Up Close And Personal. Why It Is Worth Getting Intimate With Your Customers

By Lucy Thorpe

In the world of broadcasting, where I come from, interactivity has been the single biggest change in the past ten years.

Viewers and listeners who tried in vain to get on a phone-in or wrote angry letters to ‘Points of View’ were suddenly given unprecedented access to the presenters they listened to and admired. Texts and e-mails were broadcast within minutes, not weeks of sending them in and the audience became part of the show.

This intimacy has been mirrored in the business world, with blogs and other social media bringing service providers up close and personal with their clients like never before.

Many people find this loss of distance quite hard to deal with. The radio presenter suddenly has the critic right in their face, correcting anecdotes and heaven forbid, suggesting new ideas. The business blogger gives detractors an open platform to publicly put the boot in to the company’s product and it’s scary.

But if you look at the way the best media practitioners have dealt with this development, we see them using it as an opportunity; an opportunity to build a relationship with the audience, to listen and to feed back.

BBC Radio Five Live for example appointed a Peoples’ Champion to gather listener comments and ideas, which could then be fed back into the programmes. The PM programme on Radio 4 started IPM which used listeners’ story ideas as a starting point for an entire new show.

By capitalising on the amazing opportunities opened up by text, blogs and e-mails, radio has strengthened the audience bond. There is no quicker way to disarm your critics then by opening the door and welcoming them in.

I know one very senior BBC boss who did just this. He responded to a man, who had been vitriolic in his complaints, by inviting him to come down to London to edit the show, thus turning his worst enemy into his greatest advocate at a stroke. See http://wp.me/pHqcg-t for the full story.

People love to feel as though they have privileged access or ‘the inside track’ and a well executed blog can give them just that. The dialogue you create with your customers and the feedback you invite and receive is like the bond between a radio presenter and his audience.

It’s a continuing conversation that everyone really hopes will carry on. It wouldn’t be practical to go down the pub with all your readers after work, but the relationship you build-up makes it feel as though one day, you just might.

Lucy Thorpe offers blogging advice, social media and writing services. She is a former BBC broadcaster and journalist. If you enjoyed this piece get more on Lucy’s blog at www.LucyThorpe.wordpress.com, commission your own piece via e-mail or connect on Twitter @LucyThorpe

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