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March 29, 2014

Five reasons businesses should listen to their customers online

Listening to customers online has been possible for some time using a plethora of free and paid tools, yet surprisingly, not all businesses are benefiting from the actionable insights that can be gained in this way. Whilst many have jumped on the social media bandwagon, more often than not, it is to push out their messages via popular social channels rather than focus upon what their customers are actually saying.

As listening to customers online can help improve overall business performance (word of mouth is after all more powerful than advertising and is now supercharged by social media), don’t miss out. This post will reveal the many types of social intelligence now readily available to switched on brands. Other articles in this series will focus on the business case for listening, as well as the various methods and tools that can be used to capture and structure social data.

1. The first thing you need to know is how social is your brand and how do you compare to your competitors? Do people talk about your category or not? A basic listening exercise should give you an idea about whether or not you have existing brand community, an un-engaged customer base or a dominance of detractors who could be putting other customers off. Include your competitors into the mix so you can benchmark against them and gain insight into what driving recommendations in your category?

2. What are people saying about your brand? Customers now tell their network exactly what they think about your products and services often at the time they are consuming them as well as pre and post purchase. That means you have an early warning system enabling you to track these comments and take action immediately before they become critical and damage your reputation. Actions could include responding to negative comments, providing online customer service and support, making improvements that will enhance the customer experience, or thanking people for spreading the good word about your business.

3. How effective is your advertising? Are your messages coming across as intended? Do people understand what you are trying to say? Do they believe it? Do they share your assets? So many questions about your advertising and communications can be answered by listening online. As you can get this feedback instantly, corrective action can be taken quickly if needed. Don’t wait months for a brand tracking study to be completed to find out your campaign is bombing. You may even find inspiration for your next campaign.

4. Who is talking about you and to what extent are their messages resonating? You need to know who is influencing perceptions of your brand. Whilst traditional media still has an important role to play, new types of influencers (e.g. bloggers and other highly connected consumers) are now in play. Although assessing influence is an imperfect science and no agreed standards exist, it is important to gauge who is having the greatest impact. Influencer (or reputation) scores like Klout are increasingly integrated into online monitoring services; they can help you find your most significant advocates as well as those who might be causing you harm.

5. Finally, where are most of the conversations occurring? Understanding your conversation hotspots can help you prioritise the social media channels where you should become active. Twitter is typically a top source of buzz, but depending on your business type, you may also need to consider more niche or emerging channels.

Unlike traditional market research, which is mediated, customer conversations online happen spontaneously and so have greater authenticity and credibility. This fact gives online sources an edge over traditional methods which typically reveal intentions rather than actual sentiment or behaviour. Studies suggest it can be predictive of business performance, so if you really want to understand the health of your brand, go online to find out. Even better, track buzz on a daily basis to learn what is resonating and adjust your communications and brand experience accordingly.

This post is based on a presentation I made in 2009 that can be found here. I have revised this topic as it is being covered in a panel I’ll be on at Social Media World Forum 2014.

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