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DECKERS: What are customers tweeting about you?

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Deckers“Daddy, where wereyou when you first heard Osama Bin Laden was killed?”

“On Twitter, son. On Twitter.”

Where were you when you first heard about Osama Bin Laden? Did you hear about it on Twitter and Facebook? On TV? Or did you see it on the front page of the morning paper, 10 hours after the rest of the world?

Welcome to the universe of social media, where people are not just talking about the news, they’re breaking it.

What sort of implications does this have for business?

It means people are sharing information, opinions and reviews with each other on social media. It means—much to your marketers’ chagrin —people are talking to each other rather than listening to the “respected authority,” whether it’s newscasters, politicians or your marketing team.

Social media have changed marketing to the point that you are no longer in control of your message; your customers are. Your brand is no longer what the marketing department says it is, it’s what your customers say it is.

It means the countless hours your marketing committee wrestles with every subtle nuance of language, tweaking the logo and color schemes, and making sure the pages flow just right are not as important as you thought. Your customers ignore it completely.

Your customers are telling each other what they think about your product or service, your food, your atmosphere, your quality, your shipping, your customer service. If they had a good experience, they blog and tweet about it, singing your praises to thousands of people. But if they had a bad experience, they blog and tweet about it, sharing their vitriol with thousands of people. And those people listen to them and make buying (or avoiding) decisions on what your customers tell them.

Companies that are on social media are able to listen to what their customers are saying. They can respond with thanks, deepen relationships with customers and turn them into loyal fans. They also can respond with apologies and fix the problems immediately, turning the complainers into stalwarts or at least preventing bigger problems.

But companies who ignore it—thinking social media is only for young people, presuming their customers don’t use it, or fearing it offers a forum for negative reviews—are only fooling themselves. Your customers have been using it for a while. And they’ve been talking about you, whether you’re in on it or not. Only you don’t know it, because you still think your customers are eagerly poring over your marketing materials, oohing and aahing over the page layout, beautiful colors and cleverly worded copy.

While the news of your latest victories or foul-ups won’t spread as fast or as far as news of Bin Laden’s death, rest assured that, if people are talking about you, the reach of that message can be huge, reaching thousands of people across the country in minutes. My industry’s news is filled with case study after case study of companies’ good works and egregious errors reaching thousands of people in less than an hour, creating thousands of dollars of free advertising or undoing thousands of dollars of research and months of work.

Where do you stand on social media? Are you listening to your customers in the places they’re talking to each other? Or are you letting your customers scoop your marketing team and customer-service department with the latest news, solutions and advice on what to buy or not buy?

Social media are not a fad, not just for 20-somethings, and not something businesses can ignore anymore. If you want to connect to your customers, the universe of social media is where you need to be.•

__________

Deckers is co-owner of Professional Blog Service, an Indianapolis blogging and social media consulting agency. He also is the co-author of “Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself.”

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