How Your Brand Can Leverage Real-Time Conversations

January 4th, 2010
Author: Saurabh Wahi

As we close the year, real-time conversations, and their implications for brands, are emerging as one of the mainstream trends going into 2010. Consider these introductions, to name just a few.

As we mentioned in our last post, every marketing manager will sooner or later need to deal with these conversations aggregated in one central location.

The question remains: Should you capitalize on these conversations? And if so, how?

A Simple Framework

Here’s my stab at a simple framework that uses easily available data to bring clarity to such decisions. It isn’t all encompassing or definitive. But it will give you a starting point in answering the question – “should I leverage real-time conversations for my brand?”

The first step is to review conversation reports from your favorite social media monitoring service. Don’t have one yet? You’ve got to get one! Really. In 2010, you cannot afford not to listen to your customers online (shameless self-promotion: see D.insight.)

Consider the tonality and volume of conversations about your brand over the last 30 to 60 days and apply the framework below.

Volume and Tonality

As you will see, analyzing real-time conversations based on tonality – and especially volume –can give you a good starting point to plan out your course of action.

Turning Insight into Action

No doubt, there will be several ideas specific to your situation on how you can leverage conversations or resolve issues. Below are a few general thought starters based on the quadrant most relevant to you:

Mostly Positive/Neutral, High Volume (I): If your brand lies in this quadrant, congratulations! Your customers are probably excited about your brand, and they certainly voice it. In my view, your biggest opportunities are:

  1. Aggregate & promote: Next to ensuring that your customers are happy, the most important thing is to let others know your customers are happy (apologies to J.D. Rockefeller for twisting his quote). By aggregating conversations in one place you can serve up a stream of endorsements and candid commentary to potential customers.  True, you cannot completely control these conversations, and yes, you will see occasional negativity. But these risks are inevitable and exist irrespective of your participation. But the benefits outweigh the risks when you know that most of the chatter is positive. In fact, by actively listening and contributing, you can also address any negativity quickly.
  2. Market research: It’s not very sexy, but its true. Tuning in and listening to the stream of chatter about your brand can deliver immense insight about your customers’ true tastes and preferences. This unfiltered, candid feedback can be further sliced and diced in numerous ways to offer deeper insights.
  3. Customer support: Using customer-powered forums to provide tech support is already a popular practice. Adding real-time conversations can add a new level of immediacy that could further reduce your customers’ reliance on phone support. By identifying and rewarding the biggest contributors in a moderated forum, you can very quickly create a small army of fans who can help others out in real-time.

Mostly Positive/Neutral, Low Volume (II): The good news is that your customers are mostly happy. But sadly not too many others know about it or talk about it using social media. But you could explore ways to jump-start the conversation:

  1. Identify and embrace your greatest fans: Everyone is passionate about something. Chances are, there are people passionate about your brand or product. It’s a matter of finding them and empowering or motivating them to share their candid thoughts online with others.
  2. Chime in and participate: You can also jump-start conversations by building a presence across social media channels and adding distinct value. Remember, adding value means sharing something your audience cares strongly about.

Mostly Negative, High/Low Volume (III, IV): As you probably know, your greatest challenge is to understand why your customers are dissatisfied and negative. Typically, negativity results from:

  • Misinformation: Inaccurate facts can spark rumors and negativity. However this is relatively easy to fix if you have an established presence online.
  • Poor one-off experiences: Inevitably, mistakes will happen and some customers will be dissatisfied. Your reaction to such a situations will define the tonality of conversation. An established presence online and moving quickly to resolve issues can help you turn negative conversations into positive ones.
  • Consistent product/service issues: You may need a more comprehensive program – including reviewing your product/service offering – to mitigate negativity.

If your volume is low, you can also address negativity in real-time. By monitoring the conversation and resolving issues on a case-by-case basis, you can turn the tide to some degree.

Ultimately, the opportunities with real-time conversations are clear and the ideas above may help. But perhaps the most important determinants of an organization’s success with real-time conversations will be its posture toward transparency, willingness to accept the inherent risks with conversations and a commitment to resolve negativity quickly.

How are you using real-time conversations in your conversations? What ideas can you suggest?

FOOTNOTE:

Notes and Assumptions:

1. Tonality: ‘Positive’ means that most readers consider a product/service favorably after viewing a post or conversation; ‘neutral’ means readers’ views remain unaffected; ‘negative’ means readers’ view product/service unfavorably.

2. Volume: ‘High’ volume means that, compared to your competitive set you get at least above average volume. (A steady stream of daily chatter – several posts a day.) ‘Low’ volume means significantly below average volume (occasional posts in a week/month – little to no daily stream.)

3. Why ‘Neutral’ is combined with ‘Positive’: Our assumption is that neutral conversations can still influence customers’ opinions positively because they reflect dominance/top-of-mindedness of a brand/product/service.

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