business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

People talking without speaking; People hearing without listening. - From “The Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel

It was the mid-1960s and Paul Simon apparently understood social networking. It would be easy to argue that “people talking without speaking” is an apt way to describe texts, Tweets, Facebook updates and more: lots of talking without a ton of meaningful speech.

Yet when it comes to marketing, “people hearing without listening” may be an even more important thought.

In the new environment of social networking and non-stop commentary on every element of life today, listening may well become the most important skill every business must possess to have any chance of relevance and success. As is the case with so many parts of social networking, the rules and expectations are changing radically and constantly and business today faces a new range of demands and opportunities to build both sales and positive relationships.

These new rules of marketing and connection are highlighted in the fourth part of the new study from the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council of North America. Free downloads of this newest part are available here. (To make this point clearly yet again, I am the research director of the council and heavily involved with this new study.)

Essentially, businesses need take a fairly common sense approach to customer interaction on the social web. That starts with listening to what is being said by customers about products and services and trying to understand what is behind those opinions. Once that’s done, companies need find a way to participate in the conversation with shoppers in a meaningful way along with creating original ways to connect with shoppers and build on the conversation.

Sounds pretty straightforward, but as with most elements of social networking, expectations rise to new levels. The Integer Group, the authors of the CCRRC study, found that 86% of people complaining on Twitter expect a response from the company and 75% of those who heard back were satisfied with the response. In other words, customers feel if they take the time to Tweet, they fully expect someone to listen and respond. As Integer said, “140 characters can go a long way.”

Of course, it’s never that easy. Integer found out in its surveys that a strong majority of marketing executives feel ill-prepared for the world of social media, largely because they are unsure where to even start their efforts. It’s a problem that companies of all sizes admit they face in this brave new world.

That’s why this study matters so much (and admittedly, I am biased0. So much of what builds success on the social web is exactly what builds success with a store, product or service. Companies have to know who they are, what customers expect from them and what constitutes a successful interaction. Basically you have to stand for something or you stand for nothing.

None of this is easy on-line or on Main Street. But as we’ve pointed out here many times on MorningNewsBeat, success rarely comes easily. Hearing can be easy; listening can be really hard.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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