When it’s suitably maximized as a customer engagement tool, social media doesn’t require any action on your part. All you have to do is listen.
But that’s not as easy as it may sound. Developing a social listening strategy that’s streamlined yet effective requires diligence and understanding.
Social listening and why it matters
No matter how much time you spend on social media, you’ll never begin to scratch the surface. Millions of conversations, groups, communities, articles, videos and users are waiting to be discovered.
Furthermore, depending on the size of your business and your brand equity, thousands of people could be talking about you without you even being aware of it. Are they saying positive things? Maybe they’re talking trash about a bad experience they had with you?
If you can’t see or hear them, you don’t have a clue what’s being spread about you and your business. That’s a dangerous proposition for a company — not knowing what customers think about the brand — and one that has the potential to stunt long-term growth.
That’s where social listening comes into play. According to one definition, “Social listening is the process of monitoring digital media channels to devise a strategy that will better influence consumers.”
It goes much deeper than that, but in the purest sense, that’s what social listening is all about. If you can learn to monitor online conversations about your brand effectively, you’ll be in a better position to satisfy challenging pain points and exert a positive influence on consumers so that they make purchases.
Tips for developing an effective strategy
Before you can develop an effective social listening strategy, you need to make sure you have the right perspective. The biggest mistake businesses make when measuring social media success is that they assume every user they encounter is online for the sole intention of shopping.
This simply isn’t true. Most users log on to Facebook or Twitter in order to share interesting content, connect with friends or just kill time. Rarely do people log on to social networking sites to browse for products.
Keeping this in mind, you can begin to listen for the things that matter, rather than looking to score direct sales as your primary measuring stick. Below are some helpful tips for developing an effective social listening strategy:
- Define objectives. As in the case of any business initiative, you have to start with specific objectives. What’s your goal in monitoring? You can’t simply do it because everyone else is. You need a specific and quantifiable goal. It could be to monitor in order to identify swiftly whenever bad things get said about your brand; or to respond effectively to customer service queries, say, within 48 hours; or to grasp pain points for future product developments. There are dozens of other potental objectives . . . and it’s possible to have more than one. Having objectives in place from the start will direct your efforts and guide subsequent decisions.
- Identify influencers. According to data collected by Meteor Solutions, the old adage of quality over quantity holds true among social media followers. After looking at more than 20 different brand marketer clients and their fans, researchers deduced that roughly one percent of a site’s audience generates about 20 percent of all its traffic. More important, this one percent directly influences approximately 30 percent of all end actions on the brand’s websites and e-commerce pages. If you can identify who constitutes your one percent, your listening efforts will be exponentially increased. Tools such as Radian6 and Brand24 can help you hone in on these influencers.
- Research key terms. As you identify influencers, you’ll discover relevant keywords and terms. You can use these to identify additional fringe influencers and people who occasionally mention your brand. Keyword research is an ongoing task, one that takes time to perfect. As you listen and monitor, you’ll discover that key terms follow trends and will change from month to month.
- Go back to your objectives. After identifying influencers and key terms, go back to your objectives and identify whether or not you’re hitting the mark. Based on any shortcomings you manage to pinpoint, you can design a specific and actionable strategy. Find out what type of content your one percent likes to share, how they typically share that content and how you can develop content that (a) meets those criteria and (b) helps you meet your objectives.
While these four tips may appear neat and concise on paper, they often run together in real-life situations. Learning to work through each of these steps in a cohesive manner is key.
Maximizing social media for business
By developing an effective social listening strategy, you can maximize social media and extract as much value from it as possible. These tips are primarily designed to help you build a strong foundation for listening, but you’ll likely find new and unique ideas that work for your brand or industry.
Whether you use these tips or others, the point remains the same: Successful brands are the ones that learn to listen before speaking.
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant from Olympia, WA. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, iMediaConnection.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. When she isn’t writing, she’s outside on her bike and contemplating her eventual trip to graduate school. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.