The web has a complex human geography. While many people may hang out on the same website – like Facebook – they don’t necessarily all take part in the same social groups. They won’t even necessarily use the same names or identities in each social context.
When you’re conducting customer research or trying to drive new business, you have to go where the conversation is. Forums, fan websites, niche blogs, and other sites will often give you fresher material than relying on your corporate website or your corporate e-mail inbox for honest feedback.
People are harsher when they’re anonymous – but they’re also often more honest about how they think about your product. When someone says something on Facebook, they could be doing so in front of their boss, their mother, and their ex-boyfriend. They’re not always going to be as forthright as they are in a more protected medium.
The tone of forum posts and blog comments can be as important as those from mainstream articles and posts. It can be challenging to break into those kinds of communities – particularly if you’re waving a corporate flag and acting as a representative.
Astro-turfing – or pretending to be a real customer while really acting as a corporate agent – is not really advisable. But there’s nothing wrong with observing and participating in a community on a personal level. When it’s relevant, you can bring up your affiliation – particularly if you have something to offer that’s of interest to the group.
Marketing using social media is as much about listening as it is about getting your message out. You can’t know how to tailor your message unless you know what your customers are thinking. They may not be able to articulate what they really want, but you need to hear them to figure that out. Leaders who ignore their customers typically lose their position quickly.
Google alerts, Twitter searches, and Facebook searches can only get you so far. You need to also develop expertise on your own as to where your customers socialize, how they communicate with one another, and how best to reach them.
[Photo credit: Hamed Saber, Flickr]