26/07/2011

By Leon Chaddock, Managing Director, Sentiment Metrics

Why a customer-focused health supplements brand is using a pioneering social media monitoring service to support its marketing strategy and actively maintain its brand reputation and integrity

Each day, more and more people are choosing digital forums as a platform to share their opinions with friends, colleagues and the wider world. For this reason, consumer-facing brands are increasingly moving their marketing and advertising spend to social media platforms with the aim of creating greater engagement with their customers.

While most companies realise the value of participating in digital engagement, not all brands have a clear strategy as to how it can help support them. At Healthspan, a web-based retailer of health supplements based in the Channel Islands, digital engagement manager, Kirk Hullis, is in no doubt that, to be successful, he must have a clear focus and only undertake activity that will generate the right kinds of customer engagement for his organisation.


Customer-led service

Established in 1996, Healthspan is the UK’s leading home-shopping supplier of vitamins, minerals and health supplements. The Guernsey-based firm is part of The Healthspan Group of companies which also comprises of a web-based skin care and pet care supplements retailers, the Blue Islands Channel Islands airline and a four-star Guernsey hotel.

Healthspan puts a strong emphasis on providing good customer service. To support this, it has two freephone call centres, located in Guernsey and Gosport, where staff take orders and answer queries. Customer orders can be made by mail order and online.

“When I first started working at Healthspan, there was a Twitter account and Facebook page but no long-term strategy about how best to tailor them to the needs of people who were visiting them,” says Healthspan customer engagement manager, Kirk Hullis.

“The plan we put in place started with basic housekeeping to get everything all in order and make sure the design was consistent and professional. Our next move was to implement a strategy to actively engage with existing and prospective target customers.”


Spreading the net

Hullis has a background in digital media marketing, including social media marketing and viral marketing, as well as more traditional web design, build and e-commerce. At Healthspan, his main responsibility involves optimising how the organisation interacts with existing and potential new customers online.

“In the past, we simply had a website where customers could place orders. Now, more people want to engage with brands and inform themselves in whichever channel they find most convenient. So my job involves steering the brand so that it fits comfortably on all those different platforms.

“Our messaging and point of difference is in the strong expert guidance and product information which we provide. We have always marketed ourselves very strongly on that expertise and we often help to clarify what vitamins and supplements are and what they do for our customers.”

Generating positive noise in order to maximise search engine optimisation is also something that Hullis actively works towards: “Our customers often give us positive feedback, especially on sites where consumers can rate companies, such as Trustpilot.co.uk. Having customers say what a good job we do and how we have helped them or listened to them is central to our brand.

“There is often the temptation in the social media space to jump on the bandwagon and react to every mention of new trends. Yet we tend to stick to our core areas and focus on those areas we believe are of most value to our customers and the business. Reacting to anything and everything can be counter-productive.”


Managing, measuring and engagement

In order to effectively research and utilise social media platforms, Healthspan uses Sentiment Metrics’ social media monitoring service to track what is being said about the brand online and actively engage with its customers. The search tool is also used to monitor key product lines such as Glucosamine for joint health, Omega-3, multi-vitamins and cod liver oil.

“Prior to engaging Sentiment Metrics at Healthspan, I had tried a number of different social media tracking platforms while working at other firms,” says Hullis. “I knew that I would be working with people in remote offices who may not be familiar with these types of platforms, so I needed a service that was self-explanatory and user-friendly so that I could simply send someone a log-in and let them get on and use it.

“The Sentiment Metrics dashboard interface is well thought-out and I like how easy it is to drill down into data, which can be accessed through different routes. The bar charts show me if there has been a high number of negative mentions on a particular day and I can easily filter through those and sort out a response accordingly. It’s also great that I can filter through mentions through platform type.”

As good customer service is crucial to the organisation, the ability to filter through and see if someone has been dissatisfied with their experience of the brand is of particular use to Healthspan. “We can then intervene and try to contact that person to see if we can rectify the problem,” says Hullis.


Gaining ground

Like most firms, Healthspan is also keen to keep track of what its competitors are doing and how people are reacting to them. “It’s important to understand how they position themselves and why they are getting lots of attention online,” says Hullis. “It might be, for instance, that they issue a lot of discount vouchers so they are featured on money-saving forums or that they offer excellent customer service and this is also being noted.”

The service is also used by the supplements specialist to set a general baseline for web mentions. “We use Sentiment Metrics to evaluate how much web chatter there is about us and how many web mentions we are getting each day, which helps me in my role to evaluate whether the activity I’m undertaking is successful and re-focus future plans where needed. We can also benchmark this information against competitors,” says Hullis.

“We have recently added the ability for customers to rate and review on our site, which previously it was not possible to do. Now, as well as our product information and image it is also possible to read what other customers think about the products.

“To encourage people to write the reviews, we wrote to our existing customer base and asked them to leave their feedback, with the incentive that they could win a packet or a bottle of the product they review. Within a fortnight, we had fully populated our site with multiple reviews across 90 per cent of our product range, which exceeded our expectations.

“I also use the Sentiment Metrics platform to monitor relevant topics being discussed online. For instance, if there is a cold weather snap and people are talking about Echinacea, we might react to this by putting a blog or a video on our website.”


To Tweet or not to Tweet?

While Healthspan has an active Facebook page and Twitter account in place, social media sites are not prioritised above digital platforms, especially those which Healthspan believes provide greater value to customers. “We don’t put huge emphasis on Twitter and Facebook channels as there are other areas – such as our blogs – which we feel it is important to concentrate on more,” says Hullis.

“We have put out offers on Facebook but we have not incentivised people to join. This was a conscious decision because we wanted to build within our community rather than build by community. Many brands see Facebook purely as a new customer acquisition tool in the sprint to get onto the social media bandwagon. What they should be doing is using those platforms to engage and interact with existing customers with the aim of retaining them.

“These kinds of customers will also create the right kind of noise and this positive customer endorsement is essential in terms of SEO rankings. We have worked very hard with our Trustpilot page, for instance, to help ensure that when someone searches for Healthspan reviews that new customers, who may not previously have heard of the brand, can see positive comments about the firm such as ‘good customer service’ or ‘quick posting and packaging’ etc.

“To us, this kind of activity is worth far more than getting 20,000 fans through running aggressive promotions to win an iPad if you ‘Like’ the brand page on Facebook. These kinds of interactions don’t actually tell you anything about that brand or give you a customer base to interact with in a meaningful and long-term way. It’s reminiscent of email marketing ten years ago where firms just sought to build the biggest email list possible without any real regard for the quality of that list - or how responsive the people targeted actually were.”


New markets

In addition to its reach, Kirk Hullis says he chose the Sentiment Metrics’ service for its multi-language capability. In the near future, he plans to use it to support Healthspan’s future growth strategy to expand the business into foreign territories: “In venturing into new markets we anticipate the multi-language functionality of the Sentiment Metrics tool will really come into its own, especially in helping us to work with different people in different remote offices and compare performance in the different territories.”