What Media Monitoring Can Teach Us About Product Launches

By Frank Strong
March 18, 2011

This is a case study of a media monitoring project that followed the launch of the Verizon Wireless iPhone. It was not commissioned or endorsed by Verizon Wireless but rather it was a project we undertook merely for the sake of illustration.

If you subscribe to the Pragmatic Marketing thinking that focus groups are qualitative - useful for collecting ideas – and that surveys are quantitative - best used to confirm assumptions - then news and social media monitoring is an emerging source of customer intelligence.  It is analyzed aggregation of collective feedback that provides a new window into the thinking of the market.

We’d readily admit that any sample of the media world, social or otherwise, no matter how large, is self-selecting.  To that end, we are not arguing that product managers or marketers should jettison traditional research methods, but rather find ways to incorporate these volumes of new data sources into their market research. 


Verizon Wireless launched its own version of the iPhone on February 10th, 2011.  So far, initial reports show that first-week sales have been weaker than AT&T’s launch of the iPhone 4, according to the Boy Genius Report.  Surely there are several contributing factors, most obvious  that until now, AT&T had no competition in the iPhone market.

However, the point of this article isn’t to analyze the market factors, it is to demonstrate how media monitoring can be used to analyze thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of data points that provide product marketers with feedback for planning and improving both products and launches. 

We say media monitoring, as opposed to social media monitoring, because when considered comprehensively, the two work hand- in-hand.  For example, sometimes the chatter on social media reaches a threshold that prompts the mainstream media to cover a topic they might otherwise have ignored.  In other cases, mainstream media drives the conversation on social media, as ReadWriteWeb reported. 

What We Monitored

The search terms were elegantly simple: we monitored for references to the Verizon iPhone.  The terms are unique enough to distinguish meaningful conversations from the noise.  We next segmented our search by three categories:  news, blogs and social media.  Segmenting the searches in this way enabled us to see the relationships or interdependencies among them.  

    • News.  News searches included monitoring coverage in virtually every U.S.-based top-tier national news outlet and major regional outlets, in business, consumer and technology publications and numbered in excess of 22,000 articles.  Examples range from Vanity Fair to Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek and also regional newspapers like the Arizona Republic and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which also captures stories produced by wire services like The Associated Press.
    • Blogs.  Blog searches were limited to the top 2,500 blogs according to a combination of data from Moreover and Techorati and based on a formula of traffic and comments. Examples include Lifehacker, Gizmodo, and The Huffington Post.   In total, more than 14,000 blog posts were included in the analysis.
    • Social media. Social media searches include every major social media site from microblogs like Twitter and FriendFeed, to networks like Facebook, to video and photo sharing sites including YouTube and Flickr. Social bookmarking sites such as Digg and Delicious were also captured.  It’s important to point out we also include forums, which are still a thriving community and a bevy of information especially around technical subjects.  More than 230,000 references in social media were analyzed.

Questions Before Answers

Verizon Wireless took a page from Apple’s marketing playbook by announcing its intent to sell an iPhone on January 11, 2011.  While rumors had already circulated for some time, this was the official announcement confirming the plans.  It mirrors the approach Apple follows with its product launches, for example the iPad was pre-announced before it was available in stores.

The initial announcement caused a dramatic spike in coverage that was universal across news blogs and social media. The time that elapsed between the pre-announcement and the announcement of availability in stores – that is launch date – provided ample opportunity to evaluate market chatter and sentiment about the Verizon iPhone.  It was a chance to identify potential issues, points that require clarification, and messages that resonate and should be reinforced at launch.  It also helps us understand which mediums contain a customer center of gravity for Verizon’s iPhone.

The key questions that should be answered include:

    • Are people talking about our product?
    • Where are they talking about our product?
    • What are they saying?
    • Who are the key influencers shaping the discussion?

Are People Talking About Our Product?

The screenshot of social media coverage above answers this question with a sizable volume of chatter.  Notice how sentiment analysis trend lines flow over time, especially as compared to a similar view of news and blogs in the screenshots below.  This is especially useful in comparing the segments by medium to identify and understand the correlation, or lack thereof, of chatter among news blogs and social media.

For example, news coverage below shows a closer relationship between news and social media than between blogs coverage and news or social media.  This tells us that in the case of Verizon iPhone, news drove the discussion on social media – as opposed to social media chatter driving news, which might be the case in a grassroots-driven launch.


Where Are They Talking About Our Product?

If we can understand where people are talking about our product, then we have a place to focus our efforts.  It’s not surprising that more than 90% of chatter occurs on Twitter. Since the platform is open and easy to use, people freely share their (often visceral) reactions. With some 200 million users posting some 95 million tweets a day, it has a sizable user base and represents perhaps the largest focus group in the world. 

Forums rank as the next largest category for an important point because it’s often overlooked as part of the social media family. In the case of technology, forums are still widely used and fantastic sources of information to get feedback from dedicated technologists, gadget enthusiasts and especially savvy users.

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About the Authors

  • Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus, a provider of cloud-based software for marketing and PR. Twitter:  @Vocus

Categories:  Market Analysis Leadership

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