Gabriel Glynn, above, is the founder of Adstringo, a company that helps businesses through the use of social media tools better listen to the conversation going on online about their products and services. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Gabriel Glynn, above, is the founder of Adstringo, a company that helps businesses through the use of social media tools better listen to the conversation going on online about their products and services. Photo by Duane Tinkey

If you followed me on Twitter, you would have already known this story was coming. You'd also know I'm in the market for health insurance and a new couch, and I went to St. Louis last weekend.

Gabriel Glynn saw the potential power for businesses to use Twitter and other social media to listen to and interact with their potential customers. He developed strategies using existing tools and applications to more efficiently scan through different social platforms and aggregate the social chatter about any business.

"The thought of having access to people out there that are presumably having private conversations with their friends about your product, and to be able to hear that and see that and be able to respond to that is absolutely invaluable," Glynn said.

After seeing a demand among his friends, Glynn took his ideas to Strategic America, a public relations and marketing firm, which promptly offered to pay him for his services and knowledge. Forty-eight hours later, Glynn founded Adstringo LLC - Latin for "to bring together" - in an effort to show companies the value of listening to their markets.

The spawning of Adstringo is representative of a shift in the marketing world away from ramming advertisements down consumers' throats to listening to what consumers have to say, and it's all thanks to social media.

"Instead of interrupting people wherever they are at, by saying 'pay attention to my ad, pay attention to my offer,' we are going to where they are already are and letting them say 'I am ready, willing and interested in listening,'" said Lore McManus Solo, principal and vice president of public relations at Strategic America.

The shift has happened for a couple of reasons. First, usage of social media has nearly doubled in the past year (see chart). But also, said Michelle Durand-Adams, owner of e-Market Solutions LLC, those tools have given consumers the ability to create their own content, such as product reviews, which then affects the brand of a company. Durand-Adams' Waukee-based company is helping businesses understand social media, and she said businesses need to know what people are saying about them.

Businesses need to be aware of their online brand, she said, because consumers are using social media as a resource to find reviews and referrals for products. Social media users, in fact, are three times more likely to trust reviews found on social media than on any form of advertising, according to Jupiter Research.

"We have all really discovered that selling isn't telling anymore," Durand-Adams said. "It used to be that you would go to a networking event or a cocktail party and would say, 'I'm looking for a new vet, we just got a new puppy, do you know a good vet?' Now that is all happening online, and it is no longer just a one-on-one conversation; the whole world can see the conversation."

Adstringo hopes its tools and strategies will help companies make more sense of those conversations. Glynn said his strategies allow companies to listen to what people are already saying, listen to people that need a company's product, and also keep an eye on their competition. The tools also allow him to tailor the searches based on geographic location.

Lena West, CEO and founder of xynoMedia Technology, a Yonkers, N.Y.-based consulting firm for companies looking to secure their place in the social media landscape, said her company shifted its focus to using social media from strictly online marketing four years ago. Now, she said, 90 percent of her company's work is with social media.

West said there has been a huge change in Internet marketing because the companies that are paying attention to trends are telling themselves, "OK, we are going to shut up about our product. What we are going to do is facilitate the conversation."

West said that when something negative comes up, companies that are tapped into the various social media platforms are addressing it online in a public forum in order to get input and feedback.

Social media, West said, make it even more important for companies to be who they say they are because of the transparency consumers create by posting reviews or complaints in highly trafficked areas online.

"It used to be with one customer complaint or a couple of customer complaints a company could kind of blow people off and sweep things under the rug," West said. "And that just can't happen anymore."

All the more reason why Glynn's services seem so appealing.

"For some of these businesses, I don't think they can afford to not listen to what people are already saying and not be able to respond to them," Glynn said.

At Strategic America, Solo said its 35 to 40 clients are clamoring for a better understanding of social media. Solo also serves on the board for Worldcom Public Relations Group, a group of more than 100 marketing firms across the world, and said it has been a "concerted, concentrated endeavor by every Worldcom partner to be a leader in social media."

With demand so high for knowledge of how to use social media correctly, it's no surprise businesses such as Glynn's Adstringo, which currently has three clients, are sprouting up all over, according to West and Solo.

Although some businesses may see using social media as a way to advertise to clients, Glynn warns against that practice, saying that people don't want to be advertised to, but rather to be listened to.

"I think at some point, if it becomes too overcommercialized, then it will turn people off," he said. "And you don't want to be one of the businesses that's out there that has overly commercialized social media to the point where people are tired of seeing what you have to say."

Glynn, who also owns Ankeny-based Asset Protection Specialists LLC, is more in the business of listening, and is hoping that Adstringo can become a resource for businesses that want to tap into social media and listen better to the conversations that are already going on.

"I think that wherever your audience is and how those different audiences want to communicate is where all companies need to go," Solo said. "We have an empowered audience, the public, that won't just be talked to; it wants a dialogue, and it wants to have a lot of ability to decide how, where and when that dialogue takes place. And where it is at is online."

Glynn agrees.

"So many businesses are still locked in to TV and radio, and there is nothing wrong with those, I use those for my other business," he said. "But if people are already engaging each other on a different platform, then a business should take the initiative to join in."

So join in.

I have a $600 budget for a new couch. I'm waiting and I have intent to buy. There are more like me out there. See the power?

Tweet me a deal on Twitter @chrisconetzkey.