Social media listening is a powerful addition to a brand’s strategic toolkit, providing insights that can add value throughout the organisation.
However, many marketers miss much of this potential value due to an egocentric approach to social media monitoring. We need to get better at using social media to understand people, not just to monitor mentions.
Listening to learn
Marketers often see their role as the ‘talker’, sharing the brand’s message with the rest of the world. However, as Earl Nightingale so astutely observed, 'you can’t learn anything with your mouth open.'
We stand to gain much greater value – for ourselves as marketers, as well as for our colleagues across the rest of our organisations – if we also adopt the role of listeners, acting as the interface that enables outside feedback to permeate the business.
Social media can add value throughout the organisation.
It’s not about you
When it comes to social media monitoring, it’s also important to distinguish between ‘selective hearing’ and active listening. Most marketers use monitoring to assess the performance of their marketing, setting up tools to track mentions of their brand and product names.
This kind of listening is useful, of course, but it takes a very selfish view of the world; it’s akin to walking into a party and only joining conversations that are already about you. More importantly, when it comes to product-related updates, barely 1 in 10 mentions a specific brand.
In other words, if we’re only tracking brand names, we’re missing 90% of the potential value.
Big data vs. small details
Moreover, conversations about brands and products are only a small subset of total social media activity. Every day, people share billions of public posts across social media, and every one of these updates – no matter how innocuous – can offer valuable insights into people’s attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, and habits.
Even the much-maligned ‘photos of my lunch’ can reveal a wealth of new understanding: where people like to eat; the time of day they dine; who they lunch with; the kinds of food they like; how much they’re willing to spend…
What we learn depends on how carefully we choose to listen.
The discovery engine
Once you adopt this more organic approach to listening, you’ll quickly discover that most people’s conversations aren’t about the areas your marketing focuses on.
Furthermore, you’ll start to realise that the things that matter to your audience aren't always the things you expect. Because of this, social media offer unique and unparalleled opportunities to identify relevant innovation.
If you think of search engines as a tool that helps us to answer the questions we already have, social media do something new, allowing us to identify the questions we didn’t even know we needed to answer. Used correctly, social media listening is a ‘discovery engine’ that can help us redefine the way that we do business; as John Willshire puts it, 'make things that people really want, instead of trying to make them want things you’ve already made.'
In order to deliver meaningful ROI, you’ll need to build your social media listening activities around your brand’s broader objectives.
Start by asking some simple, strategic questions:
- In order to hit your targets, what do you need people to do differently compared to what they do today?
- Who do you most need to persuade in order to bring about this change in behaviour? (Remember that this may not be the buyer or end user of your brand.)
- Why aren’t people already doing what you want them to do? What are the barriers that stand between today and success?
It’s likely that you won’t know all the real barriers to success yet, which is where social media listening comes in. Based on your objectives, spend some time crafting search queries that will help you to understand potential barriers in the context of people’s broader lives and behaviour.
Go beyond searching for brand names, to exploring the benefits you provide, and the problems or opportunities they address.
Be sure to spend time actively reading and analysing what you find too; automated sentiment analysis and volume trends are interesting, but the real value lies in the specifics of what people say; where and when they say it, who they’re discussing the topic with, and what their potential motives might be.
It’s easy to try this out for yourself – these free tools are a great place to start:
Even the most basic query should bring up some valuable insights if you ask yourself these questions about the conversations you find:
- Who is talking (i.e. who posted the update)?
- What are they (really) saying?
- Where are they saying it?
- When are they saying it?
- Why are they saying it (what are their motivations)?
- Which elements engage other people (likes, comments, shares, etc.)?
- How might these conversations impact my brand (for better or worse)?
That should be plenty to get you started, but feel free to contact me on Twitter @eskimon if you’d like to dig deeper.
Simon Kemp is regional managing partner, Asia, at We Are Social, a global social media agency that works with clients to build brands that are truly worth talking about. He is also the author of Social Brands: The Future of Marketing, a comprehensive guide for marketers who want to build engaging brands for today’s connected age. You can download Social Brands for free.
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