Where Are You Listening?

big-ears-front-150x150The gurus of social media are talking a lot about how the rules for communicating with customers are changing, and major marketers are starting to apply them.

The crux of the new perspective shared in a seminar given by Chris Brogan and Peter Shankman was this: Companies must switch from asking themselves, “where am I advertising?” to “where am I listening?”

Companies should listen more than they talk.  Because customers are starting to listen to their “human web” or online network more than they listen to what companies themselves are saying.

This blog has already addressed (at length) the need to take a what’s-in-it-for-me (the customer) approach to putting together their marketing materials; to hear and use what the customer is saying about why they buy; and, to share valuable or useful, versus sales, information.  All of this pertains to relevance — and being heard above the din.

Scanning the web for brand-related conversations is the newest tool in the research arsenal.   Interestingly, in Web Chat can be Inspiring (see article pdf ), listening via online videos has brought IBM to the “discovery” that “potential customers tended to care less about its technologies themselves than what those technologies could do for them.” (I.e., people were talking about meetings and conversations, not VOIP and cloud delivery models.)

This should not exactly be a shock to the system (should it?!?).

The point of the article is that IBM, as well as Harrah’s and Microsoft, are starting to base their ad campaigns in part on web chatter, using what people are saying in their ad themes, content and even photos.   Then, they’re using the same Web tools to measure reaction and further hone their campaigns.

The Human Web

Back to the human web concept … and enter Customer Service.  If customers are starting to believe more in their own networks, then every company’s job is to figure out what it can do to make people like it and talk about it. Improving customer service to the point of creating evangelists is considered key to this.

The second key is interaction. If customers are talking and asking questions, they are engaged and ready to buy.  Being part of that conversation is a better sales opportunity than any ad, according to Mssrs. Brogan and Shankman.

Companies can begin to improve their interaction immediately, in many ways, even without using social media tools like blogging, Tweeting or Facebook fan pages: very simply by asking customers to engage on existing web sites; or by creating user communities or customer forums; or by commenting in online industry forums and other blogs, for example. Every touch point can be a potential means for interaction.

See What They See

There are free (blogsearch.google.com and search.twitter.com) and paid listening tools.  Starting to listen via simple search tools puts you in the customer’s shoes.  You see what they see.  This will inevitably lead to a self-evaluation, and questions like, “how strong is my own brand presence online?”  Or, to the realization that “gosh, my competitors are everywhere!”

Yes, says guru Brogan, your brand presence online is a competitive tool.

He reminds us that Google is a machine that cannot share emotion.  A basic search can never express the human element of an “I just got dumped” tweet.  Think of your own personal searches for say, hotels.  I know the first thing I look at are the reviews.

“More and more people are asking others first,” note the gurus. A new part of our mission as marketers must now be to listen, engage, and build fans that do your PR for you.