What are they saying?

In a restaurant business, a good owner or manager knows to take care of a complaining guest. He or she has long been told that a happy customer may only tell one person about a good experience, but an unhappy person will tell 10 people about their bad experience. It's easy in this setting to know exactly what your clients are saying about you. They are sitting at a table in your business telling the waiter what they think. And, it's fairly simple for you to mitigate the situation before it becomes a poor experience with an offer for a complimentary dessert to make up for a long wait for an entree.

Enter Web 2.0 and word of mouse. Now this client tells 850 "friends" about a good experience and 12,000 about a bad one. Any given customer could have the same impact as high-profile food critic. One person who did business with your company today may have a following of thousands on a blog and is telling them all right now as you read this article what he thinks of your product or service. Someone following his blog may turn around and post a similar comment on his wall on Facebook informing several hundred of his friends just how good your product or service really is. One of his friends will then tweet his thoughts about your company on his mobile phone to his hundred followers. Another customer may take a photo while at your business of an exceptionally good or bad experience, make comments on the photo and tweet it to hundreds of followers who will add their comments and then send them to hundreds of their friends.

All the while, those of you still not monitoring the conversation online will have no idea. You will continue operating your business on a day-to-day basis oblivious to the hundreds of opportunities you had to turn a person into a happy client. You'll miss the twitter conversation between 50 people in Reno complaining about broken pipes from the late spring freeze asking their friends for recommendations. Important if you are a landscaper. You won't be a part of the forum conversation in a social network where Reno moms are discussing the best cupcakes in town. Useful if you own a local bakery. You won't see the conversation chain that would have made you realize that a certain process in your company does in fact need tweaking to become faster and more efficient. You won't read the blog that tells everyone who does read it that they shouldn't do business with you.

And, you might miss the online video that could make or break you. Today, a single homemade video has the power to bring a company with a 50-year-old brand to its knees. Imagine what it can do to you. I'm referring to a recent case study in the social media phenomenon where two employees of the pizza chain

Dominoes videotaped themselves doing disgusting things to a sandwich and uploaded it to Youtube. The video was viewed 500,000 times and within just a few days, public perception of the company had turned from positive to negative. Dominoes responded with their own Youtube video, a smart move, since that's where the problem stemmed from. But, without monitoring the online conversation, they would have never even known.

Whether a large national brand like Dominoes or a local diner, listening to social media lets you catch complaints early and resolve the problem. Monitoring the online conversation allows you hear the compliments and share them with others. It enables you to find needs to which your company can provide solutions. It lets you more closely monitor what the competition is doing. It can help you identify a potential crisis early on. And, it provides an inexpensive audit of your brand and reputation.

There are a variety of tools to help you get started:

* Google Blog Search finds blogs that cover topics related to your industry and helps you stay on top of current trends and follow what people are saying about your company or your industry as a whole.

* Google Alerts automatically notify you of posts with key search words related to your business such as your company's name, the industry you are in, or the products or services you provide.

* Tweetbeep keeps track of conversations that mention you, your products, and your company, with hourly updates.

* Technorati monitors all the conversations in the blogosphere.

* Boardreader allows you to search multiple message boards simultaneously.

* Search.twitter.com helps you filter all the conversations with real-time information.

Even if you have been hesitant to embrace social media for your company and are still bewildered by the

small orange and blue squares popping up on everyone's emails and Web sites, you should at the very least be listening to what people are saying about your company. You may be thinking you don't have the time to do this or you don't have the budget or what's my return on investment? I ask you, what's your return on ignoring?

Tierra Bonaldi is a partner in MassMedia Corporate Communications and focuses primarily in the company's Internet marketing division. Contact her at 322-0755 or through www.massmediacc.com.


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