The ways that consumers interact with brands have multiplied — there are now a multitude of public touch points through which customers can either promote or put down brands. As companies seek to promote themselves through social media, they must find ways to track and enhance their progress.

If there’s one defining characteristic of the digital age, it’s road building — paving as many channels as possible to the digital consumer. Indeed, customers now have an unprecedented level of access to companies and their brands, and the floodgates are open to their products and services. But those avenues work in both directions, for better or worse.

For every touchpoint added to a user’s omnichannel experience, there is an equal, but opposite, route for feedback. As an example, it’s now possible to actually order Domino’s pizza with a tweet — but if the order doesn’t go as expected, it’s no trouble at all for an unhappy customer to tweet that disappointment to the world. To be sure, reactions are swift, critical, and public. But is that negativity all bad? And are a few positive mentions necessarily a good thing? If companies don’t benchmark their social performance, it’s impossible to tell.

Two-Lane Highway

Brands and retailers have long recognized how social media has increased the bandwidth of their feedback loops — expanding far beyond the traditional polls and focus groups — but few have learned to most effectively capitalize on those channels. The questions brands are asking have changed relatively little: how is our brand viewed? Do consumers like our latest initiative? How are we doing in comparison to the competition? Ideally, the responses to those questions are transmuted into actionable big data.

But the key is to contextualize that data — simply reacting to social media feedback with an off-the-cuff PR strategy is not an effective long-term solution.

And financial institutions provide an ideal use case for how that data can be read. Even from a social-reactionary standpoint, leaders in the industry are keenly aware of the makeup and value of feedback they receive from both social and traditional media sources. This is especially important due a perceived lack of public trust in the industry.

If a bank releases a digital wallet app, they can only accurately measure the success of their launch if they combine a baseline knowledge of the industry’s digital footprint with a deep understanding of both their competitors’ and their own current and historical positions. 20 retweets may seem abysmal — but it may actually be outstanding compared to similar launches within the same sector.

In a word, it’s impossible for a company to “feel out” public response simply by tracking consumer engagement. But with natural language processing and analytic engines, it’s possible to translate pointed criticism into actionable numbers that can be tracked against historical benchmarks.

Social Dues

The real takeaway is to approach digital innovation from a point of knowledge. With an understanding of the sample bias and expected social trajectories inherent in every industry, companies can accurately track their successes and failures against tangible metrics. And when that criticism is properly contextualized — especially as big data — it can help to improve processes and social strategies down the line.

Benchmarking has long been an endorsed necessity of digital strategy at Centric Digital, as it is truly the only functional way to make business sense of new and expansive sources of customer feedback.