When you work with an organization for years (or even months), the industry lingo, company product offerings, and mission statements become ingrained in everything you do. For marketers, this can be both a blessing and curse: Being knowledgeable about your industry is crucial to good marketing, but it may also come with a knowledge bias that makes it difficult to think inside the mind of your actual customers.

Many marketers think they know what customers need or what interests them. In reality, however, their customers may be interested in something completely different. This is why social listening is important to your marketing and sales strategy. It allows you to provide better customer service, gather incoming leads, and learn more about what gets your audience engaged.

On social media, your customers may already be telling you what type of information they want. It’s up to your team to figure out how to translate it into content they will read.

Learn Industry Hashtags

Some of the industry terms your organization uses may not reflect how your actual audience discusses your industry or company. Because any word or phrase can become a hashtag (there isn’t a requirement on who can create them or who uses them), it’s important to do thorough industry research to determine which hashtags and phrases your customers actually use on social media — not just the ones you wish they would use.

It pays to follow industry influencers, or users who personify your perfect target audience. Take note of which hashtags they use. You should also regularly read industry publications and set up Google or Buzzsumo alerts so you can track when key phrases go out of style and are replaced with something else.

If you stay ahead of the curve in your content by using trending hashtags to guide content creation, you’ll get more website traffic. This is because searches for newer terms are usually higher — this is something you can track on Google Trends — and you can often earn more clout with your audience by using the new terms.

Check Competitor Mentions, Hashtags, and Misspellings

Marketers need to know what people are saying about their company, but they don’t properly track what customers are saying about competitors. Look for repeated questions asked of your competitors that could give your marketing team content ideas for your own blog.

For instance, if your company offers LLC business setup, and your top competitor consistently gets questions on Twitter asking about fees for a specific type of LLC or the filing fee for a specific state, turn that topic into a blog post on your own site. Chances are high that if your audience is asking the question on social media, they have probably asked it in a search engine as well.

If your competitors use special hashtags for contests, taglines, or campaigns, you should track them. For example, Nike uses #JustDoIt as a hashtag (and their customers often do, too), so it’s important for its competitors to track it with their social media listening tool.

Finally, when it comes to social media customer service, tracking misspellings is key for proper social media listening. You know how your company name and products are spelled, but sometimes your customers don’t. Think about different ways your audience may be spelling your name or offerings, and track them on social media sites regularly. Some customers use a hashtag instead of a direct mention (using the @ symbol) for tagging a company, so be sure to check this for your own organization and competitors (e.g. @Nike versus #Nike). You won’t get an alert about a mention for hashtags unless you’re tracking them in your social listening platform.

In addition to offering better customer service, you may get more insight into what customers are saying about you.

Go Outside Facebook and Twitter

Your marketing department have likely mastered social listening on Facebook and Twitter, but are you checking other social platforms where customers may have conversations about your brand? Finding mentions of your industry terms, company name, or product offerings on sites such as Instagram, Reddit, Yelp, or Quora could help you earn more engagement from more users in your audience.

Without being salesy or self-promotional, your social listening team should monitor the platforms where your customers are, even if they don’t have an official company account. Just because you don’t regularly publish content on Reddit doesn’t mean no one talks about your business on the site.

Review sites including TripAdvisor or Angie’s List can also provide a wealth of content ideas. Many reviews point out specific examples of customers’ experiences with your company, which can then be turned into different types of content.

For instance, the Hampton Inn chain of hotels offers guests warm chocolate chip cookies every day. This inspired a thread on Flyertalk.com, a travel forum. If Hampton Inn was looking for content ideas, they could publish their famous cookie recipe or hold a contest for the next cookie recipe to be used in their hotels. Pull what people are confused about or love from your company reviews and think about expanding it to give your content followers more information or clarification. You could also just engage and have fun.

Ask the Audience

Learning what your audience is already interested in is one of the primary benefits of social listening. However, you can take a proactive approach thanks to efforts made by social platforms to allow brands to engage more with their audience. For instance, Twitter Polls were introduced in 2015. They allow Twitter users to create polls for followers and other Twitter users to answer. Polls run for a set time period (up to seven days) and can have up to four answers (but respondents can only pick one).

If you have a large enough Twitter audience, try conducting a few polls to ask your audience questions. Make the question and choices as specific as possible and take any additional replies into consideration as you build out your content calendar.

Additionally, while Facebook doesn’t have a native polling feature, there are third-party apps that allow you to run polls. You could also simply ask an open-ended question on Facebook or Twitter to see what replies you get. Boosting these types of posts on Facebook can help you get additional reach, with the goal of getting more responses.

Ask Customer Service and Sales

Beyond social listening to see what your audience is talking about online, you also already have a “front line” of employees who have an inside look into what your audience needs help with or has questions about: your customer service and sales departments. Marketing should consistently work together with these other teams to learn what customers ask about the most.

Look for topics that could be handled with a blog post, white paper, video, or other piece of content. For instance, if customers of the Clarisonic facial cleansing brush are asking how to properly clean it, a how-to video on Clarisonic’s YouTube channel could go a long way. Creating content around customer requests also gives sales and customer service a library of content to send to customers.

If you don’t have one, consider building a webpage for frequently asked questions or a content resource library to assist customer service and sales. These tools could also pre-emptively answer customer questions before they have to contact support.

No matter the industry, social listening takes time, dedication, and patience to set up and manage. Following the latest hashtags, competitor mentions, and misspellings, as well as asking your customers and support teams what content you should be creating, are all keys to a solid social listening strategy.

To learn more about tracking what customers want out of your content, check out this free guide: 

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