Thursday, July 13, 2006

Listening to social media

Blogging as an outbound marketing tool gets all the attention, but listening to social media can make you more effective in your job even if you're not in a positon to create a company blog. While business blogging is something for senior management and marketing types to decide, listening is available—and useful—to everyone.

In my simple dichotomy, speaking refers to blog publishing, online marketing, personal branding, and any other things companies and individuals can do to increase their visibility online. Speaking is when you contribute content or communicate your message. Blogging, commenting, and tagging are speaking.

Listening is paying attention to what others are speaking, using social media to build and maintain your knowledge or expertise, learning about people and companies by what they and others have to say. This is one of the major themes of my work: how to use social media and related technologies as sources of market intelligence.

First, let's define social media. It's a new term that refers to a variety of online media, such as blogs, message boards, and social tagging sites. Social networking, mailing lists, and Usenet newsgroups also belong on the list. The ability of any reader to become a publisher or editor is what makes these media social. Hence, social media.

So, what is it about listening that is interesting? For one thing, these are tools that a majority of Internet users don't know about. It's easy to dismiss them as toys for geeks, but those who explore them will find real value, regardless of functional role. Here's a sampling of what you can do by listening to social media:
  • Learn from experts in your field. Experts use their Internet presence to promote themselves, to share their knowledge, to express their creative side... Really, it doesn't matter why they're writing. Whatever you do for a living, especially if expertise is important, someone is probably giving away bits of knowledge on a blog, in a discussion forum, on a mailing list, or in online articles.

  • Create your own news clipping service. Use RSS feeds from search engines and online news sources to follow news in your industry as it happens. Or subscribe to a free news clipping service by email.

  • Catch trends early. Bloggers are an early-adopter crowd that skews young. If you want to know what's coming next, look online.

  • Discover the right people. While you're sampling the tasty bits of knowledge scattered around the Internet, you'll find people in your field. The comments fields on their blogs are an invitation to connect. A link to them from your blog is an even better invitation. Social networking sites like LinkedIn can also help you find people you'd like to know but don't generally provide a strong introduction.

  • Find potential partners and customers. Search the web, blogs and social networking sites to find the companies and people who are a match for your business. Avoid surprises by using online tools to learn more about them before you make initial contact.

  • Protect your brand online. This starts to blur the distinction between listening and speaking, but we've seen enough incidents to prove that blogger relations is now a required part of a company's PR activities.

  • Monitor blogs with an eye toward customer service. Most of the painful company/blog conflicts have started with customer-service complaints. Head off the painful media exposure by finding the complaints on blogs and addressing the issues they identify.

OK, this is getting long. The point is, you can do a lot with emerging Internet services, and you don't have to be in a technology role or company to benefit from them. If you want help finding the benefits for your company, email me.

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