The blogosphere is abuzz with discussion about your product. Are you listening? In this article I’ll skip the “blogs are important” dogma and jump into a Letterman-inspired Top Ten List of tactics you can employ to learn about your customers using the blogosphere.
#10) Read blogs. Advanced, I know. Create a list of the top 50-100 blogs in your space and hire a grad student to read them daily and summarize them weekly. Pros: strong qualitative understanding of your customers. Cons: time consuming, doesn’t scale, may miss new blogs as they’re added, grad students disappear after spring break holding the most critical asset… an intuitive understanding of your market.
#9) Automated blog reading. It’s the computer age. Or at least it was in the 1960’s. Use the power of the chip to read and parse millions of blogs at once, looking for your product name or other key phrases. Companies like Buzzmetrics and Umbria will do this for you. Pros: scales well, covers far ends of the blogosphere, finds new hotspots, easy to get “pulse” of market. Cons: difficult to specify exactly what you’d like to collect… i.e. if you want to know whether the zipper on product X4562a works well you may have to wait a while for somebody to blog about that.
#8) Use Technorati to find relevant blogs. Technorati ranks blogs by influence, traffic, etc. Use this to figure out who the movers and shakers are in your market. Pros: cheap, easy, free. Cons: you still have to reach out to all those blogs.
#7) Track keywords with Technorati. Subscribe to a word or phrase and see where that phrase is used anywhere in the blogosphere. They’ll even package the results into an RSS feed for you. Pros: cheap and easy way to track a “meme” as it moves through the blogosphere, subscription means you’ll find new blogs talking about your market. Cons: this is still a passive approach that assumes people are talking about what you’re interested in.
#6) Reach out to A-Listers. Whether it’s political blogging or dishwashing detergent blogging, there are some people who naturally become thought leaders. Treat them with respect. Engage them. Ask them questions. Offer them insight into your company. Pay attention to CK’s Pitch Practices. Pros: A-Listers are very influential and you’re taking an active hand in defining what data you want to collect. Cons: doesn’t scale well.
#5) Work the comments. Read and write comments on various blogs to gauge the readership’s position. If you find a negative view of your product on a blog, post a comment saying “Hey, thanks for the opinion… how many readers share this opinion? It’s very important to us.” Be willing to listen. And see what happens. Pros: you’re engaging a blog’s readership and you have some ability to focus the conversation to the things you need to know. Cons: doesn’t scale, high risk if you don’t respect the answers given… or if you spend all of your time arguing your point.
#4) Microformats. An advanced technique to read the hidden data some bloggers hide in their sites. Examples include name/address, calendar/event and for sale info. There’s a dynamic machine-readable hidden data world lurking right below the visible surface of the blogosphere. Dive in with computer programs that vacuum it up. Pros: automated so it scales well, you get quantifiable data that your Excel jockeys can chart and graph (“oooh, look at that curve.”) Cons: this is a custom technique that requires application development, the number of microformats is currently limited and there is low (but growing) blogger adoption.
#3) Create a blog. Nothing new here except to say that if you define a clear business goal to gain understanding of your market then you can do so. Most articles describe how to get sales or awareness out of your blog. Don’t hesitate to post to your blog “hey, we’re working on this new product and have a fork in the road… which way would you, our customers, go?” Pros: deep understanding of the issues, many ways for customers to reach out via comments, email, follow-up blog posts. Cons: takes a while to build readership.
#2) Blog polls. Single-question polls that bloggers put onto their sites to collect data. Blogpolls.com and Vizu.com have offerings. Pros: scales well, reaches large social audience. Cons: difficult to accomplish a lot with a single question, no attribution to answers.
#1) Social Surveys with dNeero.com. Sure, I’m the CEO of dNeero. But Social Surveys are a great way to engage bloggers. You pay bloggers to respond to your survey questions and post their own answers on their own blogs where their friends and family can continue the conversation. It’s peer-visible, open and social research. If you’re worried about the pay element you can force payment to go to charity. Start a thousand discussions. Pros: scales well, you define the data to be collected, peer bias more accurately reflects how a market thinks in the real world. Cons: a new concept, you can’t just launch a bunch of conversations… you have to continue to invest in them once they’re started.
Hopefully this gets you started along the path to great customer understanding. Bloggers are people and the more you work to make them friends the more fulfilling and successful your business will be (ok, so I couldn’t skip all of the “blogs are important” dogma!) Don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions.