Informed: The value of listening

Gideon Spanier had an interesting piece in the Evening Standard yesterday about the growing importance of social media for marketers and the brands that employ them. I recommend you head on over to read the full article.

For me, the key takeaways were:

Among firms surveyed by the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and ad agency group Havas, 72% said they are now “monitoring conversations about their brand.”

Brand managers recognise social media has become not only too big to ignore but also integral to the marketing mix.

I would suspect that the percentage of B2B financial services firms doing so is much lower. And I fear that many in our sector don’t yet appreciate the value that social channels can bring to the marketing mix. It’s time our sector caught up.

68% of chief marketing officers (CMOs) say they feel under-prepared when it comes to social media, according to IBM’s authoritative survey of 1700 CMOs worldwide.

There’s no doubt that social media is catching many marketers off-guard and that’s particularly true in the conservative world of finance. Like most communications channels though, the reality is that it’s fairly simple when you know how. My advice? Ask an agency or partner you trust to show you the basics and start with small steps.

 The challenge for CMOs is to decide the purpose of their social media strategy. The temptation for brands has been to accumulate lots of friends and followers and to jump into the online conversation.

At Cognito, we see this time and time again. In their eagerness to throw themselves into social media because they feel the pressure to be seen to be doing something, firms forget the basics of good communications strategy. Social media is like any other communications effort: the key to success is being clear about objectives from the outset and setting metrics accordingly. In the world of B2B financial services, the number of friends or followers you have is very rarely a useful measure of success. On the other hand, the number of qualified leads generated or an increase in your share of voice on important industry topics may well be.

“Every time you talk to a client, they say there’s a conversation and they want to join it,” says Christian Gladwell, founder of Human Digital, M&C Saatchi’s social media agency. “But why do you want to join it? What are you going to say?” He believes the starting-point should be: “Don’t join, listen.”

I couldn’t agree more. When we’re discussing social media with clients, our advice is always to spend time listening before engaging or trying to influence. In many cases, listening is just as valuable. In some cases, it’s the only thing a firm should be doing.

Gladwell argues that brands should think of Twitter less as a communication channel and more as market-research and customer relationship tools. “Social media is an opportunity to see your customer through a totally different and cost-effective lens,” he says.

This is an excellent point and it’s the very reason Cognito developed Social Media Analytics, to allow firms in the financial sector not just to know what is being said about them but also to listen to the thought-leaders – the journalists, the analysts but also your competitors and prospects – and to understand what matters to them, what their hot topics are. Armed with this information, relationships can be built on solid footing and in short order. That, to me, is the real value of listening.

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