Carolyn Y. Johnson has a great article about companies that listen online today in the Boston Globe. She mentions that Comcast and Southwest monitor Twitter for frustrated users and Dell for improving its customer service as well as providing a site called IdeaStorm where people can provide feedback. Dell has implemented over 50 of the suggestions from the IdeaStorm site.
I’ve talked about listening online before, because I think everybody at Google should do it to some degree. Google is pretty good at hearing outside feedback, although there’s always more we could (and should!) do. Here’s what I said last time:
Some of the most dynamic teams at Google are the ones that listen to bloggers and respond. ….
My ideal would be if every Google project had someone watching the blogosphere for feedback. It could start as simply as a persistent search in Google News and Google Blogsearch for mentions of that product. That would help us spot if a particular project is causing headaches for someone. We should get the listening locked in first.
Both Google News and Google Blogsearch provide RSS feeds for search results, so you can search for your product name, turn it into a feed, then add that feed to Google Reader to see new mentions of your products. If you’re logged in, you can even customize Google News to create a “Google” section or only news about your favorite topic.
I wrote the quoted paragraph above in 2006. In 2008, you’d monitor more places. Monitor Twitter with Summize, which can provide a feed for a query. Monitor FriendFeed by adding “&format=atom” to the end of a search url (hat tip to lifestream blog for getting that info from Bret Taylor at FriendFeed).
By the way, it’s not just companies that benefit from feedback online either — most organizations can get good suggestions. Ubuntu’s brainstorm feedback site just received its one millionth vote on an idea and has its own blog. You can even download the code for Ubuntu’s brainstorm project and use it yourself.
The fly in this ointment is how to make a business case for listening. What are the metrics that argue for having someone engage with a community, listen to feedback, and push for changes? Any smart person intuitively knows that good community relations are a solid idea, but how do you prove that? In a company of size X, how many people should pay attention to or be dedicated to community relations? I’d be interested if other people have thought about the business case for goodwill, or know of resources that discuss this.