Chief Listening Officer: In the future the CLO will be as important as the CFO, COO and CIO.
You surely know that information as a resource has changed forever. For example, CNN used to spend $10,000,000 every year on Reuters News Service. Over time however, the use of blogs, Facebook and twitter achieved such penetration that using simple systems CNN was able to capture every bit of news using the Internet much faster than Reuters could deliver it. This was so effective that they were able to reduce their Reuters bill to, wait for it, $0. That’s right, they said goodbye to Reuters completely. And that is recent history and a fact.
Toyota is a company whose share price was decimated to unnecessary lows because they were not listening. While they relied on traditional PR and marketing ideas to get a message to the masses they were not listening to the message that the masses were sharing among themselves. While hours and days passed waiting for Toyota to release some flashy television commercial the company’s fate and brand status in the eyes of the world had already been immortalized in a million blog posts, tweets and YouTube videos.
I remember, back in the days the idea of ‘market research’ and, in fact, I used to buy such reports for $25,000 and up. It was back in the days of the dot-com boom! Ah, how we remember them. Market research totally changed today. So many modern businesses are literally launching products no sooner than when the idea emerges (and half a dozen competitors are following days later) and a million blogs, forums and tweets are full of ideas and impressions appear almost at the same time. The fact is that in about same in the time (and for the cost) it might traditionally have taken to get a report about something you can go to market and tell the world. Arguably, market research is irreversibly changed. For example, you want to know what people think about your product or brand. Just like CNN you no longer need to pay a consulting firm to get questionnaires from people off the street. You simply need to type the keyword into Google scroll paste news and media stories to blogs and forums that reference it. But while this is a great idea and something a CEO can easily do it immediately become another thing on a long list of to-dos and as a result it cannot or should not be his or her responsibility.
It should be the responsibility of a Chief Listening Officer. A CLO can set up or outsource a ‘listening service’ that can ensure that you do not miss opportunities and, better, that your brand is not damaged by some runaway thread or forum post that goes viral. Either way you look at it you can make huge savings through harnessing the power of the social web and information at the speed of light. Imagine for a minute, if Toyota had hired 100 people to respond to tweets, blogs, video posts and forums threads. I know this sounds crazy but that’s only because it is so different to what corporations continue to do and have been doing for so long. But just imagine. Potentially, every opinion expressed to the masses online would have been responded to in real-time by Toyota. That means that people reading the negativity offered up by their “online neighbor” would also have read the response and the truth by Toyota. The power in this is that masses see that the corporate is there, on their level listening, responding and caring. The cost of this is frankly peanuts in comparison to the benefit.
The analogy of a wave is an old one but a good one. You are probably familiar with it applying to a new product or service in the product life-cycle sense. But the same applies nowadays in the viral spread of information. Once a viral thread breaks, you have as much time to respond as a city dealing with an outbreak of airborne Ebola virus (excuse the morbid comparison). The response must be both fast and extensive enough. Failure is not an option. Why would you therefore take the risk to see your corporate brand or product devalue in a matter of days when you could limit that risk by having a listening strategy and a plan for how to get on that wave when it appears. On the other hand why would you not have someone listening, ready to take advantage of an opportunity for a new product or service.
When news breaks that has viral Internet spread potential it spreads by people duplicating the information over and over. This provides a significant opportunity. If you are able to attach your information as near to the source as possible and on all or as many as possible tweets, blogs, YouTube videos that follow then your message can carry with the original news. So, how do you do this? Well it is really simple. You have someone listening – that is the first step so that you do not miss it. But then you have the resources on hand to blog, tweet, retweet, Facebook, forum post and so on. It is simple work but so, so effective and the earlier you get in the better the result will be.
So, in summary two things are needed. Your Chief Listening Officer and the resources ready to deploy in response. So, I leave you with a question. Are you listening or do you have someone dedicated to listening? And are you ready to respond if the world decides to spread some news about you, your brand or a product that you sell. Are you ready to capitalize on that event if it’s a positive message or mitigate disaster if the viral news is negative? Remember, people do not go to your corporate website to learn about you. They find out by what others are saying. You cannot afford not to address this.