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Don’t Be Fooled — Social Listening Isn’t A Passive Task

Don’t Be Fooled — Social Listening Isn’t A Passive Task

If you’re new to social listening, talk with your team about some of the following guidelines and how you can tailor them to the processes and procedures you’ll put in place for your company:

It’s a scene that has played out in countless retail stores, countless times: an associate is dutifully stocking shelves on one side of the aisle, when suddenly they hear customers in conversation on the other side. “I hate this store,” one customer stays to the other. “I can never find anything.”

Even if you don’t work in the retail sector, you know what’s supposed to happen next. The store associate should come around, acknowledge what they overheard and offer to help the customer find whatever it is they’re seeking. This is common sense in real life, but when companies do a similar kind of thing with social listening tools, it doesn’t always get applied.

Social media changed everything for customers in almost every business category, because almost overnight it became possible for them to talk to one another about what kind of experience they were having with a vendor. This was true no matter how far apart they were spread out by geography, role or any other factor. Services like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more recently Instagram have become hotbeds of discussion about all kinds of businesses. Sometimes the discussions are positive. Sometimes they’re not.

Of course, social media has caused a lot of change among businesses too, but social listening tools allow them — if they use such tools to their full potential — to go beyond merely trying to “talk” and get attention but get real-time feedback about what customers want from organizations and their competitors. Social listening gives organizations a unique window into perceptions about everything from their brand to their products and services and even the kind of people they might want to hire next.

Unfortunately, social listening doesn’t provide a lot of value if companies don’t act quickly on what they hear. Similar to a member of the sales team getting a hot lead and then failing to follow up, social media conversations often deal with issues that need to be addressed right away. The companies that do the best job in this area not only diffuse conversations that put their brand in a negative light, but can successfully steer the dialogue towards a more positive outcome. This can include more sales, a clearer understanding of a brand’s promise and (when all goes well) kudos to its customer service team.

If you’re new to social listening, talk with your team about some of the following guidelines and how you can tailor them to the processes and procedures you’ll put in place for your company:

1. Get beyond the ‘what’ to the ‘why’

Notice we don’t simply refer to this activity as social monitoring. That term implies that a company is just automating the process of collecting mentions of its own brand name on social platforms. In other words, you’re learning what’s being said, but not necessarily the causes of those conversations.

Social listening goes beyond the “what” and gives organizations an indication of the “why.” A surge in negative comments about your recently-launched product, for example, could be tied to a recent change in price, or the fact that it has been out of stock for a period of time. Another company might be mentioned more positively on social media, but not because of what customers purchased. Instead, it might be what their CEO said in a recent interview about an issue they care about.

These nuances matter, because they help provide clues into the most appropriate way of responding. Before these scenarios come up, try rehearsing a few of them with your social media team. What kind of response would they make in a face-to-face encounter? How might the tone need to be adjusted for those reading online in a public forum?

2. Aim for the most authentic (but advantageous) exchanges

Depending on what you hear through social listening, there might be one or more opportunities that present themselves, any or all of which could help your organization in some way. Staff should be trained to recognize and act on these, even as they deal with the immediate situation.

No matter what’s being said, for example, some standard rules of thumb apply. If there were mistakes, errors or other factors that led to a bad customer experience, demonstrate you recognize their feelings and that you appreciate learning about them. Look for ways to solve their problem. Encourage them to move to a more appropriate channel, like a direct message, email or phone call, if necessary.

Beyond that, however, look for the wins, especially if your brand isn’t coming under fire on social media. Is someone singing the praises of a competitor? Acknowledge their good points, but also feel free to point out where you match or surpass them on features, pricing or some other factor. Is a particular news item the talk of Facebook or Twitter? Offer your firm’s take (assuming there’s a natural fit or reason for you to weigh in). Are customers wishing for a particular kind of personal touch? Don’t be afraid to encourage them to learn how your organization is committing to delivering that exact experience — or better.

3. Turn real-time data into long-term value

Although you shouldn’t be passive in your use of social listening, you should also take time to continuously evaluate how you’re using the information you get after the fact. That’s the only way you’ll really be able to improve, after all.

Think about conducting a sort of social listening “post mortem” at a cadence that makes sense for your organization and its goals. What were the top comments or topics that got your attention? What kind of conversations emerged with customers as a result? Where did it lead — whether it was a sale, a PR disaster averted or even a boost to something like a customer satisfaction score?

Much as smart leaders replay their decisions and fine-tune their approach, your use of social listening tools should involve constant iteration, optimization and then — as you start to see your business prosper as a result — celebration.

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