Listening (by itself) is Not Enough in Social Media

I recently talked about ”B2B marketing in the Real Time Web” at the #140conf in San Francisco, organized by Jeff Pulver. One point that resonated the most with the audience is that “listening” has become the most overused and abused word in social media.

Some people actually think that “listening” is  a brand-new concept invited by social media gurus. The reality is that if you need an expert to tell you that you should “listen” to the customers, your business may already be in more trouble than you realize.

While listening is a great first step in getting started in social media and helps set up a good foundation for your activities, that by itself is not enough any more. As consumers get more savvy in their use of social media, it’s become a business imperative that companies move beyond just listening and start responding to what they’re hearing.

Setting up social channels by itself or “being on Facebook” is not good enough any more, companies need to have solid processes in place to quickly relay feedback from social media channels to create better products and help solve customer issues before they reach a crisis point. Social media monitoring/listening tool vendors should be focused on translating the streams of data into meaningful insights for their clients as quicky as possible.

In this fast evolving conversational age,  the true measure of success and a key differentiator will be how quickly companies respond to feedback from their customers. It’s time to assess – Is your company ready for this challenge?

The 3 Critical Ws of a Successful Social Media Listening Program

Social Media listening is all the rage these days but many companies are still struggling to do it right because the tendency is to substitute technology for business objectives and processes. 

This may be good news for the social media vendors, but not so good for your business. Whether you’re trying to set up your very first social media listening program or evaluating your current program, here are the 3 critical Ws that no business can afford to ignore.

Note: I use the terms listening and monitoring interchangeably, although one could argue that monitoring is much more pro-active while listening seems somewhat passive.

Why? Define your objective.

Listening may be the new black but it’s certainly not something that was invented by social media “experts”. Any smart company knows that listening to customers is critical to the continued success of business and while the medium may have been different in the past, the need to listen has always existed. The challenge with social media is that it’s tough to keep up with vast amounts of complex, unstructured conversations across multitudes of social channels. And that brings us to our first W of social media listening - ”Why”.

Clearly define your listening objective (closely tied to your business objective) at the outset of your listening program as this will keep your program on track and less likely to get distracted by all the noise in the social media space.

Some good examples of listening objectives : Customer support questions/complaints, competitive news, product/company mentions, etc.

Tip: Having clear objectives will help you define your success metrics and help prove the value of your program.

Where? Determine the key social channels.

For many companies starting a new program, it’s a challenge figuring out where to start because there are many different social channels (including blogs) and not all social channels are created equal. The second “W” - Where to focus your listening efforts will be partly determined by your objective and your target audience. 

When in doubt, ask your customers about their social media preferences and where they prefer to engage.It can be as simple as sneaking in an additional question in your annual customer survey (assuming your company does one) or conduct some primary research to understand their preferences. This will, at the very least, give you a starting point and you can slowly broaden your listening program to include other sites, as needed.

Tip: Focusing on a few key social channels (internal or external) rather than trying to  can focus on the channels that are most relevant to your audience.

Who? Identify the right person/team to receive the (listening) information.

One critical part that’s often overlooked (and typically underfunded) in the social media listening  programs is “human intervention”. You may have the best listening platform that money can buy but unless there’s someone actively analyzing all the gathered conversational data and the information is routed to the right person/team for action, it’s a pointless exercise.

There are two key parts to this human element in a social media listening program: Folks who listen and folks who respond/engage/use the data. It’s much more easier when the folks who are doing the listening are the ones tasked with taking action. For example, when the customer support group is actively listening and responding to customer queries/complains. However, in companies with centralized social media programs, it is critical to identify the end user/s for the gathered data.

Tip: Start with one functional area or product/service group and get all the kinks ironed out before rolling out the program company-wide.

Bottom line: Clearly define your listening objectives, focus on the most relevant social sites/channels, and last but most importantly, route the information to the right person/team for action.

Your Customers are Talking, Are YOU Listening?

Charlene Li shared this great video in her presentation, “Understanding And Capitalizing On The Groundswell” at the  SVAMA panel discussion at HP’s Palo Alto campus last week.

It humorously highlights how companies/campaigns that talk AT their customers instead of listening TO them, fail.

As Charlene says,

“It’s about the relationship”

Pushing content out is ineffective and you will turn off your customers in the process. The key is to engage your customers and build sustainable relationships with them. 

Your customers are talking, are YOU listening?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3qltEtl7H8&hl=en&fs=1&color1=0xcc2550&color2=0xe87a9f]

Credit: http://bringtheloveback.com/