Listening Online

Social media marketing isn’t about broadcasting ads that could just as easily be on TV or radio. It’s about sharing useful information and entertaining content. But it’s also about listening.

Listening to social media discussions about your brand is a handy form of market research, gives you opportunities for exceptional customer service, and lets you identify fans. It can give you content creation ideas that lead to great blog posts. For some companies, it can even be a source of leads. Bombarding people with barely disguised ads is poor practice, but “Have you tried YourBrand?” is a completely appropriate response to a tweet asking for suggestions about relevant products or services.

When you start listening to the discussions going on about your brand, you’re likely to encounter some or all of these things:

  • No one is talking about your brand. If this is the case — and it often is for smaller or newer companies — listen in on discussions about the goods and services you provide. See who’s talking about your competitors, too, and watch for chances to join conversations about your areas of expertise.
  • People are mostly positive about your brand. This is great, and you can still join the conversation, but don’t get complacent. Once you decide that everybody loves you, it’s easy to quit listening and miss opportunities. You should also consider reaching out to fans and helping them support you.
  • People are often negative about your brand. Resist the temptation to jump right in and defend your company. Fix anything that can be fixed, respond respectfully to negative comments, and be careful not to provide fuel for fires. If you’re a large company, you should expect some negative talk, and often it’s best to let it go.

Where should you listen? Everywhere you can, given your resources. Social media tools like Sprout Social, Social Mention, and HootSuite make it easy to listen across platforms, and Google Alerts helps you find anything you might have missed. Google Analytics is now also offering some information in the Data Hub Activity reports, but they don’t cover most of the social media platforms used in the U.S.

Who should listen? Unlike social media engagement, social listening can be accomplished by a staff member with spare time. We have clients who give this task to people who have time between their major tasks. Just choose the right person. Radian6 recently gave a list of the categories of social users you’ll probably find among your staff:

  • Digital Native: Your millennial-age staffers probably keep their smartphones on the nightstand at night so they’ll never be far from Facebook or Snapchat. Social media has been part of their lives for as long as they remember, and they don’t think of it as something that requires skill. If there’s a lot of talk about your brand, they’ll notice it, but they may not be savvy with search tools. Set them up with a good social listening tool.
  • Savvy Technologist: These are the people who are comfortable and skilled with social media and the internet because they’ve learned to be, whether they grew up with it or not. In our experience, people in this category can be very good at listening about brands, even if they don’t use social media personally.
  • Reluctant User: These are the people who have heard of social media but don’t use it, think a phone is for making phone calls, and don’t feel comfortable with the internet. They are probably not the best choice for the task of listening for your brand.
  • Digital Contrarian: People who dislike and disapprove of social media, thinking it’s a waste of time, may not be able to overcome their feelings well enough to get the information needed.
  • Digital Newbie: The digital newbies don’t have strong feelings about social media and digital devices — they just don’t think about them at all. With training, they can be a good choice for listeners. Make sure you give them good tools and train them thoroughly.

If you automate social listening, make sure that you have someone whose responsibility it is to follow up on discoveries. Social listening tools integrated into your CRM can direct opportunities to your sales, customer service, or content marketing teams for follow up.

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