By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (originally for Fast Company)

Listening implies an active process of paying attention to what someone else is saying.  Most companies don’t do nearly as much of that, primarily because it’s more complicated to do.

One of the first questions I invariably ask when meeting with a communications team for the first time is, “How do you use digital communications and social media to listen to your customers?”

From startups to corporations, the response all too often jumps to online monitoring. Companies believe they can prove they are listening because they know their “share of voice” vis-à-vis competitors and have a sometimes-extensive set of charts and graphs from their sentiment monitoring. They know if the conversation has shifted more positive, more negative, or more neutral about their brand.

This can be useful information. But you can gather it all and still not really understand much of anything about your actual customers.

In our book Spreadable Media, my coauthors and I call such monitoring processes “acts of hearing.” In its primary definition, hearing is the act of physically receiving and recording that a sound has been uttered.

So, if monitoring is hearing, how do companies listen?

Listening implies an active process of paying attention to what someone else is saying. Most companies don’t do nearly as much of that, primarily because it’s more complicated to do. It requires looking at the context of what people are saying. It requires developing an understanding of the actual people you’re communicating with and not immediately turning them into statistics. It requires making listening to your customers in social media like real, human communication.

For startups with limited resources to dedicate toward social media, budget often goes toward launching platforms for the company and online monitoring processes. Companies err toward those things because they seem deceptively precise, whereas the processes of listening will always be incomplete and messy. Marketing teams can set our KPIs and measure their ROI and have numbers to report up and across the chain.

And companies that do “listen” well when they start out will often lose that ability as the company–and its customer base–grows larger and processes become more systematic.

But, just because you can’t perfect something or because it’s hard to quantify doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Companies that hear and don’t listen often:

  • know that a shift in perception has happened but have no strong idea as to why
  • realize that there’s been a rise of interest in the company but little about what larger trends are driving that new interest
  • can track what happened with a crisis after the fact but have little chance of seeing a crisis coming
  • miss out on new business opportunities because they are tracking only what people are saying about the company and not understanding patterns in the lives of their customers beyond mentions of their brand

This division between hearing and listening is growing vast in an era of Big Data, where quantitative information about customers is plentiful. Companies are investing more money in quantitative research experts and platforms. But, if you have to make choices with lean budgets, I’d urge you to put more funds behind actual human listening. For those customers interested in your brand:

  • What are they actually saying about it?
  • What else are they interested in?
  • What are the larger discussions happening online, among communities who care about the larger issues your products and services are looking to address?

Other companies may come along and mimic your products and services over time, but no one can replace the human beings behind your brand. If you truly know and understand your customers, that bond will drive loyalty (in both directions).Social media gives you unprecedented ability to truly listen to and develop deep relationships with your customers. Don’t squander it by only running surveillance on them. And build your listening processes so that they can scale up with you as your company grows.

–Sam Ford is director of digital strategy for Peppercomm and coauthor of the new bookSpreadable Media with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green. He is also a Futures of Entertainment Fellow, a research affiliate of the program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and an instructor with Western Kentucky University’s Popular Culture Studies program. Sam was named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter and serves on the Membership Ethics Advisory Panel for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association. He is also co-editor of The Survival of Soap Opera with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington. Follow him on Twitter @Sam_Ford.

[Image: Flickr user Sciencesque]

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By Lewis Shields, PepperDigital

On Wednesday Twitter will start attaching a value to the metadata of public posts.  It’s unclear exactly how Tweets will be measured, but they will be assessed to decide whether Tweets have “none,” “low” or “medium” value (“high” will be introduced at a later date).

Although Twitter has previously ‘ranked’ the value of Tweets for those that are identified as ‘Top Tweets’, the company has never been so explicit in sharing this data, as the new attributed values will be available in its API.

It’s interesting to see Twitter being more proactive with the rating and ranking of content posted on its platform – perhaps trying to take back some control from third party apps, such as Klout and PeerIndex – although making the values available through its API does somewhat defeat this theory. Rumour has it that the “high” value, which may be launched in a couple of months, will be made available to third party developers for subscription – a wise move for monetisation and a good application of the freemium model.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of any tech move which helps rank and rate content and accounts.  At the moment we use Klout in the UK for many of our clients, to demonstrate the growth in influence for the social presences we run, and explain why we’re reaching out to certain profiles.

Like Advertising Value Equivalents, we know that digital influence scores aren’t exact – and certainly don’t necessarily reflect the real world (Justin Bieber? Puh-lease). But, they are a good benchmark when feeding back to clients who need to give numerical/monetary values and ROI for the work carried out by their agencies.

Although by no means revolutionary, this move by Twitter is a milestone.  The valuation of its content will certainly mark a step forward in the evolution of digital measurement, and lead to additional monetisation opportunities for the brand which– after the recent $80m investment from BlackRock – will need to be a priority during the coming year.

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By Brian Blank, PepperDigital

The battle around mobile video sharing has started. The first shot was fired at the end of January when Twitter unleashed Vine on the world. Two weeks later, it looks like 2013 is shaping up to be the year of mobile video sharing Instagram and the rising popularity of image-sharing apps made 2012 the year of filtered and altered images permeating our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Our fascination with the animated GIF was set to die a slow death once the bejeweled backgrounds of MySpace lost their popularity, but we’ve resurrected them with creative flair thanks to platforms like Tumblr fueling the fire for short, GIF-like videos.

Before Vine was ready for prime time, there were video apps like Cinemagram, Viddy, Keek and a few others trying to find the perfect formula for easily-shared video that could be the “Instagram” of video (or at least before Instagram led the way by adding video capabilities).

Cinemagram and Viddy were doing a good job forging the way until Vine threw the door open with the muscle of Twitter behind it. How disruptive is Vine? Just last week alone over 100,000 Vines were shared, Viddy fired its CEO, and just today it was announced that Vimeo acquired GIF-making app Echograph to challenge Vine, Viddy and Cinemagram.

So what makes Vine and other short video sharing apps intriguing?

  1. Time – We have a short attention span and appreciate the self-contained snippet of video. This also means you need to get to your point quickly since every second counts.
  2. Motion – The animation draws our attention and we don’t have to hit play or download anything to experience it.
  3. Size – Small means we aren’t hogging bandwidth and it is easier to upload, even if we are in areas with less-than-stellar reception.
  4. Creativity – The apps allow for everyone to showcase their creativity.
  5. Sharable – We love being able to share our experiences and these make it easy to share on these networks or on Twitter or Facebook.
  6. Simplicity – Point, shoot and share makes it easy to create and share videos.

EchoGraph makes created animated GIFs on your iPad or iPhone easy

If the past three weeks are any indication, then 2013 will be a fierce battle of short, animated video snippers. What platform or app is the best may depend on a lot of variables, but at the end of the day we have to look at how new technologies like Vine, Cinemagram and Echograph fit into the content experience.

How are you planning to implement video sharing into your marketing plan?

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