Creating a Solid Foundation for Online Customer Engagement

AttentionI often get asked how to get started with social media. What is the best way, the best place, to talk to customers? How do you do that? Just start tweeting or posting to Facebook or LinkedIn?

These are natural questions, yet they shouldn’t be the first ones to come to mind, even if they seem the obvious ones.

There’s a far more important step to take before you start talking.

If you want to understand how your customers perceive you, your company or your brand, you have to do that on their terms, not yours. You need to be where they are, not trying to get them to come to a place that you prefer, eg, your business website.

While that can mean spending time on a Facebook page, creating a Twitter handle or uploading video to YouTube, you ought to take a more strategic look at what’s happening online before you make that jump.

Not only that, you need to know what they’re talking about.

That starts with listening not talking. Pay attention to all those online voices and discover what they’re saying about you and the things that are important to your business, whatever size it is. You need to know what the conversation is before you join it.

Think about that. Can you answer these three primary questions:

  1. Do you know how, where and when your customers discuss your brand online?
  2. With whom?
  3. And what they’re talking about in relation to topics you care about?

Do you really know?

There are simple steps you can easily follow that will not only give you valuable insight into how others see you and what they say about you online but also give you actionable insight and confidence on what your first steps should be.

You can take your first step today. That first step includes asking yourself what you are going to listen for.

For instance, are you listening to online discussions for reputation management or customer service reasons? Do you want to gather business intelligence and get feedback on your brand? Or are you looking to find conversations you can join so your organization can get exposure in front of new audiences?

And, you need to be clear in your focus:

  • You must have a clear objective.
  • Your objective should be measurable.
  • You must be able to answer the question: how does your use of social media help you achieve your objective? (what some would say “What’s the ROI?”).

With those foundational steps taken, you can now make a start:

  1. Listen and learn – know your customer’s world online with precision. No more guesswork.
  2. Focus on actionable insights – what exactly can inform your planning.
  3. Identify who drives share of conversation – who you should pay attention to: with whom you might engage.
  4. Expand your reach with a clear focus – think of new ways to add value and really engage with your customers and communities.

What’s important isn’t the tools and the channels. Social media is about people and new, simpler and more effective means of connecting with other people.

Above all else, listening is paramount. It’s what you do before you start or conduct any engagement activity online, from leaving simple comments on a blog or typing your update message in Twitter, to a deeper relationship-building exercise with a prominent influencer.

Listening lets you discover who’s saying what – useful knowledge in planning how to engage effectively, before you start to engage.

(Picture courtesy Stalin Raja, used under Creative Commons license.)

This post was first published on the Official WebHostingBuzz Company Blog on December 13, 2012. Founded in 2002, WebHostingBuzz is a web hosting company based in Auburn, MA, USA and in the UK. It offers web hosting, reseller hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting services from data centres across the United States and in Europe. WebHostingBuzz is a sponsor of NevilleHobson.com.

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.