As advocates of listening, we talk a lot about “listening at the point of need” in order to support business development and sales efforts, and be sure that you’re supporting and responding to potential customers when they’re in the market for what you offer, or expertise that you have. In other words, expressed needs online give you a great point of entry to introduce yourself, say hello, and offer help. (We wrote a little PDF about it that you can download here 76kb).
But it’s important to remember this: there’s a difference between a mention and a need. And that distinction can be the difference between making a welcome and well-timed introduction, and coming off as interruptive, opportunistic, or at worst, like a spammy used car salesman.
So, how do you do this effectively and in a way that’s likely to engender the response you want?
Here are 4 tips for responding to true needs rather than just jumping on passing mentions.
1. Look for questions or requests for input or advice.
A phrase like “looking for someone to recommend a great insurance agent” are much more open invitations for response. If you’re an insurance agent, this can be a great moment to introduce yourself and offer to be helpful (that’s the key word here). The door is open in this situation, but tread here like you would an in-person encounter, and be gracious, polite, and simply offer a hand. It’s up to the person posting whether to accept, but the overture will at least be relevant and well timed, and help express that you’re listening and paying attention.
2. Don’t just respond to keyword hits for your competitors.
If you’re Toyota and someone in a forum thread is talking about how much they love their new Honda, they’re likely not in the market to reconsider their purchase based on you jumping in and asking them to take a look at your newest model. Or, if someone’s Facebook status says that “Microsoft Windows 7 rocks!”, that’s probably not the time to try and convince them that they’d be better off with a different operating system.
Some folks make the mistake of simply pulling up a Twitter or Radian6 search for keywords about competitive brands and responding to each one in turn (more on that response below). But context is everything; a mention does not always a need make, and it’s important to recognize when someone really might be looking for some information, or when they’re just chatting aloud, talking to friends, or even expressing their contentment with a competitive offering (you can’t win them all).
3. Personalize your responses.
If you’re going to respond, stock doesn’t usually cut it in social media. Go back through some of the brands you know on Twitter, and see what their point of need responses look like. Are they all the same, or are they really seeking to respond to the individual questions, concerns or needs of the person talking?
Take a few moments to customize your engagement and outreach, and let your potential customers or those meeting you online for the first time feel like you really care about them personally. If they feel like they’re worth an extra few moments of your time to reach out, they’re more inclined to believe their business will matter to you in the long run.
4. Be gracious and patient.
If someone’s unhappy with their current product or service provider, there *can* be an opportunity to help point them to your own solution. But tread lightly here.
Sometimes, they love the company or product, but they’re just having a challenging moment, and what they really want is help from the provider or brand, not someone ready to pounce when they smell blood. A better approach is often to sit back a bit and see when or if the company responds to their customer and offers help. Or, if you really insist on reaching out immediately, think instead about framing your approach as a question or something helpful, like “Hi Bob, saw you were having a bit of trouble with your email provider. We’ve got some tips on our website here that might help?”
It’s a bit softer and requires a bit of finesse, but helps you make yourself visible and present to that person without pushing a pitch at them in their moment of frustration.
So what else have you noticed? Have you been on either end of this kind of scenario and what do you think? And how would you encourage companies listening in social media to understand the difference between a mention and a need?
Looking forward to your comments.