Firms have lots to learn from the virtual street corner
YOUR company's services and products are being talked about online – possibly each and every day.
Online conversation represents an excellent and largely free market research resource for businesses to gauge what customers think about them, and to determine faults and weaknesses that are ultimately damaging profit. But exactly where do people gather to have the most influence on one another about how they will spend their cash?
O'Leary Analytics is one of the specialist "listening" companies hired by corporations to tune in on their behalf to the most influential conversations taking place daily at online Ireland's virtual street corners. Stephen O'Leary's clients include blue chip utility providers, banks and governments here and abroad who want to know what we're saying about them online.
"When it comes to Irish consumers, big companies are sometimes surprised to learn that their customers are not speaking about them as much in online locations where they'd most expect it – say, on their own Facebook pages or on their own Twitter sites, but sometimes the most important exchanges take place in unexpected zones.
"On these sites, people talk about products, goods and services, ask each other's advice on spending decisions. If your company is not listening to what people are saying in these places, and if your company doesn't have a voice in these places, then you're at a serious disadvantage in the market today."
Based on four years of "listening" for corporations, we asked O'Leary Analytics to give us their top 10 of Ireland's most commercially influential online zones today.
1 - 2. Twitter and Boards.ie
"It is far too difficult to decide between these two to determine which one is Ireland's most important online entity when it comes to influencing the consumption decisions we make," says Mr O'Leary.
"Both are hugely influential in different ways. There's very little between them.
"In Ireland, boards.ie is where people go if they want advice on anything from which camera to buy to which hotel to stay in. The beauty of boards.ie is that it is divided up into specific interest zones, which cover just about any subject.
"These attract experts who willingly impart valuable information on products, goods and services, often in great detail. It's a hugely important network of different online communities.
"For its part, Twitter is obviously a key influencer insofar as we tend to act on the information we get online from those we know and trust.
"If we're going to London, we'll ask about a good restaurant and then we'll take the advice of those people we are familiar with, especially the ones that we already know will have some knowledge in this field.
"For example, someone who we know is a food blogger or who lists themselves as "Irish living in London". We have the software tools at hand to set alerts for subjects in which we have an interest. There are also software products available to monitor Twitter content."
"Facebook is the largest social media network in the world with more than one billion users, but it comes third on this list because of privacy restrictions. You can't see what most people have on their Facebook wall unless you have been permitted access.
"However, having a corporate Facebook site has proven invaluable for companies who can interact with their consumers, dealing with complaints, assessing their strengths, drawing important feedback and otherwise allowing them to engage with the brand."
4. Parenting Websites
"These days, we don't have the big communities we used to have on our doorsteps, but we do have them online. The parenting websites such as Rollercoaster.ie, MagicMum.ie and eumom.ie are where a huge number of Irish women tend to gather and chat. Here they talk about absolutely anything.
"Rollercoaster started out as a support group for those who are having babies, so understandably they talk a lot about baby products. But the people tend to stay on after having a baby to relate their experiences to others. On these sites, users advise each other about absolutely everything from toddlers' nappies right up to luxury car purchases."
5. The Forums of Mobile Phone Operators
"The sites run by Vodafone, O2 and Meteor cannot be ignored because they experience a massive amount of activity and the discussion field is hugely influential.
"So people will talk about what phones they buy or want, about software, hardware, games, apps, all sorts of matter, which is hugely relevant to the growing smartphone realm."
"Here, 90pc of the conversations are by women. While the subject matter is obviously wedding-related, the conversations regularly widen out and people return here again and again after they get married.
"The discussions involve the consumption of holidays, hotels, clothes, mortgages, home purchases, confectionery, hire cars, beauty products, spas, hairdressers, tanning shop, camera gear . . . the list goes on and on."
7. The "Money" sites
"Askaboutmoney.ie and moneysavingexpert.com are the main sites where people talk about anything to do with banking, insurance, financial products, car loans, utility bills, mobile phone deals and anything to do with spending cash. Advice given on these sites is hugely influential in how people behave in their spending."
"This website is in a category all on its own. The site passes on humourous items of Irish interest, wit, virals and pictures, usually putting its own spin on them. It's massively popular in Ireland and generates a lot of conversation, which can turn in any number of directions."
9. The "Comment" sections from news providers
"The websites of the Irish Independent, 'The Irish Times', aggregators like journal.ie and other media accumulate a huge amount of candid public discussion. When a business or a product is mentioned somewhere, people begin contributing comments on the issues but often drift into their own views on the products or services of the company mentioned. These sites command a wide berth of specialist comment especially in areas like current affairs, sport, business but also in restaurants, travel and property."
"While the talk, as the name suggests, is mostly about current affairs, companies, corporations and the attitudes people have towards them are regularly aired here and the conversations spin off on a huge range of topics. This is a very influential site."