No Magic Bullet: 5 Ways to Harness Real Time Feedback

by Jill Foster on November 3, 2009

So you launched your product.
You’re a modern woman who understands the need for creating feedback mechanisms so people can reach you. You set up Twitter, a Facebook Fanpage, your blog, email address and even forums for discussion. But here’s the rub. Now you’re launched, trying to work on marketing, engage new partners, work on future product requirements, answer press inquiries and the feedback is pouring in from your new users.

What do you do?

First, let me remind you that you signed up for some late nights the second you learned to spell entrepreneur.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, people are using your product and are now an “extended” part of your team! Learn to utilize them. I happen to be in the thick of this right now, so I’d like to share some thoughts from my personal experience.

5 tips to harness what’s out there:

1. Carve out the time.
Ensure a certain amount of time each day is dedicated to reading and responding to direct feedback, like emails coming in, Tweets to your account, etc. Always respond to your earliest users. Even short responses go a long way by acknowledging their feedback.

2. Set up auto-alerts to receive via email.
Set up a few Google Alerts so you know when bloggers, journalists and others are talking about you or your product. In the first two weeks of launch, I was amazed by alerts showing me mentions for Thankfulfor from the most random corners of the Internet.

3. Search across related social networks to find relevant conversations.
Utilize tools that inform you of online conversations that may directly mention your product or be related in some way. Twitter and Facebook are easy to search, but don’t forget to visit niche communities as well.

Since my product focuses on gratitude, I’ve been more active in communities like Intent.com, Beliefnet and even eHow, which has many articles about gratitude written by members of it’s extended network.

As your business expands, you may want to try tools like Radian6 to see how they can help you.

4. Proactively respond.
Wherever you find activity (reviews, mentions), make sure you proactively respond in comments or email whether the initial mention was positive or negative. I find people are usually thrilled that you noticed and if they did write something negative, are quick to apologize or explain. I always thank them for their honest feedback, assure them we are taking all of their comments into account as we update the product in the future and let them know that we’re still learning about how people want to use the product.

Recently someone said some pretty negative things (publicly) directly targeted at me and while I was tempted to fight back, I decided it would only hurt the brand I am trying to create as well as my own personal reputation.

I responded kindly, thanking him for his feedback and he actually came back with some positive words.

5. Highlight people who have written about your product.
We have a blog where we can write about industry news, team thoughts and more – it’s the perfect place for us to highlight and thank people who have taken the time to feature our product in some way. By doing that, we’ve created deeper relationships and sometimes hear from those people who now think of us when something happens in our industry.

Thoughts for dealing with the challenges

Regarding time
Doing all of the things above can become a major time-suck. But aren’t we doing this entire endeavor so we can control our own schedules? That means it’s up to YOU to have the discipline to turn it off when you need to. I check my feedback sources about 3-5 times per day depending on traffic levels. I carve out additional time each week to participate in various communities and search for feedback. When the day comes that it prevents me from doing everything else I need to do, I will re-evaluate the methods and/or determine if I need to pay for a service or intern to help.

The anonymity of the web encourages some people to hide behind made-up names and throw stones more harshly than they ever would in person. Don’t let them get to you!

(Image Frustration by Reuben, Creative Commons)

Take all of the feedback, strip out the unnecessary aka personal BS that may be lurking within the comments and bring back anything constructive you can find.

Grow a thick skin because the more successful you get, the more you’ll need it.

Gratitude & allowing
Many people may want to get involved and that can be difficult to deal with too. Be gracious toward your champions and treat them well. Figure out how they can help if they offer! People honestly want to help us and usually it’s our own fears or issues that prevent us from allowing that to happen.

You want these people to become, as Chris Guillebeau says, your own small army.

Figure out how they can help and how to show them your appreciation. I’m still working on this myself so I’ll let you know how that goes!

Re-prioritize as needed (do this on a regular basis)
Trust me, it can be very frustrating to come up with an agreed upon plan today only to completely change it tomorrow. However, cherish the fact that you are small, nimble and can be responsive. My partner and I have a list of features we want to have implemented but only have one developer. When we noticed two weeks ago that a new group of people had come to Thankfulfor and their posts weren’t working we had our developer drop everything to address it.

Those people were all from Japan and our product wasn’t displaying the Han characters. It was a fairly quick fix and because we were responsive, we enabled an entirely new group of people to use our product and share it with friends. We may not understand what they are writing each day but we’re thrilled that they are part of our growing community. Never did we imagine that so many of our early users would be from other countries, but that’s today’s reality, and it means we need to address their needs even if it requires us to shift our plans.

There is no magic bullet.
And before you run out to hire a service, make sure you roll up your sleeves and jump in the real-time feedback stream at least for a little while.

There is nothing like direct interaction with your customers. You need to see it, hear it and be thankful that someone cares enough about what you’ve created to offer something back.

How about you? What’s been your experience in recognizing and engaging with feedback from your customer communities?

More from:
Jen Consalvo and her Women Grow Business series on all things product launch.


Guest contributor Jen Consalvo writes the Women Grow Business series on all things related to launching product (pre and post launch). She is co-founder of Shiny Heart Ventures, a new technology startup focused on building community driven products that remind people of the joys of life. For almost 14 years, Jen has led teams in a range of product areas such as digital imaging, social platforms and personalization. The majority of her career was at AOL, planning and building products used by millions of people globally. Also find Jen at jenconsalvo.com, bodysoulconnect.com and twitter.com/noreaster.

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