Running focus groups, sending out surveys are old-school. Today, we need to be actively listening all of the time to our customers, influencers, and communities of people that can impact our client's business. Social media has established a constant flow of conversations and media online. I love that Radian 6 calls one of their widgets "River of News." We're talking Big Muddy - a river as wide and torrid as the Mississippi.
Listening Posts allow us to pay attention to what people are saying in that river. This intelligence plays a different role than the occasional focus group where we ask 10-12 people (9 people if it's a government gig) what they think of a particular message platform or creative campaign. Listening Posts tell us what people are saying now not just about our brand - that's a no brainer (but still more complex than subscribing to a Google Alert). With some creative thinking, they can tell us about issues and ideas that either currently intersect with the brand or could with a little work.
Let's say you are working for Maglite. I like their products - very solid, reliable. They produce great light with an appealing form factor. Do people talk about Maglite online? You betcha. Just check out what others are saying in three quick places:
- Google Blogs
- Flickr (First thing that pops up is a photo comparison of Maglite to Surefire)
But what if you wanted to find the customers you already know buy your brand or more interestingly find new customers? I have never worked for Maglite but I am guessing they do a lot of sales with first responders. They could look for conversations online having to do with equipment and first responders. Are fireman talking about tools? What about people preparing for some type of emergency? While my son seems quite prepared for the zombie hoard - others may be getting ready for some more down to earth danger like flooding and hurricanes. What about first time home owners trying to outfit their house with the essentials? There are a ton of homeowner conversations online.
What Listening Programs Are Good For
Here's what Listening Programs are really good for (these are from our internal training courses):
- Track perceptions and how messages are being interpreted in the marketplace
- Lead to customer service intervention
- Identify promoters (and prepare to engage them)
- Offer a high-level view of emerging trends and what competitors are doing
- Demonstrate the impact and value of public relations or advertising (i.e. measure WOM)
- Help manage and improve an organization’s reputation
What New PR Pros Need
This is all new expertise for public relations pros. Never before have we had access to a steady stream of insights from simply listening to what people are saying online and offline. Today, it takes some new skills:
- Technological know-how (How do search engines work? What web 2.0 search tools are available and what are they good for? What is a Boolean search?)
- A curiosity about conversations and an insatiable appetite for words. Okay, the real skill here is the same one applied to our SEO skill set - the ability to imagine and observe what people are talking about and then derive the keywords that would help you and the general public to find those conversations.
- An enduring empathy towards other people whether they be customers, constituents, stakeholders or any other abstract yet important group.
- The ability to sort through a lot of information and find the relevant bits and threads that tell a real story. It's funny there was a NYTimes article yesterday bemoaning the effects of the Internet's different model of "reading" and its affect on book reading habits. This new habit is what we need here.
- A strategic imagination that allows you to discover a conversation between interesting people and then think how you might engage them in some way that provides value for them and the brand.
There's a lot to listen to out there (IMPORTANT TOOL RESOURCE: here are links to a lot of the free, available-now sites courtesy of my crack training team with Ogilvy's 360° Digital Influence team):
Blogs – Use blog search engines and directories (Technorati, Google Blogs, Zuula, Clusty, Tweetscan); social bookmarking tools; blog rolls; search general search engines for lists of blogs
Message Boards – Use BoardReader; social bookmarking tools (e.g., De.licio.us); search general search engines for category-specific message boards (Yahoo Groups & Google Groups)
Wikis – Use wiki search engines; social bookmarking tools; general search engines
Newsgroups & forums – Use Google Groups, social bookmarking tools; general search engines
Directories – Search major directories (e.g., about.com, yahoo, open directory)
Multimedia – Use multimedia search engines, including meta search engines such as metatube.net,YouTube, Flickr, Google Images/Video; general search engines
Social networks – Search Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, Bebo, Gather, Eons, etc and so forth...
(photo CC from Zeroin on Flickr)