative marketing opportunity for rural telcos savvy in analytics.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant. Contact him at

(c) 2014 National Telephone Cooperative

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