Wouldn’t it be nice to know what your customers are talking about right now? Wouldn’t you like to know their immediate needs or what’s frustrating them?
I’m pretty sure I know the answer to those questions, and it’s a “yes” to both. As a business owner, of course you’d want real-time insight into what your customers are saying. It would allow you to see opportunities as well as problems developing.
Enter the mission control center concept. Many large organizations, including PepsiCo’s Gatorade brand, are opening mission control centers to monitor what customers are saying about them in real time. The Gatorade center is based within the company’s marketing group but includes employees from a variety of functions. Their goal is to deliver real-time marketing ideas, as well as insights into customers’ thoughts.
Gatorade had to be really smart about who they were listening to in order to separate important feedback from chatter. At the end of the day, the company’s leaders are learning about the health of their brand by listening to these consumer conversations. Based on those conversations, they go about communicating with customers, raising brand awareness and increasing sales.
As a small business owner, you’re probably thinking that while this is a nice concept, you don’t have the resources to make it happen. While it’s easier for large companies, you can develop your own mission control center to fit your business needs. It doesn’t have to be a room with computer monitors. It can be as simple as a computer, tablet or smart phone.
First, you need to decide what insights are important to your business. You can do that by conducting what’s called a SWOT analysis, which involves listing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. To be effectively monitoring social media, you have to decide what you want to know and measure.
There are a number of options for monitoring programs, both free and paid. The free options are a good start, though they may not offer the depth of insight you’d like. An easy option is to set up alerts at Google Alerts or Brand Mention. Jungoo, a recently launched company, provides both free and affordable paid options.
Among the paid vendors that can offer you more options are Radion6, Collective Intellect, and Crimson Hexagon. You’ll need to select specific keywords or phrases for the alerts.
Once you have gathered and distilled the insights, you can start conversations. But that task is often daunting for most organizations. The common practice of pushing out messages, which most businesses are used to doing, isn’t going to lead to meaningful interactions in social media. You have to move out of your comfort zone. Your conversations will vary based on the insights observed. They could center around providing additional information to customers, answering questions, connecting them with a resource or person, or inviting them to a scheduled chat on Twitter. The key is to open conversations with people who are asking for your time and begin to build those relationships.
While talking with customers can be risky on social media, you’ll reap rewards as you form connections and build meaningful, lasting relationships with them.
This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, October 29, 2012.
Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR, is an accredited public relations professional with over a decade experience bridging the gap between traditional public relations and emerging technologies. Need help reaching your business’s customers, call 302.563.992 to schedule an initial consultation, or contact Mind The Gap Public Relations.

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