The New Communications Tools…Listening, Helping

Guest blogger Andy Marken has weighed in with his very opinionated view on how, exactly marketing professionals are going to have to change their ways in order to take advantage of the new order: Web 2.0. It’s not business as usual and it’s going to require new attitudes as more people get in on the act. By G.A. “Andy” Marken, ...

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Guest blogger Andy Marken has weighed in with his very opinionated view on how, exactly marketing professionals are going to have to change their ways in order to take advantage of the new order: Web 2.0. It’s not business as usual and it’s going to require new attitudes as more people get in on the act.

By G.A. “Andy” Marken, Marken Communications Inc,

Marketing and communications “experts” like to tell us how the Internet and Web 2.0 have opened up new opportunities for the industry to reach out to and influence people in new, exciting, more effective ways.

Instant information web sites, 10s of thousands of them are ready for your news bloggers, almost free social networks in which you can embed your news.Unique opportunities for the company to tap directly into the consumer before he/she makes a purchase.

How much better can it get?

Marketing is fired up, and in unison they ask:
-Did you send them the well crafted release we approved?
-How many clips/hits did you get?
-Why are you working with XYZ user community group?How many buyers are there?
-Why did you send product to him/her to review…it’s just an ego, self-expression blog?

Managers and communications people talk the talk when it comes to blogs, podcasts, UGs, social sites.But, at the same time they:
-Emphasize spending their time on “tier one,” media
-Measure performance and results on the volume of media clips/hits
-Question the reach/influence of specialized user groups/communities
-Ask how many people be influenced by an existing customer influence/sell
-Question the ROI is of a blogger who might have 500 readers a month
-Wonder how to handle it when a blogger writes something negative about the company/product

Social networking really isn’t anything new.It has just taken its individual and collective voice online.

The Audience(s)
Social networking locations are roughly described as:
-rating, review sites – expressing an individual’s self-esteem and providing information/assistance/guidance
-video, content sharing sites – is all about expressing your identity (10s of thousands of new segments posted for viewing/sharing every month)
-blogs – a way people express their identity, focus on showing their status or improving their self-esteem, providing unique information, insights, assistance (thousands are brought online each month).The community is loosely defined with paid bloggers, ego bloggers, helpful or venomous bloggers.Most every editor, reporter, analyst has his/her own blog where he/she puts down information, ideas, and thoughts that don’t fit in their publication; editorial guidelines; or something simply needs to be said.
-specialty groups – individuals/organizations that come together because they share a common interest and want to share/learn from like individuals (name any subject, there’s an online community)
-social networks – these can be profile-driven (audiophiles, videophiles, Jaguar enthusiasts, etc) – affiliation/belonging – or purpose-driven (video post production groups, home theater specialists, auto restorers).Again it is subject, sharing a common interest/value, being part of a community.

What we have to get past is the focus of tier one, tier two locations/individuals.

Everyone who wants information/assistance is important.

Each can influence the image of the company and its products.

They’re all part of the new media frontier.

Fading Importance
In the brave new communications world, less importance is being placed on the basic public relations tool – the news/press release – and greater attention on relationships.Increasingly members of the media view the well-crafted, thoroughly reviewed announcement sent out over the wire or distribution service as old news by the time it arrives. Everyone receives the information, so it’s of comparatively less importance.

News people – print, radio/TV, web, blog – now have new sources.They are very adept at searching the web—scanning white papers, event listings, price changes, job openings, special interest portal sites, user forums and online newsletters.

They find two or three disconnected ideas and piece together their own story lines. As a result, despite what many believe the release is the beginning of the process, not an end product in today’s always on online world.

New Platforms

Finding, tracking and handling social media coverage of company/product news, information/misinformation and issues is a significant challenge for PR/communications people. Social media isn’t traditional media. Rather, social media is more a form of personal discussions.Old-fashioned media service email/telemarketer pitches may get you in print…negative print but print just the same.

Bloggers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and backgrounds.Some are non-journalists; some are seasoned professionals; some are people passionate about a company, product, technology, subject; some are simply passionate about seeing their ideas/opinions read. Then, there are some who have made their mind up before they talk with you; some have an axe to grid, and others (most) are open to discussions, ideas.

The only best approach for the marketer in this brave new world is to listen, gain insights, develop ideas before you launch your blog/podcast program.Next to getting product and service recommendations from user review sites or from friends or other authorities, blogs are almost as credible as word of mouth recommendations.

Value Proposition
One of the greatest opportunities for companies, the most challenging and the most difficult to quantify are user reviews – user groups, blogs, social nets.

It is impossible for public relations to point to a circulation of 10,000, 100,000, 1,000,000 and show any true ROI (return on investment) for someone writing a review or talking about a company/product/service.

Study after study shows that consumers today go online to research a subject, product, solution before they buy.

The first thing the prospective customer searches out is user reviews followed by comparison charts and expert reviews.

Conventional news media may make the consumer aware of the product/service but people make their buying decisions from peer recommendations.Not from the manufacturer’s web site or literature, not from the retail clerk, not from the expert’s recommendations.

Social Nets – Common Interest
Social networks like MySpace, YouTube, Plaxo, Facebook, LinkedIn and thousands of niche interest, professional and avocation site members come together because of a common interest.They are also superior avenues for reaching influential decision makers and consumers.

People around the globe are members of these sites because they are able to exchange information, ideas and problems/solutions on specific business, personal or professional topics.

Locations like DigitalMediaNet, OcModShop, Tom’s Guide, AnandTech, CDFreaks, audiophile, digitalmediathoughts and hundreds of horizontal and vertical interest sites have forums, blogs and news available in one community location.

They represent fantastic opportunities for people to get a quick understanding and indoctrination into the tight social network community where common goals, common problems are shared/resolved.They are such rich locations that many public relations/communications and marketing individuals look at the locations as narrowcast goldmine opportunities.

Wrong !

Sit on the sidelines.Listen.Observe.

There will be times and opportunities for company representatives – openly identified – to add information and ideas.

But regardless of how the online discussion flows, these social sites are one of the best product/service focus groups in the world.They have free and open discussions.Even negative statements can yield positive returns for the company in the shape of new policies, new products, new ways of thinking and new methods of working with consumers.

In the new Web 2.0 environment communications people have to understand, appreciate and embrace the idea that:
-there is no local market or territory any more.We work and live in a global market and information community
-we must have open and continual conversation with our consumers and partners as a group and individually
-the company may have 10 million customers but each is an individual with unique wants and needs
-once you step into the Web 2.0 world you have to take the good with the bad and win one customer, one user at a time

Public relations thinking that encompasses message management, branding and compunctions distribution pipelines is broken.It will never be as it was before.

Professionals have to understand the power and influence word of mouth, blogs, social networking communications has in the digital world.

There is no clear cut ROI but the dangers of ignoring these communities are obvious.

Public relations or communications people who ignore customer issues because “it isn’t my job,” are missing a golden opportunity to get personal inputs on the person’s image of the company, why the individual bought the product/service, what they like/dislike and what they feel should be improved.It doesn’t take many of these discussions to see a market pattern.

Certainly it can be a dangerous when you begin your digital world trip.Safety in the trip depends on your ability to shut up…listen…help.

It is the only way your company and you can be certain both make the trip successfully.