Social media provides new ways for agencies to listen

The way an agency perceives itself is often different than what the public really thinks, experts say

LAS VEGAS -- The use of social media is changing the way government agencies and companies deliver information, but the emerging technology should also change the way organizations listen, according to social media expert Jeffrey Sass.

Through listening, organizations can discover what people's real opinions are, Sass said Jan. 6 at a social media event at the Consumer Electronics Show.

In the same way word processing changed the way people write, social media will change the way organizations interact with the public, he said.

Essentially, social media provides us with the tools to listen much more effectively, with a much broader reach than we've ever been able to do before," Sass said. "Social media amplifies your ability to listen and engage, it is like listening on steroids. Literally with social media we can climb a wall to be apart of thousands of conversations."

For example, by researching social media conversations, Starbucks learned that its customers care about the taste of the coffee far more than anything else, such as the music played in stores, according Eric Weaver, an account director and strategist at Tribal DDB, a marketing firm.

Although the use of social media provides new ways to listen to the public, organizations should be prepared to hear a lot of criticism, Sass said. Inevitably, the gap between how organizations see themselves, and how the public views organizations is wide, he said.

"Social media gives each one of us the tools to be much more transparent than we ever could be before, but, by the same token, the public is extremely transparent," Sass said. "If they think your product or service sucks, you're going to hear about it. And, more importantly, everyone else is going to hear about it, too, via social media."

Sass recommended that organizations either pay for a service to track what people write about them on social networks, or do the tracking in-house.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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