By Mike Nikolich
One of my favorite movies of all time is The Beatles’ classic A Hard Day's Night. Not just because of the music, but because of the writing. There are many memorable scenes and lines. One scene that comes to mind today occurs when George Harrison inadvertently winds up in an office where the company is marketing products to teenagers. The man in charge shows George a photo of their spokesmodel Susan, of whom the company is proud. George quickly bursts that bubble, telling the man that George and his friends “turn down the telly when she comes on and say rude things.”
The marketing man is aghast at this and hustles George out. Afterwards, however, he becomes concerned and asks his assistant, “Do you think he’s just a troublemaker, or an early clue to the new direction?” In other words, in the face of direct customer feedback his marketing world was turned upside-down. Now he needs to decide whether it’s an anomaly or a trend.
Today’s marketers don’t have to rely on such chance encounters to learn what’s going on with their products, their company or their reputation. The Internet and social media presents an unprecedented opportunity to hear what customers really think, to read their minds or be a fly on the wall while they talk about you. All you have to do is shut up long enough to listen.
Take the current media darling, Twitter. Millions of users are sending out 140 character or fewer posts. Sure some of it is banal: “had an omelet for breakfast and am now going out for a run on the beach” but some Tweeters talk about products they like, places they’ve been, customer experiences they’ve had.
By searching on your product or company name you can find out who is talking about you, and more importantly what they’re saying. You can also respond directly, using the opportunity to take care of issues they’ve brought up, thus turning a negative into a positive.
Many organizations have also found that setting up and monitoring online communities like Facebook, IT.toolbox.com, LinkedIn or CR4.com can offer a great deal of insight into customers – more than they can get from running surveys or performing other traditional research. It is a valuable addition to answers to survey questions because it’s spontaneous and real feedback driven by whatever is on the minds of their customers. In other words, it’s not the answers to the marketing team’s questions – it’s the answers to questions that weren’t asked.
Those of us in the marketing world are used to pushing messages out. When I meet with clients and prospects, the question that’s often asked is how they can “use” social media to reach a specific audience. That’s evidence of old-line thinking, the one-way messaging that works on a Web site or in a brochure, but not in the world of social media.
The real value is in listening and learning, engaging your audience in a conversation that is driven by their needs, not yours. Those who learn to do it well will find they always have the early clue to a new direction because their customers will tell them exactly what they want. Then it will simply be up to the organization to fulfill those desires.
Mike Nikolich is President of Tech Image, one of the country’s top 25 technology public relations firms and a member of the Worldcom Group of public relations agencies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.