Any very large company who isn't doing social listening needs to wake up and start smelling the coffee.
There are plenty who are, and even doing this well. Some who say they are, but are probably only doing social monitoring, as they don't understand the difference. And lots of smaller businesses who would love to do social listening if they had the manpower.
This post (and infographic below) will give you an idea of what social listening is, how social chat is involved, and how it can make a difference to your business, regardless of its size.
And here's some code you could paste into your own posts (via the text mode) if you want to share this Infographic with your readers.
Now if you're a one-person-band, like me, you will probably be thinking "When the hell will I find the time to do any social listening?".
Well, you can actually do a variant of this without actually realising it. Block out a couple of hours every few weeks for some relaxing surfing on the net. Start conversing with people who either mention your name (brand), share some of your content, comment on your blog or even talk about your competitors.
This may not sound like 'listening', but you would have had to have done something like this before you start any conversations. You would have had to read something, understand the importance of how this refers to you, work out a relevant response which the other person can relate to, and then reply accordingly.
Keeping an eye on social media
This simple concept is often lost within the complexity of large marketing departments. There is this constant need to find as much data about the brand, its competition, how many sales are happening, where it is most successful – but this is not social listening, this is social monitoring.
It's comparatively easy to gather this kind of information, just a matter of ticking some boxes. OK, this material is certainly useful, as it shows up profits and losses, saturation of shopping areas, the demographics of customers who are interested. But it doesn't address what people think or feel about the brand.
You need to start digging a little further. Why are people talking about your brand? What sort of things are they saying? Are they saying this directly to the company, or to each other?
Are customers happy with the brand? Why do they choose it above your competitors? Are they praising or complaining about it to their friends? Is it getting recommended within social groups and forums? How often is your competition mentioned as an alternative to your brand?
How to prevent paranoia
Gathering data like this is all very well, but if you let it stew in a corner somewhere, it's going to prey on your mind. You could get a real complex about how your brand is perceived, especially if what you came across was unsatisfactory.
Rocking back and forth fretting in your chair isn't going to solve anything. You will need to do something about this, but the answer is not to go in with all guns blazing. You probably don't have a massive budget for an advertising campaign. And anyway this would be a total waste of money as it would probably be ignored.
The answer is to start engaging with your customers. Find out what you can about them and what they think by actually talking to them. Join in their social activities and listen to what they have to say. Then respond as if you were also a customer but you know a little more about the brand than they do.
This isn't a time for mass promotion. This is a time for conversations, aka social chatting. You need to mingle within the crowd, like one of those under-cover officers employed to learn secrets. It's all about gaining the trust of whoever you are talking to.
Gathering in the evidence
This is where social chatting comes in. You need to relax your marketing brain, and kick start its social mode. Carefully listen to what your customers have to say about your brand and understand the emotions which arise from this.
Empathy plays an enormous part. Social chat, in whatever format you choose to do it in, needs to relate to the person you are conversing with. You need to be on their side, see things from their point of view, to get them to open up so you can learn more.
Remember this is an extension of relationship building with your customers. Even if they have worked out who you are, they need to feel relaxed enough to respond well to you. It's necessary to enhance the comfort factor of your brand. People need to feel they can easily approach you to ask questions and get solutions to problems.
Social listening done well will massively increase the amount of information you receive. Keep a careful track of every emotion, reaction and aspiration. Note every question, suggestion and problem. This is the sort of material you won't be able to gather purely by social monitoring.
Ready, steady, action!
Again, this is not an opportunity to waste by leaving this data to fester at the bottom of a drawer somewhere. This information needs to be analysed to work out which problems need to be solved, and which suggestions can be implemented to improve your brand.
Social listening gives you a head start over your competitors (if they aren't also doing this). Now you know what their customers think about them, what their complaints are, or even various aspects of their brand you want to emulate or even produce a better version.
This is when when you start putting all the knowledge you have gained into action. Actually DO something with it. Your past activities need to have been worth your while, this was not just an excuse to do a bit of socialising whenever you felt bored.
If you want your business and its brand to expand and succeed, take advantage of what your customers tell you. They are the people on the front line, so they will know it better than you ever will.
Use social listening in real time
We are lucky that we don't physically have to go out into the midst of our customers. Social listening can be accomplished from the comfort of your office. But you need to be aware of the correct times and locations to do this effectively.
Find out what's trending and ride on the back of this. Research into suitable hashtags to use in appropriate groups and forums. Set up various social alerts so you are notified whenever your brand is mentioned. Lurk and listen in the best places to get the first access to any news mentions which could relate to your brand.
Being on top of your game in the social networking world means you have the ability to divert any PR disasters. Do this by responding immediately to smooth any ruffled feathers, provide correct information and offer compensation or reassurance to relieve the situation.
Always 'being there' makes a huge difference in social listening. Large companies should have several employees 'manning' their social profiles 24/7. This means listening and responding quickly and efficiently to any form of correspondence, connection or mention which comes their way.
What forms of social listening do you do already?
Social listening should not be confined to only a few social platforms. To do this well you need to set up various social listening tools to keep abreast of all the social chatting happening in real time. This may be a tall order for individuals, but businesses should have some sort of process in place to accomplish this.
It is important to find out new opportunities or to divert away any threats that occur regarding your brand. Burying your head in the sand will not help if you want to succeed. You need to have your finger on the pulse and be ready to respond appropriately should the need arise.
This form of relationship building can become a really positive experience which can enhance your brand. Being a permanent social presence which people can look up to, refer to or connect with can have a big impact on your customers. They need to know their favourite brand is 'listening' to them and understand how they feel about it.
Let us know in the comments your thoughts about social listening. Is your company already doing this, and how it is working for you? Does this contribute towards your expansion and success? And do you have any tips for other businesses, we would be extremely grateful to receive them.