Whether you realize it or not, people are talking about your brand — over social media, in user reviews, fact-to-face over the dinner table. Why not manage the conversation? Doing so can help your brand stay relevant, solidify its personality and widen its reach.
The first step in starting conversation is to listen: What are customers saying about the brand? What do they need? Aside from internal Web analytics and site architecture, tools like Social Mention and Buzzsumo can help companies monitor online social behaviors and trending searches. Next, initiate conversation with content that serves customers.
Content must be shareable and conversation-worthy to get people talking. And finally, reply to customers when they do engage; make a connection. Here are four ways to strike up a conversation:
1. Encourage co-creation.
Offering incentives for user-generated content is a fun way to engage customers. Recipe, photo and photo-caption contests are classic examples. Earlier this year, global hotel brand Marriott International launched content microsite TravelBrilliantly.com, a place where guests can publish their own stories by submitting “innovative travel ideas” — a recent prompt asked, “How can we help you stay fit and balanced when you travel?” — in exchange for a shot at prizes. Monthly challenge winners receive “travel essentials” bags; the grand prize features a stay at one of the chain’s premier properties.
2. Live tweet.
Shoe giant Zappos uses Twitter to start more than 1,200 conversations per month with its customers. Meanwhile, customers show off Zappos products in more than 600 tweets per month. @Zappos_Service, the brand’s customer service handle, reaches out to the “Twitterverse” several times a day; designated service reps Tweet at the beginning of their shifts, letting shoe-buyers know they’re there to help. (A sampling from recent tweets: “Happy Monday Twitter! Rick here with you for a few hours. What are you going to be for Halloween?”)
A recent Twitter study on the effects of live-tweeting and TV show popularity found that one of the top ways to drive conversation about a program is to have the stars of the show engaged on Twitter, particularly during the airing. TV shows with cast members live-tweeting during the premiere had 64 percent more tweets that day than programs that did nothing. Even shows that live-tweeted from the official handle (not from a celebrity) saw a seven percent increase over those that did nothing.
3. Join forum conversations.
Chiming in on forums and message boards is another way to assert your brand’s position as a thought leader. You may find your customers on relevant industry association forums, LinkedIn group discussions, or perhaps your brand has its own support forum or community message boards.
With the banking industry, for example, research shows that 90 percent of all online conversations about banks and their products occurred on forums and message boards. The key here is offering valuable information, answers to questions, rather than spamming boards with sales or marketing pitches.
4. Play up events.
Have an annual conference or event on the horizon? Give customers a sneak peek with shareable content like a speaker Q&A, video clip from last year’s event or behind-the-scenes venue setup. Offer an exclusive admission discount just for Twitter followers.
Ask your audience if they’re attending and what they’d most like to see or are most looking forward to this year. This can work with events you’re attending, too – write a blog post on the top five bits of wisdom you gleaned from a conference, for example. Fresh blog content is always appreciated: B2B companies that blog just one to two times per month generate 70 percent more leads than those who don’t blog, according to Hubspot.