What's the first thing you do before you buy something that will cost you a neat sum?
Many people run a proactive search and look for ratings and reviews. Even those who are not constantly online, will be more likely paying attention to an article or a review of an item that has been on their mind.
Hence the importance of positive third party commentary -- better when the media, trade or mainstream, do the writing, unless your business ends up on the opposite side of a story that is flattering for the competition.
Your business relationships are increasingly public
There is probably more content about your products and services online than there ever was. The whole point of watching your SEO like a teenager tends to watch her diet is that you want to have your own content, then positive third party content pull up organically first.
Because it means that someone with little time and a decision to make will probably be reading only so much -- and with social networks and new media taking a larger slice of the search advantage, your business public relationships become the information people find and use.
Finding a solution for reliable sentiment analysis is therefore on the wish list for many a holiday stocking.
Are you getting coal?
It's no secret that, so far, automated analysis tools are not sophisticated enough to be the sole source of sentiment data for your organization. Also, if not enough people are talking about you, it will feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
You do want people to talk about you, and you want those conversations to be positive and to lead all the way to your business door. Or you're getting coal for Christmas (in Italy, it would be for the Epiphany, according to tradition).
A whole new crop of tools is emerging to help you sort things out. Have you tried Tweetfeel yet?
Role of information in buying decisions
Sentiment analysis is directly tied to social recommendation, and I believe it will be a big trend for automated tools and research in 2011. After all, this is one of the levers that determine where influence is -- not just the people you identify, nor just individuals -- in the midst of information.
Information is shared by groups as well. Think about buying groups as people seeing what other people are buying, and acting upon it: I'll have what she's having. Which is another way of saying that influence resides with the influenced as many others have said eloquently before me.
Clearly, since information not generated by you has a big role in buying decisions, you want to have a way of capturing, measuring, and influencing it.
Your role as PR practitioner
Which means that the role of PR in public relationships has just expanded again. Understanding why people are saying what they are saying and figuring out how to help them be better informed about your business should be part of the role.
Community management and moderation is probably one of the most profitable lines of business for PR agencies at the moment. Facilitating conversations and managing relationships, is only one piece of the action though.
Knowing analytics, search engine optimization, and identifying the places where your customers and prospects congregate to learn about products and services is part of it, yes.
Helping the company behave better in public is key -- because pretty much everything the company does offline will end up being online, as told by people who may be there observing and not just the media or a few known individuals. Are you helping them there?
Not convinced that it's what the company does that is the problem, yet? See what management is worrying about at Yahoo! right now.
[image of The Conversation]