Once you start using one or more of these social media tools, you’ll likely run into information overload, based on the sheer amounts of “stuff” being posted on the sites. Deal with the challenge by picking only those sites that deliver the best, most useful results, says Whaling, and forget the rest. “You don’t have to be everywhere,” she says. “Select a few social networks, engage them and utilize them to your advantage.”
Listening to social networks also presents ethical dilemmas for companies that can’t afford to anger their potential or current customers, particularly in today’s economic conditions. Whaling says firms can avoid being looked upon on as “spies” by always being upfront about who they are, and what they’re doing. “Don’t engage in a social network without being truthful about who you are,” says Whaling.
Another consideration, says Central Michigan University Internet marketing and e-commerce expert, Deborah Gray, involves children under the age of 13, many of whom flock to social networking sites like MySpace every day. While an attractive target for marketers, these youngsters are protected by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires parental permission before any information can be collected about children aged 13 or younger. “This is definitely something to watch out for when listening in on social networks,” says Gray.
Such challenges aside, both Gray and Whaling see social networking as an effective and affordable tool for finding out information about your customers and competitors alike. “Companies have always used sources like the newspaper and other offline outlets to listen to what customers were saying about them,” says Whaling. “This is really just an extension of that, only it’s taking place online.”