Posted by: Nancy | April 1, 2009

The power of listening

Why should a business care about Social Media?

The one thing a business must have is customers.  And today’s customer is a lot like today’s citizen journalist.  Your customer:

  • Cares. The Customer cared enough to give you money for your service or product.
  • Has a voice.  The Customer can spread stories about the great or poor experience.
  • Can amplify the story. Here’s where Social Media changes the traditional interaction between buyer and sell — and the outcome. Customers have always had a voice, but now Customers can easily form spontaneous organizations with others anywhere. Instead of just talking to a neighbor or coworkers, your Customer today can Twitter, launch a blog, publish ratings and build a Facebook community about the experience, etc.

So what?

Here’s a great example from November: The Motrin ad.

It ticked off some blogging moms who wrote about it — here’s the original post.  Next a Twitter army spontaneously formed and quickly spiraled into a movement, including a campaign on Facebook to boycott Motrin.  It spawned parodies and hit mainstream media and generated lots of angry customers for Motrin.  Motrin responded but even a big company with all its resources and smarts didn’t get it exactly right.

motrinNeed more examples? How about SciFi — er, SyFy? Or Tropicana’s new labeling?

Being a Customer today is a participatory experience — another example of mass collaboration. As a business, you can listen and engage, even empower your customers and employees to speak for you. After all, they are already.

Why not participate?

Sure, for a business, it’s a change and it can be disruptive — but probably more disruptive if you don’t.

To be successful, you’ll also have to balance top-down hierarchy with participatory technology, and maybe rethink your perspectives on control vs. freedom.  You’ll want to relinquish any belief that you know where the good ideas come from or that you know all the good ideas, and replace that with a willingness to listen, learn and respect the individuals who care enough to engage with you.  Sure, it can be messy (remember Motrin?) — but also authentic and powerful and rewarding to the business.

There are other, more tangible and practical things you’ll want to do too.

  • Do an audit — what’s the marketplace really saying about you right now? What’s happening with your competitors here, too? (Although, again, this one  starts with the soft skill of listening.)
  • Define your strategy. Know what you want to accomplish.
  • You might need policies on the changes and on managing risk. (Like email, you have some ownership in tracking, auditing, defining what’s unacceptable, storage, privacy, etc.) Don’t lose sight of the collaborative nature of social media, use the culture to help with self-policing and honest engagement.
  • Engage slowly.  Don’t lose sight of the need for authenticity — don’t let corporate-speak take over.  Be real.
  • Over time, engage in full.  Your employees speak for you, so do your customers. You initiate conversations, invite feedback and give something back to those individuals who care enough to engage with you.  Build relationships.
  • Over time, build this process into your standards and culture.

It’s your community, and it’s already there. It’s up to you to join in.

UPDATE:  Here’s a nice summary from the LA Times, incorporating some other incidents (Amazon, CNN, Dominos) and describing the need for rapid response.

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