There is no denying that the increase in online buying patterns and social media over the past few years has led to a huge opportunity for customers to air their opinions of a company’s products or services. But what are these organisations doing to monitor this buzz and how can they get involved?

If we pick one element of the social media conversation prism(1); customer review sites, we can see the impact that feedback is having on the decision process for prospective customers. A report by The Nielsen Company(2) shows that ‘recommendations from customers’ are the top form of advertising trusted by internet users. But this type of ‘advertising’ as they call it has not cost millions of dollars and a large team of creatives, it is simply posted by one of the most important elements of any company; the customer themselves.

So what are companies doing to monitor this type of feedback from customers? Social media monitoring tools such as Radian6, Cymphony or Buzzmetrics do a great job of measuring buzz (or conversations/company mentions) that are happening online at any given time which is a good start. However, companies then need to dig deeper to help understand the feedback and even try and connect with these customers to either A) thank them for the their kind words or B) aim to try and resolve any issues they may have.

Following point A would help to grow a company’s base of customer advocates and helps them feel appreciated by the company that they made the decision to spend their hard earned money on. Maybe even persuading others to follow their lead!

Looking at point B this would help extend a company’s customer service offering in a more pro-active way to help try and restore any faith lost in the company. Dell(3) is taking on exactly this concept with its customer advocate programme – Dell technicians who trawl the web looking to help people who are experiencing technical issues with their product and trying to solve them. The ‘Big Brother is watching’ viewpoint is sometimes aired at this point but if customers are posting their thoughts online for everyone to see then surely they want to be heard to try and make a difference?

So to summarise how should companies aim make a start and get involved in this aspect of customer referencing;

Monitor the buzz – customers are talking about you out there, don’t ignore them

Analyse the good and bad – asses the quantity of positive Vs negative reviews – it may tell you a thing or two about your products/services!

Connect with customer – don’t be afraid to get involved in the conversation where you can, both positive and negative

(1) The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas

 (2) The Nielsen Company, ‘Online global consumer study’, 2007

(3) Dell customer advocates,