Your market is clamoring for your attention. Are you listening?
Every minute in the socialsphere, there are 98,000 tweets, 1,500 blogs, 600 new videos and 1,140 SlideShares posted according to go-globe.com. Word-of-mouth marketing and getting the pulse of your market has taken on an entirely new scale that can deliver tremendous benefits, if you engage correctly.
As the voice of the market, we are constantly looking for opportunities to improve product roadmaps, identify new customer requirements, understand the latest market problems or track the latest competitive threat. And as the voice to the market, we are perpetually taking charge of launch plans, developing new sales tools, improving thought leadership or delivering new presentations and demos.
Today, engaging with the market—whether you’re listening or sharing—is simple with the right plan and approach. And to top it all off, tracking return on investment in the socialsphere has never been easier to measure.
Here are four best practices to get you started:
Get Out in the Market Now
A few years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled Cubicle vs. Airplane Marketing. It looked at the need for us to get out into the market to meet customers face-to-face, test sales tools firsthand, and understand the real-world requirements of markets and buyers. And while I still highly recommend getting out of your cubicle and onto an airplane to truly understand your customers, the value of social communication tools grows stronger for us every day.
For example, I led a global survey that queried the state of market adoption, customer challenges and business-use cases for my company’s target market. The survey ran every six months, and we promoted participation heavily on Twitter, LinkedIn and several highly frequented industry blogs and communities.
Using these forums, we boosted survey participation to more than 3,000 people, giving us a solid representation of the market, its users and requirements. Taking advantage of large existing communities online meant that we spent less time building our own forums—allowing us to reach sizeable audiences instantly. That kind of scale and speed would have never been possible on an airplane.
Even better, we published updated survey results to the market through those same social channels, including hundreds of tweets covering survey findings, blogs focused on analyzing the results and off-the-cuff video responses to the findings from industry influencers on YouTube. On SlideShare alone, the survey findings resulted in more than 65,000 views—not only increasing the visibility of the results, but dramatically amplifying word of mouth about our company and my role
as a thought leader in the market.
The impact of social amplification was summarized well in a recent Harvard Business Review article: “Word of mouth still influences purchasing behavior. Only now, social networks increase that circle from a few trusted friends and family to hundreds of people online.” Frequency of participation in the most active channels has a direct correlation to the value and feedback you’ll receive.
You likely already have LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare and YouTube accounts, but make sure that you are participating in at least one of those channels daily to get and keep the conversation going.
Build Your Market Roadmap
We need to think on a larger scale about gathering market and customer requirements that influence our product roadmaps. Crowdsourcing is one such option. For years, companies like Salesforce.com, Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco and LEGO have enlisted their customers and the public to help identify new ideas or to narrow down potential feature sets to the most impactful innovations. If you think your corporate Facebook page is simply a place to post news updates or photos from the latest industry event, consider using it to support your next market or product requirements document. Crowdsourcing can be a fun, insightful and quantifiable approach to engaging with your market. Open forums reach broad and sometimes less filtered audiences, so you can get the most out of the participation by defining your objectives up front, setting boundaries for participation, planning how to respond to both positive and negative feedback and establishing steady patterns of engagement that keep the crowd involved.
But the roadmaps that crowdsourcing helps you build are only part of the equation. You also need to build a roadmap of engagement.
While speaking at Twitter’s two-day employee conference in July 2013, Arianna Huffington shared the perspective of her news business: “When we post a story, that’s just the beginning, not the end, of the conversation. The news experience has moved from presentation to participation, and so we try to make everything we do a vehicle for engagement.” When planning product launches or campaigns, we should similarly shift thinking from news and presentation to engagement and conversation with the communities we serve.
Social media is not simply about sending a tweet here and there, or posting news or questions to a LinkedIn group once a quarter. To achieve the best returns on your social activities, you need to plan ahead. Rather than thinking of social connections and community engagement as ad-hoc activities, consider building roadmaps to sustain your momentum.
How many of us plan our launches to blast out new content within one or two weeks, and then hibernate for six months until the next product release? For the next launch you plan, consider a six-month, mixed-media conversation roadmap with your market.
By planning ahead with a conversation roadmap, your voice to and from the market will be much more consistent—and more powerful.
Follow the Numbers
There are those of us who remember when it used to be challenging to measure the ROI of marketing efforts, but social media outlets have improved their analytics tremendously over the past five years.
I can tell you that I have tweeted 2,275 times and have 596 followers. Our blog had more than 4,500 visits in a month. My SlideShare decks have been viewed more than 100,000 times, my LinkedIn profile has been viewed 588 times in a three-month span and the internal sales-enablement video I posted on our private YouTube channel had 72 views in its first day online.
These stats are not bragging. I am still a social neophyte compared to many others out there. The stats are simply offered as evidence of how easy it is to track one’s activity, reach and impact. With metrics that show how you are building awareness and consideration for your offerings in the market, social-media activities will be viewed less as a hobby and more as a strategic marketing endeavor.
Want to add some fun into your numbers? Consider waging a friendly competition within your marketing and product teams. Because the stats are so readily available, see who is getting the most retweets, comments on their blog posts, views on their product demo or feedback on their potential feature list.
As a former business school professor of mine used to say, “Keeping score improves the score.” In the socialsphere, living and playing by that mantra has never been as accessible as it is today.
When you have your plan in place and you venture out into social media, leave your industrial messages behind. People don’t just want to hear “ZipBang v2.3 was just released” or “read my latest blog.” Those kinds of industrial tones are generally turnoffs, and they get passed over quickly.
Show your personality, post an opinion or share your excitement. “I was flattered to see,” “listen to her firsthand account” or “here’s where they got it all wrong” communications engage people, encourage reaction and invite action.
Post more pictures, charts and videos. Just as you experience with your friends on Facebook, pictures, videos and images help show more of who you are. Let your personality show and invite people into a glimpse of your world.
Lastly, remember you are not in this alone. The greatest achievements in our lifetimes were not accomplished by individuals, but by large communities of people working together. Join us, share with us and count yourself in.