Companies must listen to the Web 2.0 world

Those that ignore social media critics risk being blindsided by negative comments, experts say

Target found itself at the center of a blogosphere brouhaha this month when it brushed aside complaints against it lodged by the executive director of an organization that monitors the effects of advertising on kids. Target doesn't respond to comments from "nontraditional" media outlets.

A Google search in the US for "Dell support" brings up a scathing post - complete with an obscenity in the title - from a blogger on the first page of results, which has at times been posted higher in the search results that the organization's own support Web page.

These were two of a handful of examples cited during an online presentation Thursday by Forrester Research and Dow Jones on why companies should devote more resources to monitoring what is being said about them and their products in the Web 2.0 world.

Glenn Fannick, product development manager at Dow Jones also noted that banking giant HSBC eliminated overdraft fees after 6,000 of its customers protested on Facebook while Cadbury recently returned the Wispa candy bar to store shelves after 14,000 Facebook users protested plans to discontinue it.

"These are examples of risks that could easily be avoided if companies paid attention to and appreciated the social media," Fannick added. "If you have someone search for your brand, the last thing you want is someone's blog coming up. Social networking sites like Facebook are increasing being used ... to focus user protests on niche decisions which the individuals disagree with."

Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang noted that even companies who do not have social media projects in place should set up mechanisms to "listen" to what users are saying about their companies, products and executives in the Web 2.0 world of social networks and blogs to avoid getting blind-sided by user generated content.

"We're seeing bloggers emerge that are actual customers, [and] they really can impact your brand," said Owyang, a former community manager at Hitachi Data Systems. "You really need to listen to what these influencers say."

Companies are spending a lot of money on search engine marketing and when a negative result ranks high - like in the Dell example - "don't tell me that doesn't affect your brand," Owyang noted. "Does it actually impact direct revenue - it depends on [the] case," he said, adding that "it does impact the overall health of the company."

About 70% of the 600 participants in today's online presentation said in an ad hoc survey that they were actively tracking and measuring social media to gauge media response and sentiment to products or brands. The survey also found that 65% of the participants are tracking social media to identify new risks and issues to the company, while 55% tracking to find new prospects or opportunities.

To "listen" to what people are saying about a particular company or brand, Owyang advised people to first set up alerts on Google or Technorati to begin to monitor the conversations. Next, a company can sign up for Facebook or Yahoo groups on specific topics and read comments on various blogs.

In addition, Owyang advised users to search on a social bookmarking site like Del.icio.us for the various tags that users are giving to content associated with the company, product or high-level executives.

Companies should also assign a person to monitor the Web for comments and to store pertinent ones where they can be accessed company-wide. Companies should also consider setting up a "triage" methodology to categorize social media incidents as high, medium or low priorities to be addressed, he added.

Some companies are going beyond just listening in on how their company or product is being received by actively using blogs, social networks, podcasts and other tools to market themselves. These companies need to understand that while traditional online marketing focuses a lot of attention on a company's own Web site, a corporate Web site is "irrelevant" in the Web 2.0 world, according to Owyang.

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