Social Networking

Here's some good news: Your customers are thinking about you right now, maybe they're talking about you, or best of all, they bought your product and are telling other people about it. Many of your customers are passionate about your company, your product, and their experience. The bad news is you don't know who they are or what they're saying. Driving traffic, generating leads, and converting to sales are obviously important, but developing and sustaining long-term relationships with your customers, and even harnessing their passion to help generate new customers, are often overlooked. But there's more good news: Many of the existing social networking technologies--blogs, RSS feeds, widgets, podcasts--can help you better communicate with these passion groups. These technologies can efficiently, and cost-effectively, provide information to customers who opt in, and initiatives such as blogs allow for feedback and user participation, which allows you to participate in a conversation with those passionate customers. Many of these technologies are low-cost and easy to implement. The real effort is in organizing content. Much of the information, such as press releases, financial information, and technical documents, is probably online already, and there is assuredly a wealth of information in-house, ready to be distributed to the necessary audience. All that needs to be done is to develop categories for the information (e.g., marketing materials, community relations, product information, industry trends) and determine which technology is best suited to the information. Other initiatives, such as blogs and message boards, afford the opportunity for user-generated content. Converse and other brands have successfully developed initiatives where passionate users generate their own commercials, products, and other content that express their personal attachment and commitment to the brand and/or product. The real issue isn't whether or not you should be utilizing these technologies to better connect with your customers, but how you should be utilizing each of them effectively. RSS (really simple syndication) can be an effective way to deliver press releases, sales information (e.g., top sellers, new products), or other information that is updated or changed frequently. Information can be made available to the intended audience and that audience can subscribe to the specific feeds that are relevant. Developing desktop applications such as a widget, which automatically updates and is always available, can be a great way to provide the information your customers want at their fingertips, while podcasts can provide video and audio information, replacing or augmenting instruction manuals, demonstrations, or more entertaining information. The advantage of these social networking technologies is that they allow the audience segment to select the information they need most, and allow you to provide that information in a more timely, and often more compelling, fashion. A quick look in your email inbox will probably confirm that spam is still a significant problem, with some studies indicating that 67 percent of all marketing email is spam, while social networking technologies avoid most of the problems of spam. RSS feeds and widgets provide users with only the information they request, delivered to an inbox or directly to the desktop. Podcasts are also self-selected, and users decide how and when to participate in blogs and other forums. Some recent news reports stressed the fact that most of the social networking technologies fail to reach a mass audience, with no more than 8 percent of the adult audience engaging with one form or another. What those articles fail to address is that the audience who does engage with them is a highly motivated audience. Are you interested in ignoring 8 percent of your most interested customers? Chances are that if you ignore your customers or don't provide them with a forum for their input, they will go elsewhere. Look at the number of blogs and message boards filled with satisfied and unsatisfied customers talking behind your back. Wouldn't you prefer to learn more about these passionate consumers, provide them with more and more information, and allow them to directly address issues and ideas with you? About the Author Gregory Galloway is vice president of online marketing for Elevation. Please visit
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