NEW YORK — In this day and age, content is blasted at us through a fire hose.
That, at least, was the mental image invoked by Steve Rubel, the director of insights and senior vice president at Edelman Digital, during his presentation at last week's Mediabistro Circus event at Manhattan's Times Center. Thanks in large part to social media, he told the crowd, we are experiencing information overload -- and soon we will find ways to filter out the noise. In fact, he warned, many consumers are already making choices about whom and what to follow and are embracing what Rubel called "selective ignorance."
Rubel shared the statistic that, every month, the average Web surfer happens upon an astonishing 111 unique domains -- which comes out to be 2,554 Web pages over the course of 30 days. Due to the amount of content our brains must process, we look for shelter from the information storm -- shelter in the form of filtering, provided mainly by friends and people we trust. This is putting enormous pressure on companies, Rubel noted, to step up and befriend the consumer.
"The companies that engage in meaningful conversations are going to win in this world," Rubel said. "They are the most trusted, relevant, and able-to-break-through." After all, he said, consumers are beginning to adopt the mentality that "if the news is important, it will find me." Forget about old-school ways of blasting your customers with content and expecting responses. Today, consumers expect engagement on a much, much deeper level. Rubel provided Mediabistro attendees with four steps to establishing meaningful interactions online:
- Find your corporate rock stars: "You need to let your individual employees get out there and let them become brands," Rubel said, pointing to a statistic showing that consumers hardly trust interactions with a faceless company, but they trust communications with a company employee 40 percent of the time. "It's important for individuals to have a footprint -- even more important than [it is for] a company," Rubel said. He recommended that each individual attendee establish a free Google Profile to begin establishing a Web presence and personality.
Rubel also advised companies to look for employee rock stars within their organizations. In other words, he said, find the employees who are well versed in social media and let them get out there and start talking to consumers. Rubel implored attendees to find their companies' "@ComcastCares guy" -- a reference to Frank Eliason, the Comcast customer service representative who famously made his presence known on Twitter.
Consumers want to see the faces working for a company, Rubel stated. Management, however, can often be reluctant to unleash its employees on the social Web. "For a lot of companies, that's difficult. They want their employees suppressed," Rubel said. "They want their CEO to be the star…but people don't trust CEOs."
- Connect customers and organization all-stars in "digital embassies": You need to think about where your customers are gathering today, but it's also important to know that the "embassy" may move. Today it's Twitter, Rubel said, but tomorrow it's a social network with a weird name that sounds like a Star Wars character.
Let your audience know that you have a presence on social media sites -- but putting forth real faces is a crucial move, according to Rubel. Zappos.com, for example, lists all of its affiliations on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The company's Web portal also shows visitors which employees are active on each network.
- Give all-stars independence, yet focus the theme: Rubel uses a water-filtration company as an example: The company has aligned its social media efforts with a charitable cause. The company's blog offers tips on going green and educates consumers about water consumption and recycling. The goal of the site is clear, which Rubel said is an important quality for brands. Giving employees guidance will help -- just don't stifle them.
- Equip and support active listening: Active listening means being able to quickly turn around and respond to consumer conversations. It's no fluke, Rubel told attendees, that the companies that are doing this correctly now, such as Dell, are the ones that got burned in the past. Companies don't truly realize the importance of actively engaging until they've had an event come back to bite them. "Companies move too slow," Rubel said, adding that there isn't time for lengthy training. "[Organizations] can turn around and the 30 people they hire out of college are already there talking to consumers."
Organizations, he warned, must come to terms with the fact that they may already have on their hands some social media participants -- and not even know it. In other words, there's a good chance employees are actively speaking out on the Web on behalf of your company, whether or not you've asked them to do so, or armed them with the necessary tools of engagement.
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