Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 8, 200911:08 AM

Do This Now

If there is one question I get asked more than any other, it's: "Where do I start with all of this online stuff?"

Many people have a knee-jerk readiness to grab onto whatever new and shiny object the rest of the world is staring at. I've often heard people say, "join Facebook," "get on Twitter," or "upload some videos to YouTube." These are not bad ideas, but to make the most out of joining an online social network, you need to really understand why it is important for your business. It takes hard strategic thinking, and it should be tied directly to your financials goals. There's no reason to not be in the many online channels to get a flavour of the types of conversations that are taking place. Who makes the news? Who are the evangelists? What are they saying? How do they say it? What gets attention? What gets action?

You can start listening right now with the following two tools and platforms:

Google Alerts - Maybe you have already signed up for these based on my previous mentions. It's not just good for a vanity search on your own company and personal name. It's also about amping up your alerts to include your competitors, key players in your industry, industry-related terms and more. Google is constantly expanding and updating the amount of Web content and databases that it is indexing for its master search platform. Having a healthy and rich list of your brands, industry-related professionals and industry related terms is an amazing way to better understand what makes the news, who are the people creating it and what types of content they create.

Too many people use Google Alerts simply to stay on top of what is being said about them and their competitors. Don't stop there. Use the information to track and follow trends and share that information with your team. Some of the greatest innovations within industry come when a competitor sees what is being done and thinks there must be a better way.

Twitter Search - While everyone is busy trying to figure out how to get more people to follow their 140-character blasts of brilliance on Twitter, there's a huge, rich and value-intense search engine for Twitter that is the real gold. Take a few minutes and head over to Twitter Search, pop in the brands you represent, your own name and even the industry you serve. What kinds of conversations are already taking place about your business "out in the wild?" Twitter is not a closed online social network. Unlike Facebook, where an individual has to give you permission to follow them, anything and everything on Twitter happens out in the open. The only reason people have to register for Twitter is to post their own tweets. There are countless major corporations who have told me they don't have an active account on Twitter that they are posting to, but that does not preclude spending time trolling Twitter Search for what people are saying about their industry.

In mid-September, Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology analyzed half a million tweets to discover that 20 per cent of them mentioned a brand in terms of a request for information or a response to a request about a brand from someone else. This statistic alone is fascinating if you consider how many people will say publicly that they would prefer if brands were not involved on Twitter, but when left to their own devices are quick to mention, talk about and offer their own perspective. Twitter is rich with requests. You just have to keep track of the right (and relevant) keywords for your business (and don't forget the more generic industry terms as well).

It's easy to sign up, customize your own page and start shouting to everyone who might listen to buy your stuff. Most businesses do this with no real strategy in play. It's completely different to listen to what others are saying, gain some insight into the types of content in the conversation and adjusting business strategy accordingly. This way, when the time comes for you speak, you will have something useful to say. If being an active listener is key to a successful sale, it applies online as well.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post the article here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:

- Montreal Gazette - Google Alerts and Twitter can be mined for knowledge.
- Vancouver Sun - The valuable art of listening online.

By Mitch Joel