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Companies must listen to the Web 2.0 world

Those that ignore social media critics risk being blindsided by negative comments, experts say

By Heather Havenstein
January 31, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Target Corp. found itself at the center of a blogosphere brouhaha this month when it brushed aside complaints against it lodged on a blog post by the executive director of an organization that monitors the effects of advertising on kids. Target doesn't respond to comments from "nontraditional" media outlets, she noted on her blog.

A Google search in the U.S. for "Dell support" brings up a scathing post -- complete with an obscenity in the title -- from a blogger on the first page of results, which has at times been posted higher in the search results than the organization's own support Web page.

These were two of a handful of examples cited during an online presentation today by Forrester Research Inc. and Dow Jones & Co. on why companies should devote more resources to monitoring what is being said about them and their products in the Web 2.0 world.

Glenn Fannick, product development manager at Dow Jones, also noted that HSBC Bank USA eliminated overdraft fees after 6,000 of its customers protested on Facebook, and Cadbury recently returned the Wispa candy bar to store shelves after 14,000 Facebook users protested the company's plans to discontinue it.

"These are examples of risks that could easily be avoided if companies paid attention to and appreciated the social media," Fannick added. "If you have someone search for your brand, the last thing you want is someone's blog coming up. Social networking sites like Facebook are increasingly being used ... to focus user protests on niche decisions which the individuals disagree with."

Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang noted that even companies that do not have social media projects in place should set up mechanisms to "listen" to what users are saying about their companies, products and executives in social networks and blogs to avoid getting blindsided by user-generated content.

"We're seeing bloggers emerge that are actual customers, [and] they really can impact your brand," said Owyang, a former community manager at Hitachi Data Systems. "You really need to listen to what these influencers say."

Companies are spending a lot of money on search engine marketing and when a negative result ranks high -- like in the Dell example -- "don't tell me that doesn't affect your brand," Owyang noted. "Does it actually impact direct revenue -- it depends on [the] case," he said, adding that "it does impact the overall health of the company."

About 70% of the 600 participants in today's online presentation said in an ad hoc survey that they were actively tracking and measuring social media to gauge media response and sentiment to products or brands. The survey also found that 65% of the participants are tracking social media to identify new risks and issues to the company, while 55% are using it to find new prospects or opportunities.



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