Marketers are known for talking, not listening. That is not to suggest we have not used tools like focus groups, user surveys or other research instruments in the past. It’s just that, in the era of the participatory web, listening is not an option; it is a mandate.
It provides great opportunity to learn at a grassroots level what people really think about your brand, products or services. Indeed, listening to the groundswell of consumer-generated content is the new marketing.
People are talking and they are using the social web – blogs, social networks, wikis, forums, and video – as their mouthpiece. Take, for example, what happened on micro-blogging site Twitter following the Super Bowl. There was an outcry, even a backlash, against domain registrar Go Daddy for its controversial advertising. More than a few people went so far as to transfer their domains to other service providers!
While this was barely a blip on Go Daddy’s radar in so far as the net effect on its bottom line, the publicity cannot have been good. The effect of word of mouth in social media is not constrained to large companies either. Recently, I spoke at a gathering of local hospital marketing directors on the topic of social media.
In preparation, I visited a couple of healthcare rating and review sites to see if any of the hospitals represented might be mentioned. Oh boy, were they! One hospital in particular was dealt a number of severe blows in terms of negative reviews. Another experienced quite the opposite effect.
Don’t kid yourself. Reviews from “average people like me” are powerful. Not only do they influence consumer attitudes and behavior, often they show up prominently in search returns.
What to Listen For
There are three metrics involved in what is now referred to as Online Reputation Management: share of voice, tone of voice and trends over time.
- Share of voice. This is a measurement of how much and to what degree people are talking about you. For many small businesses, it is often the case that nothing is being said. That’s almost as bad as if people are talking negatively. When that happens, it is vital that something be done to stimulate conversation. There are a number of ways you can do so, which I will cover later in the article.
- Tone of voice. This is a gauge of whether the conversation is largely positive or negative and is often referred to as “sentiment analysis.” If the sentiment is positive, reward those who speak well of you. That will presumably encourage them to do even more. If the tone is largely negative, it is incumbent upon you to get to the root of the problem, if, in fact, a problem exists. Fix the problem and the tone will likely change. If it’s misinformation that’s being spread, you must engage the critics and correct their misunderstanding.
Bizzuka, the company I serve as marketing director, experienced this very issue a number of months ago. A blogger had written some factually incorrect information about the company and its content management system. Even worse, that post was displayed prominently on Google search returns for the word “Bizzuka.”
Two actions were taken. First, Bizzuka’s CEO responded to the post with a comment which added much needed balance. Second, we engaged in a content marketing strategy using blogs, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, online press releases and a number of other online media.
While our primary intent was to provide consumers with useful content, a secondary benefit was that the critical post was driven off the front page, replaced instead by Bizzuka generated content.
- Trends over time. It is important to monitor both the above metrics over the course of time in order to see the effects of your advertising, marketing and PR efforts.
How to Listen
A number of tools exist ranging in cost from free to very expensive. For example, you can employ a do-it-yourself approach using tools like Google Reader to subscribe to Google and Yahoo! news alerts, Technorati and Twitter keywords searches, and other RSS feeds for relevant keywords. However, using this approach there is great likelihood you will miss important information.
If your budget allows, you can hire companies such as Radian6 or Techrigy to monitor the activity for you.
A more affordable alternative might be Trackur, an inexpensive software application that offers a number of features that make it more than adequate to meet the needs of most smaller ecommerce merchants.
Join the Conversation
If a conversation already exists, then you have a place to start. I refer to this as getting a seat at someone else’s table. Listen to what’s being said and respond when appropriate.
Again, find ways to reward those who speak well of you and, in an honest, courteous fashion, address those who spread misinformation. You will be amazed at what you can learn just by engaging the groundswell in either respect. It’s good research.