Listening to customers key

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Of late, Forrester Research analyst Zach Hofer-Shall has been focusing his research efforts on “social intelligence,” a nifty tag for the process of taking advantage of all the customer and social media data floating around online and putting it to solid, actionable use. BtoB recently spoke to Hofer-Shall about this idea as it applies to b-to-b marketers. BtoB: Is social media listening and reputation management less important—or, at any rate, different—for a b-to-b company compared with a consumer one? Hofer-Shall: B-to-b companies face many of the same challenges and opportunities from online discussion that their b-to-c counterparts do—reputation management risks and sales lead opportunities from buyers. Both ultimately live in an online world where they no longer control their brands; their buyers do. B-to-b marketers know well the importance of one-to-one marketing, where leads are more valuable and decision-makers more influential than in b-to-c. So listening to the discussion around a brand is as valuable (if not more valuable) than b-to-c. Finding that buyer, knowing if there are complaints, understanding your brand health, etc., are all very important to any company, regardless of customer base. BtoB: When it comes to listening to social media, are there different sources to track for b-to-b marketers? Are there different outcomes they need to worry about, track and rectify? Hofer-Shall: There might be hundreds of thousands of discussions around big b-to-c brands and only a small handful for b-to-b brands. But this just makes the discussions more important. B-to-b brands will focus more on tracking specific sites, discussion boards and influencers around the relevant industries; [they] will be less interested in tracking the fire hose of the Web. BtoB: Are free social media listening and tracking tools good enough or do marketers need a “pro” platform and tools? Hofer-Shall: Between free tools and paid tools, there's an inverse correlation between the amount you spend and the amount of time you'll use trying to track your brand. We're still in the early days of companies adopting these tools, but the marketers I speak with see a lot of value in the investment. BtoB: Is social media management typically done on its own, or should/must it be integrated with other enterprise applications? Hofer-Shall: Integration is the biggest trend in listening today. Marketers are quickly learning that the real power in social media data comes from integrating it with your larger customer and marketing data. Currently, reputation management is indeed a siloed activity, held by corporate communications or PR; but the data they collect holds rich insights that, when integrated with broader customer or marketing data, can drive more-informed business decisions. —R.K.
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