Digital MarketingStrategiesListen (If You Wanna Know a Secret)

Listen (If You Wanna Know a Secret)

It's becoming hazardous to ignore the social Web. Here's why.

As marketers, we’re experts when it comes to telling our stories, selling our ideas, and getting our messages out there. After all, it’s the mainstay of what we do: raising awareness and driving the demand that powers our businesses, organizations, and careers. We’ve developed a veritable arsenal too: from TV and radio to direct mail and print, sports marketing, online marketing, event marketing, and more. We’ve a got a toolbox full of ways to make our numbers.

Watching the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics (and yes, even the ads) I was struck by the magnitude and complexity of what China and its people were able to accomplish. In a ceremony that China almost uniquely was able to conceive of and accomplish, I had this realization as to the depth of meaning in what Tim O’Reilly had posted on Twitter earlier in the week: “The West is economically, politically and emotionally unprepared for the rise of China & India.” It occurred to me as I watched the ceremony unfolding that maybe I haven’t been listening enough. It’s easy for a marketer like me — long used to talking — to forget that this thing called an audience has thoughts of its own.

What’s becoming clear, especially for marketers, is that ignoring the conversation of your audience is hazardous. You miss things. Big things, like well-connected customers upset about things you could probably fix and capitalize on if only you knew about them. Jive Software CMO Sam Lawrence summed it up like this: “When Marketing can feel comfortable becoming listeners instead of blasting sales messages, dramatic change ensues.”

To be sure, we’re generally comfortable doing research, working with focus groups, mining our CRM (define) data for insightful nuggets, and more. What Sam is getting at though, and what the social Web is really driving, is something bigger than that. It’s the global connections set up between people, across cultures, that inform much larger marketplaces and bring meaning to much deeper trends.

That’s driving how people, in particular the Millennials, communicate and use social media, but it’s hardly limited to any one demographic or cultural segment.

So how do you tap this? How do you put listening into practice? Look at the channels around you that carry conversations. Twitter, Seesmic, and Friendfeed, along with tools like SocialThing and Ping that make keeping up with and using them easy.

On Twitter alone, here’s a sampling of what happened in the past week, and how marketers and businesses participated.

Working with FG Squared in Austin, TX, I completed an assessment for a financial services client interested in using social media as a part of its marketing program. To prepare for social media-based marketing, it’s really useful to develop an overall strategic plan that integrates the social channels with traditional media and establishes the likely reception for brands participating on the social Web.

Using BlogPulse we identified conversations that showed a clearly supportive environment for the firm involved. At the same time, these conversations made it clear that this business — by listening — could make improvements that could bring it a competitive advantage.

As I was completing the assessment, Twitter member the_mudflap coincidentally posted “Dear bank website: Why won’t your form take the date I enter without leading zeroes? Is it that hard to program?” That’s a small touchpoint (but one that gets used a lot, and by a lot of online banking customers). At the same time, the_mudflap has a point: How hard is it? More to the point, now that someone has raised the question publicly, how long will it be before it’s fixed? Something to think about, especially if your online commerce tools aren’t as usable as they might be.

Everyone has by now heard about Comcast and its social listening program, including its ComcastCares Twitter presence. For Comcast customers, one of best ways to get prompt attention is to post an issue (or commendation) on Twitter.

Looking to tap the collective experience of the Twitter community myself, I asked for recommendations on blogging platforms, and especially those with integrated content management systems (CMS). I got some great recommendations, including one for WP Remix from fellow Austinite and Twitter member lauraa. WP Remix, which runs on the WordPress platform is pretty cool. I also got an invitation from Twitter member Six Apart to try the Movable Type Community Server (MTCS). Obviously, Six Apart, creators of the Movable Type platform, are paying attention to social channels.

Note that I had not mentioned them by name in any of my posts: I simply said I was looking for a CMS/blog platform. I’m evaluating MTCS now, along with WordPress, and ExpressionEngine (the platform I use now). Notably, and not to be snarky, despite mentioning ExpressionEngine by name in several posts I’ve yet to hear from anyone — by the time that I wrote this — at Ellis Labs, makers of ExpressionEngine.

Speaking of missed cues, another story unfolded last week. This one illustrates what can happen when brands don’t monitor social channels. No one says that anyone has to use all of the channels that exist, but listening to a somewhat broader set, including the social channels, is beginning to look like a better and better idea.

Janet at ExxonMobil” created a presence on Twitter (ExxonMobilCorp) and began fielding comments. Janet’s posts were largely supportive of ExxonMobil. More than few (in fact, a lot more than a few) people concluded this was a legitimate step by ExxonMobil to actively join the social Web. As it turns out, it wasn’t. It was a brandjacking. Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang provides a complete account on his blog of the events.

Each of the above — and again, Twitter is just one channel — points up not only the usefulness of the social Web as a listening platform but also the potential exposure of ignoring it.

The channels that a marketer chooses for outreach are her own business. In comparison, the channels that all marketers ought to be listening to most definitely include the emerging social media and conversational channels. As the world increasingly connects — as we move from “think globally, act locally” to “think globally, act globally” — the more that we learn about each other and about the markets we share the better. As you watch China and its presentation of the 26th Olympic Games, the importance of this theme and its impact in marketing should become increasingly clear.

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