|Dr. Robert J. Petrausch|
The lost art of listening in the age of distraction is making a comeback in the world of social media. While PR executives spend much of their time writing for the Web and other forums, the skill of listening online is most prized in the digital sphere.
PR executives say that they are listening to conversations on the Web about their organizations but, in fact, they are really engaging in a form of passive listening by gathering basic information from Web conversations and keeping tabs on competitors. This is all well and good, but it is active listening that can help executives capture important key ideas for PR campaigns that will resonate with on-line audiences. In addition, by listening carefully to what consumers and other stakeholders are saying on the Web and in blogs, videos, and tweets, the campaign team can fine-tune its overall message strategy.
Monitoring what people are saying about an organization has become much easier with social media tools or, what one can metaphorically call digital ears. These tools help to decipher the consumer’s voice with greater diversity of data at unprecedented speeds unheard of in the pre-Internet era. After all, conversations are continually taking place about a brand’s reputation whether one is participating in them or not. These conversations are vital because they provide important intelligence about one’s online reputation as well as a reality check on whether a brand or service offering is making the grade in the marketplace.
Traditional methods of collecting data (qualitative and quantitative) can be expensive and hard to capture. These methods require time to record and tabulate results even as data becomes outdated. In the 24/7 news and business cycle, the prospect of waiting lengthy periods for consumer research is no longer feasible when speed equates with business success.
The consumer’s voice in real time is the holy grail for corporations and agencies because it provides a sneak peek at how they behave, think, buy and act in the marketplace. It also offers insight on what may be the next big industry trend. Moreover, this voice can help PR executives craft messages and strategies for public relations campaigns.
One way to find messages for a public relations campaign is text mining, which is a process of tracking and analyzing words and conversations on the Web and through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. New advanced technologies in optical scanning and voice recognition systems are helping organizations digitize text and voice messages. Text mining can sift out fans from enemies of the company or brand and help executives build public relations campaigns that will reinforce fan support or mitigate detractor diatribes. It is important to remember that Web access to social media sites is open 24/7.
Five categories that should be text-mined for key words in online conversations are as follows:
Reputation: What are they saying about us—both good and bad?
Brand: Is the conversation lively, positive, boring, positive or negative?
Competitors: Are we faring better or worse that our competitors in the digital sphere?
Communities: Are community organizations and leaders supporting what we do and what we say?
Promotion: Are our customers responding positively or negatively to our current promotion campaigns?
By analyzing the data and listening to the conversations on the Web and social media sites, an organization can begin to reveal its true voice to the digital community. The old sales mode of marketing products and services on the Web is being replaced by telling real stories about real people and real situations, thereby presenting the true voice of the organization more authentically.
Five tips for finding your true voice in the digital sphere include:
Listen carefully to the conversation on the Web and social media sites about your products and services and turn them into real stories in the company’s communications platform.
Listen to what your customers and clients say about your organization and let them become your advocates and evangelists.
Listen to your fans online to find words and phrases that best resonate with your target audiences and stakeholders.
Listen to your employees and let them describe your business and products in ways that will make customers like what they hear.
Listen to opinion leaders and luminaries and let them guide your organization into the future.
Public relations executives who learn the valuable methods of actively listening to social media conversations will help their organizations improve their online reputations in the digital world. With new advances in technology, PR executives now have innovative listening tools to collect and analyze customer data for public relations campaigns.
Dr. Robert J. Petrausch is an associate professor at Iona College in the department of mass communication and is a former chief communications officer for a Fortune 500 company. He can be reached at RPetrausch@iona.edu.