Beyond PR

Jul 25, 2011

Turning Online Conversations into Business Opportunities

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending RealTime NY (formerly TWTRCON), a one-day conference jam-packed with sessions, workshops, and case studies on mobile, social and real-time Web.

Following are highlights of one of the presentations, “Listen up! Turning Conversations into Business Opportunities,” which featured Randall Brown, Gatorade; Jeff Cole, Kellogg; Frank Eliason, Citibank; Victoria Harres, PR Newswire; and Stephen Rappaport, Advertising Research Foundation (moderator).

“There is ROI in listening,” said Eliason, but most companies are poor at it, and listen only for “the PR disaster.” Additionally, only 17 percent of companies actually do anything with the information they’ve found. “You have to be able to take the data and get it to the right people,” he said. “We have to change the culture to be about the customer.”

Gatorade has made listening the core of their mission, said Brown. “We’ve brought it in-house, made it the center of our business, and staffed it in-house. You want to get the people, the learning, as close to the business as possible. It has brought the space between us and the consumer to the smallest space possible.”

“Listening is the easy part,” added Kellogg’s Cole. “Making sure there is collaboration and getting the data to the people who can act on it is the challenge.”

For PR Newswire, listening “has been organic,” said Harres. “We have several people in different groups — sales, marketing, etc. — listening, so we did something as simple as creating one email address that serves as a listening group. We can share what we’re seeing and decide who will respond.”

When listening, look for trends – they’re good for product development, said Harres. Also, listen to all viewpoints, even the extreme ones. “I actually pay attention to ‘the lunatic fringe,’” said Harres, “because there is actually some truth in what they’re saying.”

If you look at social media in general, “it’s really about breaking down the walls,” said Eliason. “The customer sees you as one company. Social media sees you as one company. Companies need to focus on the right things. Customers are telling you everything you need to know about them. That is extraordinary information – if you know how to connect the dots. You need to know your customer.”

“In my view,” added Eliason, “the customers in the social Web own it, and we’re just invited participants.”

It’s also important to look at the people you hire. “Don’t look for social media experience,” said Eliason. “For me, it’s about passion – even if I disagree with what they’re saying. I can teach them social media. I can’t teach them passion.”

Internally, there are always going to be people who think social media is someone else’s department. They’ll say things like, “That’s Marketing’s job” or “That’s Advertising’s job.” Those are the people you have to nurture and make part of the process.

When Harres started tweeting for @prnewswire three years ago, she was pretty much ignored. “I was that girl doing that thing called Twitter,” she said. It wasn’t until she tweeted out a link to a survey for a colleague and got a thousand responses that others realized, “Oh, there is value here.”

Brown said the first step in the stakeholder process is to ask internal departments what their goals are, and explain how social media can help them reach their goals.

“Social media is breaking down walls around the world,” added Eliason. “Companies are no different.”

Harres said she looks forward to the day “when we don’t have to prove to someone that what we’re doing has real value. Let’s get past having to prove the value of listening.”

The bottom line: It always starts with business objectives. Social media is just one part of that.

Written by Maria Perez, director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at

Listening to social channels and keeping tabs on media pick up is easier with PR Newswire’s Media Monitoring solution, which leaves no stone unturned, and no medium unmonitored.  Monitor blogs, news web sites, social networks and online forums —  print and online — and gain a comprehensive view of your brand.

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