In my last post I talked about the importance of integrating social media into your small business strategy. Social media is not just changing the face of marketing, advertising, or media - it is also impacting the way small businesses qualify leads, drive revenue, even create and sell products. Today I focus on one of the key elements of this brave new world: listening. In the new vernacular it's called social media monitoring. I prefer to think of it as a technology solution to what my mother told me growing up: God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.
Small and large businesses alike frequently fail to comprehend how social media can be used to hear the subtle, vital nuances of the market or worse yet, the not-so-subtle screams. They get caught up in amassing huge numbers of Facebook likes, Twitter followers, and high generosity scores. They forget to actually listen to what is being said. What does this look like in the real world? Take these two infamous examples from Domino's and United Airlines.
Lagging sales at Domino's inspired the company to get involved with social media. According to DailyFinance.com, the effort breathed new life into Domino's, more than doubling the company's profits, and increasing revenue by 8.1%. What made the campaign successful? They listened! They recognized and capitalized on the basic human desire that everyone wants to be heard and to feel like their opinion matters and built an entire campaign around it. They tracked things like nation-wide service ratings, taste preferences, and customer complaints and suggestions. They didn't bury them, they didn't cover their ears, they publicly listened and embraced what they heard, made changes to their product, and then incorporated the fact that they listened into the new marketing message.
Isolated instance? Still not convinced? Consider "United Breaks Guitars." The song, essentially a complaint from an angry United Airlines passenger, was viewed over 9 million times. Four days after the video was posted, United's stock price fell 10%, or about $180 million dollars in value. Can you afford that? Of course you can't. And the opportunity doesn't stop there. Listening is a must for defense, but it's also good for playing offense. But you have to understand the context.
According to Steve Ennen, President and CIO of Social Strategy1, a company that specializes in monitoring social media opportunities, "The technology itself isn't that important. It doesn't matter if people are talking on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, or any other site. What's important is that they're talking about brands, products, and competition. It isn't about the light bulb. It is about the illumination." So, while Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin may be good starting places, don't neglect niche social media sites like Yelp, OfficeArrow, and the various groups on Ning and Quora. Just go where people are talking.
Search these sites for keywords related to your brand, products, services, and other vital aspects. If you bake and deliver cookies in Portland, search for "cookie delivery Portland." Read all the good and bad comments, and be on the lookout for potential customers, unaware that you even exist. Maybe an events planner is looking for a new vendor to give her an edge. Maybe an office manager is looking for a treat for his front-line staff. But don't stop there. Search for your direct and indirect competition. In our example, this might be "vegan cookie delivery in Portland." Read comments by and about your competition, and use the intelligence to look for your competition's weak points. The end result will be a significant increase in lead generation, networking and business opportunities and, of course, sales.
If this all seems a little overwhelming, it is. But know that we're in the middle of a change and this presents opportunities for those who choose to play, a threat for those who cling to the old ways. Small businesses have an advantage here: we are nimble. Those of us that start listening now will quickly grow accustomed to the new way of doing things and integrate it into their entire culture. Those who don't, even the big companies, are at risk of extinction. If you don't believe me, do a Netscape search on your Commodore computer and let me know what you find.
Follow Robert Ball on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RBOA