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How to Use Online Conversations and Customer Communities to Grow Your Business

October 06, 2008

Social media has changed the way of doing business, marketing products, and branding. In the past, most marketing communications such as advertising were one-way, but now company owners and employees using the Web 2.0 functionality can enter into direct two-way conversations with customers and prospects.

This huge shift requires new approaches and reconsideration of the current marketing strategies. Still, many businesses don't realize that a new socially driven community could pose a threat or attack their brand. They now have to be worried about sites like RipOffReport, ComplaintsBoard and other consumer advocacy sites.

A YouTube video titled “A Comcast technician sleeping on my couch” is a simple example of how a social media can hurt a brand. It is clear that the power is now in the hands of consumers and businesses can’t ignore it any more.

On the other hand, social media can be seen as a big opportunity for small businesses that may not have the budget for advertising and PR agencies to attract customers’ attention. Social networking is a free way to get a message out about your business or services and therefore it is worth investing time and resources to engage with it.

The power of Social media

Millions of new accounts are opened daily on the most popular social media networks. It’s true that some of these new accounts are fake profiles but the majority of them are real people wanting to actively participate in different communities.

Websites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, have the potential to either negatively impact your business brand, or perfectly, become home to an increasing number of brand evangelists.

Consumers’ attitude

If a product or a service are known to consumers as having their weaknesses, the online communities will certainly discuss them. The opposite is also true, when companies do things right - they’re commonly praised by their brand’s evangelists and thus the message is spreading across the web.

Before you start talking, listen first

Listening to customers, prospects and influencers is the step of every successful social media program. By listening to online conversations that occur on blogs, forums and social networks, you can easily define your main audience and figure out what people honestly think about your company and products.

Determining Your Audience

Forrester research conducted a study that provides companies with a clear understanding of consumers’ online behavior. They classified consumers according to their participation in various types of social networking:

Inactives  - 44% of all U.S. users browsing the web in 2007

Joiners -  25% who visited social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook;

Collectors - an elite 15% who collected and aggregated information;

Critics - those 16% who post ratings and reviews as well as contribute to blogs and forums.

Another survey showed that 32% of online users have rated a product, service or person, 30% have commented on a product, 22% have commented on newsgroup or site.

Based on  these findings, businesses should decide what kind of relationship to build with their customers.

How can you monitor what people are saying?

Various online monitoring tools can provide companies with information what people are saying online. Using services like trackur and enhanced engine tools like Google Alerts will allow the company to receive immediate notification when new content is posted. Regular practice is also to scour the SERPs of major engines as well as to search for your brand, products or services through Google blog search or Twitter.

Join the conversation

When businesses take time to listen to the online conversation and determine what their audience is, the next logical step is to join that conversation. What's important to remember that social networking is about making friends and casually mentioning what you do, what you've found helpful etc. It is not about hard selling. Online conversations are much more direct and personal. They should be based on high level of transparency and frankness.


Social media can be utilized as a successful marketing tool for interaction with customers and prospects. Becoming part of the ongoing conversations about your brand, products, and services will help establish good relationship with customers and achieve higher level of clients’ satisfaction.  The attitude of consistency coupled  with the right action steps is a guarantee for great success.



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Title: Re February 1, 2010
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