Social Media Listening

I’ve always been told that I’m a good listener, and that’s good because listening skills have increased in importance for marketers since online eavesdropping become the expected norm.

In fact, as I try to evolve my company’s social media strategy, I’ve been spending alot of time listening over the last several weeks.  I’m listening for mentions of my company’s name on Twitter, in blogs, and on social media aggregator sites such as FriendFeed, which gives a good snapshot of conversations around the web.  I’m listening to what’s being said about our competitors, and I’m listening to conversations about topics and solution areas that are important to us. 

How do you start listening?  I started with Twitter, moved out to the blogsphere and rest of the web, than branched out to social aggregator sites.  Here are some simple process I set up:

1. Start listening on Twitter.  You can quickly get a snapshot of conversations that are happening about your company, competitors, key topics.  You can automate these searches in a Twitter client by word, hashtag, keyword or phrase.  There are dozens of Twitte clients out there. I use HootSuite, which also aggregates feeds from Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs.

2. Monitor blog conversations.  Google Blog Search and Technorati are the best search engines for this. 

3. Set up Google alerts.  Offering a broader view than Google Blog Search, Google alerts are just a basic way to keep track of web content and conversations about your company, competitors, key words, etc. I find that I use this a bit less than other more focused tactics because the volume can be high, and its easy to miss the alerts coming into your inbox during a busy day.

4. Mine the search functions on social media aggregator sites.  Friendfeed is a good example of this.  You can do a search on a word or topic across the entire site, not just your friends, and the results show content that is being shared across the site about your company and competitors. 

5.  Set aside 10-15 minutes each day to “listen.” Do this for several weeks before making any final decisions about your social media strategy.

After  a few weeks, an interesting picture starts to emerge.  You can see who is posting content, comments, responses, sharing third-party content, what the blogs are saying, what tweets are relevant, and whether anyone is picking up on threads and sharing them to a viral effect.  You can quickly discern an online “sentiment” about your company and competitors, or lack of one.

Spending time listening before jumping in to comment or share content can inform — and change — your ideas and strategies for social media engagement with customers and prospects.  For example, last week I lurked through a Twitter conversation between a competitor responding to several prospects about their frustration over lack of a certain feature.  My company has that feature and I frankly haven’t been marketing it because I thought it was kind of boring.  Additional “listening” allowed me to pick up on other conversations and come to the conclusion that this feature was part of a topic gaining traction, and was something we need to start marketing as a differentiator.  The new campaign starts in a few days.

Many companies have gotten dinged by communities for jumping in first without listening, or not being relevant to ongoing conversational streams.  Any company should spend at least a few weeks listening to ongoing conversations before jumping in to participate.  This will ease acceptance in communities and pave the way for meaningful conversations to take place in the future.

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