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Posted: June 29, 2009

With Twitter, listen first — and then jump in

Use social media to 'join the conversation' and connect with your customers

Rebecca Cole

Raise your hand if you know what Twitter is. Good for you.

Now raise your hand if you know what the heck it has to do with business — other than wasting your precious time.

In reality, Twitter has a lot to offer businesses. All those tweets about your company — whether it is Qwest, Sun Microsystems or a local restaurant — are customers talking about your products, your customer service and your brand.

And if your company isn’t engaging those customers or is still relying on traditional marketing tactics to “start the conversation,” it may be time to wake up and wade in.

“The conversation is happening without us,” says Doyle Albee, president of Metzger Associates. “We can either find it and participate or pretend it’s not going on. I would advise finding it and jumping in.”

But jumping in is harder than it looks.

And although social media makes it easier than ever for companies to connect with customers where their customers are talking about them — on Twitter, Facebook, message boards and blogs – a rush to join the crowd online can create ripples of ill will that are hard to stop.

That’s what Albee and two other panelists, James Clark, co-founder of Room 214 and Justin Wyman of Collective Intellect, told a packed audience at the Boulder Marketing Group’s monthly meeting on June 25.

Listen first

“Start by listening. That’s No. 1,” Clark said. “Identify where the communities are and what they are talking about.”

Too often, he said, companies dive right into social media without considering the consequences.

“The value of most information today is zero,” Clark said. “The real resource is attention, and how do you gather attention to your organization? You do it by finding those communities who are already talking about you.”

Establish goals and objectives, then determine the right technology

Want feedback on a product’s latest features and what to include in future versions?

Then hit the message boards and solicit input from developers who are already talking about the product or others like it, Clark said. Just be sure to respond to that input and let the community know their ideas are being incorporated.

Want to improve customer service? Establish a Twitter account and encourage customers to use that as another route to resolve problems.

But don’t just direct them to a 1-800 number in a tweet. Instead, Albee said, handle the problem right there on Twitter. And remember, Twitter and other social media forums are lightening-quick; waiting three days to respond is a sure route to being fired by the customer.

Know the rules of each community

While they all have common ties, each community has its own rules of engagement, Clark said.

“Its kind of like ‘Lord of the Flies.’ They each have their own rules on how the society functions. And if you don’t learn the rules you could do more damage than good.”

One rule does hold true across all communities: Never operate in stealth mode. That way, Clark said, when a challenge does arise — and inevitably, it will — it can be quickly addressed.

Don’t boil the ocean

“Any company not listening to the social media space right now is making an epic mistake,” Albee said. “But it is better not to do it than do it badly.”

Instead, Albee and Clark advise, don’t try to engage with every community out there. Be selective; pick the key influencers in the conversation and those that will meet your objectives.

Albee advocates devoting two hours a day to social media efforts —a half-hour listening, a half-hour responding and one hour creating content.

Determine how to manage it

Here’s a scenario: The PR department decides to start using Twitter. When a customer tweets a complaint about his or her bill. PR sends the complaint along to a customer service manager, who asks, “What’s Twitter?”

In other words, social media efforts should be a company wide strategy. And although various departments may have different objectives and use different technologies, everyone needs to understand the overall strategy.

“You may get into social media in one area, the one that has the most needs,” Clark said, “but you need to get everyone’s input on what they want to see out of it.”

Measure against stated goals

“You need to identify what you are looking for first and understand it, and then look for it in a really intelligent way,” said Justin Wyman of Boulder-based Collective Intellect. “If you don’t zero in on what your research objective is, you will spend a lot of time wading in the abyss.”

Calling it “difficult and dangerous,” Wyman cautions against companies sorting through mountains of data and trying to make sense of it on their own.

“It’s not easy to aggregate data without having to weed through thousands of posts,” Wyman said. “You’re dealing with complex conversations. It’s time consuming and hard to see the big picture.”

Albee said measuring the value of social media is not a numbers game. With a medium that can “change on a dime,” what counts are the connections and what influential people are saying.

“The real question is, ‘What happens if you don’t engage?’” he said.

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Rebecca Cole is the online editor at Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit "think-and-do" tank that drives the efficient use of energy and resources. Learn more about RMI's latest initiative, Reinventing Fire, to move the U.S. off fossil fuels by 2050.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

I think an important element to consider when jumping into the Social Networking conversation is that the traditional forms of ROI are not the same. Your website's traffic will most likely not increase as a direct result of your efforts. You may not see direct sales from your posts. So why do it? You are generating brand awareness and creating a viral experience. A stat I like, the average Google news user spends 10 minutes a month but the average Facebook user is there 65 minutes a month. Conclusion, it is where web users are. The challenge, how does your brand engage this audience. Be a person representing a brand, don't hide behind your logo. Create a personality, people like people not just the service you offer. Engage your customers and solicite feedback. Be relevant and provide value. Most importanly have fun with it. By Casey on 2009 07 07

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