Monday, December 12, 2011

What Are They Saying About Me

A lot has been written about the influence of social networks and mobile technology and their impact on business and society. We have seen the beginning of a dramatic impact on broadcast journalism. The average man on the street now has more technical ability to record or report live than many professionals had only a few years ago. Little escapes the ever vigilant public eye because so many people are now armed and ready with high quality, handheld video cameras that used to be just their cell phone.

But social networks are changing the world in other ways. Marketing has always been about getting the right message out, understanding or creating needs, listening and responding to your customers. Messaging has been done with print, radio and television, and more recently using web sites and on-line presence. Information has been gathered through a variety of channels including surveys, focus groups, questionnaires, internal and syndicated data sources. Customer service departments handle feedback from customers and try to resolve issues, diffuse problem situations and generally keep the peace.

Social media has introduced a variety of way to delver you message and, importantly, of knowing what your customers are saying about you. Never before has we had more ways of reaching our existing or potential customers. Beyond publishing on a web site, we have the opportunity to create a presence on well known sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, where people can opt to follow us and get messages from us on a regular basis - messages they will share with their friends and family. Moreover, we can engage them with content and even bait them with questions, concepts or proposals, encouraging them to respond and react almost in real time. We're no longer constrained by the size of the room. Our focus groups can have thousands of  participants, each constantly contributing from the comfort and safety of their own homes or offices.

Your customers are talking about you in these social networks and it is incumbent on you to listen to know what they are saying. Customers have a loud voice. They are continuously sharing facts and opinions among themselves. Remember the famous shampoo commercial where you tell two friends and they tell two friends  and you quickly see how the message will spread exponentially?  Well every person on Facebook shares with all their friends every day. One tweet can reach a hundred thousand ears, even before being retweeted.

The cell phone company had it right a few years back when they figured out how to leverage people's "friends and family" relationships to make their brand more attractive. You must plug into this same dynamic to know what is happening and to react accordingly. Find ways to become part of the conversation or, better still, to start one with your customers.

Any pricing strategy may be undermined when a customer can scan the bar code with a smart phone and find three other similar products at better price points or in other stores. Your claims will be called into question through tweets or posts. You may be the target of a satire in a YouTube video that is going viral. One Alec Baldwin incident can damage your brand faster than you can play a word game. If you doubt this, just ask American Airlines.

These exchanges will happen with or without you, so you better figure out how to become part of it all and fast. Discount coupons and clever advertising campaigns are just not enough any more.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC