Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Shashi Bellamkonda of Network Solutions, who will be speaking at the 2010 IMA Conference next month. If you haven’t already, sign up here.
Whether it is jungle drums or smoke signals, humans have always improvised methods of communications and connections to each other. Village gatherings formed early social circles and networks. Communications have always been evolving – messengers carrying messages on horseback to the pony express to railroads to today’s USPS, UPS and Fed Ex all satisfy the need of communications.
Have you noticed some of these communications means have survived? Even though we do not use the telegraph, we use the Internet to communicate with short messages today called microblogging.
For a business it is both a challenge and a necessity to find new ways to increase the efficiency of your business.
In the past businesses could make the changes and expect the customers to adapt. In the new millennium, media is now more often in the hands of the users and businesses are beginning to adapt. The Internet, websites and social networks are now replacing village gatherings and spanning users across the globe communing together to discuss common interests, discuss products and companies.
The speed at which conversation spreads has changed the pattern of how movie reviews worked. In an August 2009 article Michael Sragow wrote in the Washington Post, “Although word of mouth could always make or break a movie, it usually took days to affect the box office. But the rise of social networking tools such as Twitter might be narrowing that time frame to hours. And that has Hollywood on edge.”
As a business owner wouldn’t you like to know what your customers are talking about when it comes to your products and your business? These new media tools also give business the same power to learn feedback almost instantaneously.
The 3-step process you could use to shape your strategy is:
Think of the listening phase as an extension of your existing communication and feedback mechanism. The main difference is that feedback through email, phone calls, web forms and maybe even snail mail is mainly directly to you – social networks offer an opportunity to listen in on to public conversations about you. Here’s what you do:
1. Set up Google Alerts
2. Search for your brand /product or your company or your geographical area on http://search.twitter.com
3. Use a tool like Backtype to monitor comment conversations on blog posts.
In the listening phase, you have identified where the conversations relating to your business are taking place. Now, you can participate by showcasing your knowledge and thought leadership or even asking for feedback:
1. Setup profiles in at least 3 social networks which you have identified as helpful for your business (Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter could be the three)
2. Identify 3 blogs on your particular field or industry to follow. Comment when you have a opinion. In case you are mentioned in any blog post head over the blog and thank the author
3. Look at the questions on networks like Linkedin to add your expertise
This is the phase where you will have learned enough about the conversations about your business and your products to be able to begin creating valuable content that is not about you but your customers and the community:
1. Make sure you have a website. You can get one for free at Network Solutions
2. Start a Facebook Page and encourage your customers to become fans of your page. Create special offers for your Facebook Fans
3. Reinforce your web presence with a blog. Make the blog personal along with writing useful tips for your customers. It does not always have to be about your products., Invite your customers to tell their stories.
You should measure the success of your efforts in terms of increased brand mentions, foot traffic or online traffic, increase in customer satisfaction or higher product awareness leading to higher customer uptake.
Remember all these tools are making human connections so you should show the personality behind your business. And make sure you remember your goals for engaging in social media for your business, since these tools can also be distracting if not used diligently.
When I speak at conferences the best reward is the communication or Twitter messages I get from the audience, sometimes even after a year, with some good news about using social tools for great success. I am hoping the same thing will happen when I speak more on the topic at the IMA conference in March. If there are some topics you would like to hear about specifically please let me know.
Shashi Bellamkonda is Director – Social Media & Social Media Swami of Network Solutions, a company that works together to help small business succeed online with web hosting, do-it-yourself website builder software, online marketing tools and domain names. Visit his blog here. Shashi is a regular contributor to the DC Examiner and Tech Cocktail. This article contains the opinions and observations of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of Network Solutions or its clients or partners. Connect with Shashi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or BizSugar.
Image: Terry Hart, Creative Commons