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How To Listen Better On Social Media

Are you listening closely to your current and potential customers? It's not just polite; it's a competitive weapon. Consider this expert advice.
10 Cool Social Media Monitoring Tools
Slideshow: 10 Cool Social Media Monitoring Tools
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You've probably heard a lot about listening lately when it comes to social networking. Listening is the art--and it really is an art--of not only monitoring activity on social platforms, but of making sense of the data that your monitoring tools feed you. In today's environment, being a "good listener" isn't just a nicety; it's imperative for remaining competitive and building your business.

"Listening is pivotal," said JoAnna Dettmann, co-founder of digital marketing firm tSunela. "Organizations use social networks to more readily connect with their current and prospective customers. By listening to what these target audiences are saying, you have this unparalleled opportunity to respond to their comments and criticisms and make strategic changes based on this feedback. It is a 24-7 focus group, test-market discussion, and comment box rolled into one."

You're listening for all mentions of your company, its brands, its key influencers, and its competitors. You're listening for mentions of keywords relevant to your industry. You're listening for positive comments, complaints, and questions.

But it's not just about what your hear, it's about what you do with what you hear.

Dettman provides as an example a client in the healthcare industry for which her firm monitors social networking conversations. What they heard were several complaints about the wait time in the emergency room. The client took the comments to heart and changed the patient check-in process. "Not only did it improve overall organizational efficiency," said Dettmann, "but it also made customers feel heard--and respected. If you are not listening, you are simply pushing out information; this approach will decrease your following and the overall value of social networking to your organization."

There are a variety of tools that companies can use to listen to social networking activity--some easy and free, some complex and very expensive. The choice depends on your organization's size, industry, IT resources, and, ultimately, its social buy-in.

A Frost & Sullivan survey found that, of people who use social media for professional purposes and whose organizations use social media externally, 21% say they do use social media monitoring tools, 34% say they don't use such tools, and 45% say they don't know. Of those who do use social media monitoring tools, 41% have been using them for more than one year, while another 41% have been using such tools between three months and one year. Nine percent of those surveyed have used the tools for less than three months, while 8% say they don't know how long such tools have been used.

The Frost & Sullivan survey found that the majority of respondents (42%) are using free social media monitoring tools. Twenty-one percent are using a paid service, while 27% are using a combination of paid and free services. Of the respondents using free services, 49% say they aren't using paid services because there is no budget allocated for them, while 38% say they aren't using a premium service because they are just starting to understand their brand and its related conversations online. Twenty-five percent of respondents say they are considering a paid service.

Radian6 provides a comprehensive platform for listening, measuring, and engaging with customers. In its primer on the art and science of social media listening, Radian6 recommends considering these four Ws:

Why Listen? To understand "what's being said, where it's happening, what kind of volume you're dealing with, and where on the social media presence curve you sit as a company."

What To Listen For. Radian6 acknowledges that determining what to listen for can be overwhelming and suggests a tiered approach, from "brand-centered listening, to competitive listening, to industry-wide listening."

Where To Listen? It depends on the company, said Radian6. For some it's Twitter and Facebook, for others it's still forums and message boards. Figure out where the discussions relevant to your company are happening, and focus on the social networking platforms that tend to be frequented by your (and your competitors') customers.

Who Should Listen? Again, it depends on the company and its social media presence. Listening may become part of an existing role, or it may require a new position. Marketing may take the lead, but IT and the help desk might need to be involved. It's important for companies to have a clear idea of what role social media plays in their organizations and what the goals (and benchmarks) are moving forward.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.

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