Social Savvy: Are you listening socially? What do you hear? Are you responding? - June 2018

By Christine B. Whittemore

In April’s column, I explored social monitoring, which provides a business owner perspective on how others perceive their business and assists them with putting together a strategy for responding as necessary. This article takes that concept a step further with social listening. Social listening is a systematic approach to monitoring what is being said on social networks by real people about your company, your brand, your people and your industry. Listening carefully to determine what truly matters to customers provides vital insight for a business owner.

Monitoring enables a user to pay close attention to mentions of their company and brand on social media, while listening tunes them in to big picture conversations, ones that have more to do with the industry or widespread challenges. Both monitoring and listening are needed for an effective strategy if business owners are to truly draw insights from what they observe and hear. As Patrick Cuttica, director of product marketing for Sprout Social, explains, “Monitoring sees the trees; listening views the forest.” Whereas monitoring can be done by those with less experience, listening requires deeper knowledge of a business and industry. As users develop a social media team, they’ll want to make sure to include an individual with a high level of business knowledge, as well as someone nimble and curious who’s willing and able to monitor social networks and explore the conversations that happen.

A listening strategy provides a user with context for the solutions they provide and may help them identify thought leaders in the industry. Furthermore, it helps them refine what they know about their prospective customers; allows them to gather insights; enables them to validate content ideas for their web pages, blog articles and valuable offers; and also provides them the opportunity to take part in conversations and truly be social.

This illustrates the richness of social networks and the beauty of online listening. People have always been talking. Today, instead of having to physically locate millions of real-life water coolers, a business owner can monitor and listen in virtually.

Listening assumes that business owners are willing to take part in the conversations they hear. It also assumes that they have accounts set up on the social networks that matter most to their business. Once ready, a business owner should follow these steps.

Step 1. Determine the goals for listening online. As with all business activities, it’s important to identify the goal or purpose. If the goal is thought leadership, a business owner must identify someone within the organization who has both a strong passion and deep knowledge relevant to the industry and wants to participate in outreach. If it’s customer service, the leader must identify members of the team who can respond quickly if and when they are needed. If a business owner is trying to engage with a specific audience, they must determine if they have team members with knowledge of the space who are willing to become active and lend advice.

Step 2. Find relevant conversations online. There are two aspects to finding conversations online. One has to do with where people hang out digitally, and the other with the terms that generate relevant conversations. Where do a business’ constituents hang out online? If an owner isn’t sure, they should ask their customer-facing associates what comes up in their conversations. But listening shouldn’t be limited to customers only. Consider all of the groups in the marketplace that are important to the business. This may include suppliers, specifiers and influencers. Each group may have different social habits and hangouts.

What are the right conversation or search terms to explore with? Finding the right terms can be difficult depending on how noisy the industry is. To start, search the category and industry; look for hashtags and Twitter chats; list important trade shows and professional organizations and list any hashtags they use. Explore the terms competitors use and be on the lookout for influencers. Search terms range from specific to broad. For example, flooring can be noisy with more shout-outs about sales than insightful observations about products and design ideas.

Check for additional ideas. Create search streams to monitor those influencers and hashtags as well as Twitter lists, either public or private. Depending on the tools they use, businesses may even be able to easily monitor prospects and customers.

When creating social search streams to monitor interesting topics, it’s essential to be aware that many terms in social networks have multiple meanings. Tile, for example, also refers to those tags for keeping track of misplaced items. If not sure, it’s best to Google the term and see what comes up. As businesses discover irrelevant meanings for their social listening, they should also keep track of terms they can use to refine the search.

Step 3. Acting on what is heard. Businesses that get going with their social media listening strategy will have the opportunity to get further immersed by following the profiles of interesting social voices and influencers, perhaps even favorite-ing their updates and engaging with them by saying “thank you” or asking a question. Ideally, because they’ve developed a content strategy and calendar, they’ll have fresh content and ideas to contribute in addition to interacting with followers and fans. In fact, that involvement is what takes a listening strategy to another level, transforming it into a valuable, living, interactive source of insights and perspectives.
As each employee in a business is-or should be-an ambassador for the brand, it is beneficial to involve all of them socially and digitally on the company’s behalf. It makes the business nimbler, and it offers better insights.

When a business owner gets started with listening, they’ll want to explore the individual social networks directly so that they get a feel for how each differs from the others. This also provides perspective on the dynamics of the individual network: how people interact with one another, what the rhythm of the interactions is, and whether there are special terms or ways of communicating. Look at groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Check Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, the question-based social network Quora, YouTube and any others that might be relevant to the business.

In addition, it’s a good idea to use some general social search tools to research and identify people, terms and hashtags of possible interest. For example, Social Mention is a social media search engine that searches for blogs, comments, bookmarks, etc. Followerwonk allows a user to search through Twitter bios. To search specifically for hashtags, explore Tagboard, which is very visual and looks across several networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google+). And it’s worth checking Board Reader in case some of the business’ constituents are active in forums.

Twitter Chats can be a gold mine of valuable insights, and invaluable opportunities to connect with influencers and others who care passionately about the topics being discussed. Users should be sure to check through the Twitter Chat Schedule in case a chat relevant to their business exists.
In addition, it’s important to calibrate results from one search tool to another. This will help in understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each one. As businesses get more sophisticated and knowledgeable, they will want to evaluate paid tools that make listening and monitoring more efficient. My favorite is HubSpot’s Social Monitoring Tool. I also use Hootsuite.

Copyright 2018 Floor Focus