With most New Zealanders using social media such as Facebook, Kiwi companies are increasingly turning to online communities to see what customers really think about their brands.
Sentia Media employs 200 people in Wellington to scan all forms of media including online, radio, print and television.
"More and more we see our clients wanting social media reports," chief executive John Croll said.
"They are asking us for what is influential . . . Someone having 10 followers on Twitter and only using it occasionally is just a bit of noise out there.
"It's about understanding the level of engagement - the number of followers, retweets and what else they're linking to is the other part of what clients are expecting."
People often speak candidly on platforms such as Facebook without being aware that the company they discuss could be listening.
Yet some of the information Sentia Media has found for its clients from online conversations has been hugely valuable to businesses.
"One of our clients, a surf clothing company, believed their demographic was teenage to mid-twenties girls but what we found online was that social media discussion around their clothing and brand was actually stretching out to women in their later thirties and forties, even though the company was directing all their media buying to a much younger demographic."
Telcommunications company Vodafone has created the role "head of social media" in recent years, to manage staff dedicated to Tweeting and Facebooking seven days a week. It is currently held by Mike Wilson.
"We use it to look for themes and discussions and pass these on to our various teams," he said. "This has contributed to the development and direction of a number of our products and services.
"We also have a routine report that provides our leadership team with insights directly from our customers via social media," Wilson said.
"While we use many different ways to find out what's important to our customers, social media allows us to listen to how our customers are experiencing us right now. We also engage with customers proactively by posting fun and engaging content and informing them with our latest offers, competitions and promotions."
Porirua chocolate company Whittaker's introduced new flavours of chocolate this year, including berry and biscuit, peanut butter and white raspberry, solely through social media.
"Both peanut butter and white raspberry quickly became our top sellers in our block range," brand manager Jasmine Griffin said.
"We believe Facebook in particular has been a large part of this success as it has allowed us to interact directly with a huge number of Whittaker's chocolate fans.
"We often get feedback about new flavours through our pages and these are always passed on to our new product development manager."
A survey of 1000 New Zealanders by UMR Research found more than three-quarters of them were on Facebook. Online advertising spending, including ads placed on Facebook, rose 3 per cent in New Zealand during the September quarter at $94.02 million, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
- © Fairfax NZ News