One of my colleagues here at the Geehan Group is a whiz at engaging with people via LinkedIn, blogs, discussion groups, etc. I have learned several of the tricks of the trade from her, and am amazed at the amount of knowledge to be gained just by paying a little bit of attention to these social media sites.
This morning the thought ocurred to me -- What if you were able to get all your customers and prospects into one room, for an indefinite amount of time, and listen to and document every word they said. What if you told them they could discuss anything with you and with each other: the market, their challenges, your company, your products, your services, their vision of the future, their expectations of a trusted advisor vs. that of a vendor, and any other topics that were top of mind for them. How valuable would that information be to you as you plan your strategies? Your product portfolio? Your communications? I dare say it would be immeasurable.
Now translate that same experience to that which you can have by engaging the market through online media. Not only can you listen to what is going on "out there," you can also contribute and become a known entity to the most vocal and passionate among your targets. There's no better place to carve your niche as thought leaders in your space that these communities. But more importantly, there's an amazing opportunity to LISTEN to what's going on as well.
Let me be clear -- this is not to take the place of developing in-person relationships and engaging with the market on a face-to-face, consistent basis. But for added insight, try jumping in a conversation or two online. I think you may be surprised at what you will discover.