As someone who spends a fair amount of time monitoring the Internet on behalf of organisations and brands – one of the recurring issues clients face is not so much 'What are people saying about us?' but 'Why isn't anyone saying anything at all about us?'
I occasionally have to explain to quite large organisations, that unfortunately have an obscure product, that nobody will be talking about them, as nobody in their right mind actually starts a conversation with – 'I bought the most amazing bit of insurance last week' or 'That radiator valve I bought at Wickes is really very good'. People simply do not have conversations about such things and listening to the Internet will be fruitless.
And even established brands with exciting products often have problems building a fan base or getting a share of the great social conversation.
So here are some suggestions for ways of starting a conversation:
On Facebook, in your blog or on Twitter, ask your fans/followers a question – get their opinion about an existing product or a future development of a service or a proposed product. By asking a direct question you are not only more likely to elicit a response over a passive post, but you are involving your customers and making them feel like their opinion is valued.
If your product or service is not that interesting (now be honest here) ask a question about the market or about their usage of the product or service.
Start a competition
From your Facebook page or web site – start a competition and blog and tweet about it. Good competitions with a relevant and valued prize (relevant to and valued by your audience – not you) can build a fan base quickly and generate interest in the media too. Try and be as inclusive as possible – give everyone a reasonable chance of winning – this will make the most impact.
Make sure you get the maximum amount of benefit when you have a winner (or winners) – engage your PR machine and again, blog and tweet about it.
If you say something controversial in a blog or a tweet – that is likely to get you talked about. Of course you need to be very careful with this approach as you don't want to alienate your audience or make them think you are fools. But you could put forward a controversial point of view and then discuss its validity in a reasoned manner.
Another key way of getting noticed and talked about is to sponsor a sport, a challenge or a set of awards. Questions, polls and updates, can all be used to sustain interest.
Organise a conference or seminar
This is a great way to create ripples in the social river – think of a subject or topic area that your target audience is interested in or keen to know all about and set up an event around that. Make sure your brand name or organisation name is part of the title of the event. Arrange for someone to blog throughout the event and also someone – or several people – to tweet about it as it happens.
Again, utilise your PR machine and contacts to make the maximum impact in conventional media as well as news websites and key bloggers.
If you do not have the manpower or resources to organise an event yourselves, then sponsor one.
One of the oldest ways of boosting sales is promotion – and this works for social media too. Run a promotion on your product or service and then make sure you publicise this across all channels. If the product is not suitable for this – try offering a free item – make it unusual and relevant to your target market.
Make any of these initiatives as unusual and unique as possible – the more strange and individual the initiative, the more likely it is to be talked about in the social stream and the more likely it is to be picked up by the conventional media. On the other hand, you could try making it as useful as possible – whereupon it is more likely to be talked about in social media.
Getting people to talk about your product or service – especially if it is boring, mundane or unexciting is difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Try some of these techniques – and let me know how you get on, okay?
(Right, now, did you see what I did there?).