Reaching a More Connected Customer Requires a More Connected Company

by Mack Collier

Over the Holidays I was reading an issue of the Wall-Street Journal about how companies are leveraging Twitter to improve its marketing.  Companies that sell cold medicines and items, especially those related to treating the flu, are closely monitoring Twitter.  They are tracking instances of people complaining on Twitter about having flu symptoms such as body aches, coughing and colds.  Then they will track where these people live, and make sure that local retailers are have sufficient inventory of any cold treatment products or medicines that the company sells.  Clorox and Kimberly-Clark (makers of Kleenex brand tissues) both reported double-digit sales growth by utilizing Twitter and online chatter to drive shipments of cold products during the previous flu season.

While this type of conversation-mining might seem revolutionary to many companies, it can seem a bit underwhelming to the customers these companies are trying to reach.  This type of functionality has long been available even in basic and free versions.  The now-defunct site provided users location-based searching based on zip code.  Even Twitter now provides this functionality, and you can even factor in user sentiment.

community building, online community

We’ve been chattering on Twitter for several years now.  When companies first arrived their goal was to market and promote.  As the above examples illustrate, now they are beginning to understand the value of listening.  One of the great marketing benefits of social media for companies is word of mouth in digital form.  Before social media and the internet, if customers in Nashville began complaining about flu-like symptoms in December, they did so via analog tools that were largely inaccessible to companies that sold products that could have helped them relieve their flu symptoms.  Today, we are increasingly using digital and social media tools, and as such, our word of mouth is now in digital form so companies can access it and act on it.

But the key is that companies must make the effort to access that customer feedback.  If your company is consistently tracking and analyzing this digital word of mouth from your customers, you will begin to notice trends and patterns.  You will begin to develop a deeper understanding of your customers.

Which means you can market more efficiently to them.  By 2014, most companies that do any business online are at least experimenting with social media.  But few companies are truly utilizing social media efficiently to drive real business growth.

If you want to be in the minority of companies that are using social media marketing correctly, start by leveraging these tools to better understand your customers.  Too many companies start using social media to better sell to customers.  That should come later.  Use this simple format:

1 – Listen first, then take what you learn and apply it to…

2 – Engaging with your customers.  Interact with them, help them, and create value for them.  That leads to…

3 – Sales

Instead, too many companies put the cart before the horse and jump in immediately trying to sell to people they don’t understand via tools they don’t understand.

Don’t put the digital cart before the digital horse.  It’s not about understanding the tools, it’s about understanding how and why your customers are using the tools.  Then you can move forward.


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