Starting an online dialogue

As you might allready know, it is sometimes quite difficult to find things to talk about with people. Generally, it is not a good idea to talk about the weather all the time. It might be especially difficult, for a corperation to find things to talk about with potential customers and ambassadors for their cause.

My general advice when it comes to starting a dialogue is – patience. Social media is not a phenomenon that makes everyone super social, allthough some evangelists try to make this point. Wait untill people talk about you untill you start talking to them. This is especially important if you want to use social media to promote your brand or some of your products.

Basic monitoring
The key to knowing when people are talking about you is to start an effective monitoring process.

Google Alerts
Might not be the ultimate way to monitor what is being said about your brand online, but it surely gives you a way to see when your brand is being mentioned. If you take 24 hrs to respond to an interesting post someone has written about you I don’t think they’ll mind.

Twingly Alerts
Through twingly you can setup alerts for both blogs and microblogs. It is a neat tool to use. Just search for what you want to monitor and the search result will give you the option of a subscription.

If you want to know what blogs are saying about you and which blog post started the debate, I would definitively recommend blogpulse as the best of many options.

Twitter Search
For those of you who want to stay tuned into the real time discussions about your brand I would really suggest you start monitoring what is being said about you by making a search for your brand on Twitter Search.

As the list of tools increase you might take notice of that there are basically as many tools as there are social networking services. The time of monitoring has the potential of being such a big job that it is not worth it. Well, there is allways a solution. In the monitoring case we have the wonderful Yahoo creation of Pipes.

Yahoo Pipes
Take all feeds you can find and mash them into one. Publish the pipe and you’ll have one place to go to in order to find what is said about you. I will most definitively write several posts on how you should setup your Yahoo Pipes in a good way, but I will leave you with exploring it on your own for now.

Sparking the dialogue
This post was however meant to deal with how you should start a dialogue. As you might have noticed there are a bundle of structured charts out there on what discussions your company should get involved in and not. I really suggest that your company should get into none.

On the other hand, people from your company should get involved in all discussions they find interesting. By just showing that you care about your customers and antagonists will probably be the best PR you could ever get. It is just like normal society. The benefit of social media is that the discussion is public. This means that you can actually focus on some discussions whilst creating a legacy for yourself and your company, that will remain forever online.

Pressure!!! Well, yes. But I promise you that it is very easy. Follow these three very basic business rules:

  1. Thank your promotors, supporters and ambassadors
  2. Do right what you have done wrong, or explain – honestly – why you have done it the way you have
  3. Ask your critics to explain untill you understand them

These three rules are EXTREMELY simple, but they can never go wrong. Social media does not let you get away with a crappy customer service anymore. If you have a crappy customer service – at least explain why your company has chosen this solution. Maybe it enables you to cut costs in order to make your brand the cheapest on the market, maybe you only want dissatisfied customers, or perhaps the most likely, someone has had a bad day and all you need to do is to say you’re sorry.

What to say
Well, sometimes “social media experts” try to make this dialogue thing into something difficult and something they can charge you money for. But seriously… If you do not know what you want to communicate if you are a communicator at your company… well.. then I would think of a change of jobs.. Just think in two basic steps.

  1. What is the person saying about our company
  2. How can I with the least words reply to this

Now, if you are still insecure, here comes a template

“Hi [name of the person you want to talk to]

I am [your name] from [company name], and I found your post through [the source ie. twitter, facebook, youtube].

1. thank you for noticing our campaign

2. I am sorry that you didn’t like our campaign, we were trying to make a change to our corporate identity, but maybe our ambition got a bit ahead of our timeline. We’ll take your thoughts into consideration for the future.

Updated: Got some feedback regarding number two from @TribalingSwe who gave me another suggestion as I got caught up in the corporate bs language of “corporate identity”. Thnx for the feedback. Check out his blog about social media and brands amongst other things.

2: I am sorry that you didn’t like our campaign. We’ll take your thoughts about [issues] into consideration for the future.

3. I am allways happy when people take interest in our company. If you can elaborate some of your thoughts on [the thing the person has criticised]

Best regards,
[Your name] [Your title]”

To sum it all up
Start out by only talking to people that talk about you. Make sure you know who is talking by monitoring. Be smart when you monitor through the simple use of Pipes. Say what you want to say, nothing else. It is not difficult, it is just like normal.

Once you feel comfortable doing this, you can start examining the benefits of multi-level dialogue, keyword optimization of blog comments and relational marketing. Just do it!!


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