Listen, listen, listen. The most important thing we can teach you here about social media is to LISTEN.

  • Listen for conversations you can engage in.
  • Listen to your customers to find out why your service isn’t as good as they expected or to see just how much your clients love you.
  • Listen to what you competitors are doing online and where they are engaging
  • Listen for new industry trends
  • Listen to people who know more than you do so you can learn from them
  • Listen to find out who is really influencing your space and how to connect with them

All of these are important reasons to listen, but it’s important to distinguish between listening and monitoring and a lot of companies don’t really see the difference. So here it is.

Let’s say you own a chain of retail stores that sells shoes. You get all set with some of the amazing social media monitoring tools like Radian6, Trackur or and of these, and then you put it on auto-pilot, looking at the data you gather a lot in the beginning and then, shortly afterwards it gets boring and you look at it once in a while but never do anything with it. This kind of thing happens all the time and what’s the point? Maybe you use the data for reports and measuring your success but I’m here to tell ya this is NOT listening. It’s monitoring at best and pointless data collection at worst.

So what is listening?
Listening is active and generally results in some level of action. Say you’ve set up a bunch of the monitoring tools and you start to get a flurry of posts. You’ll probably need to do a lot of fine-tuning at first. if you’re a local business you might not want to hear about shoes sold in Brazil.

It’s an ongoing part of your listening program to get it fine tuned so you can actually get a big picture of what’s going on. (This is another lesson, to be posted soon). So, for the sake of argument let’s say you’ve tuned your listening tools to get the most out of them. Now comes the fun part. You need to respond to what you’ve heard. Learn from it. Start conversations. Engage new people. Show you’re listening and you care about what people have to say.

Tactics you can use
Start listening for local news and events. How can you engage around local news and thereby make your brand more visible to your community? Keep an ear out for community charities you support or other events that show you care about your community.

Listen for topics that you are skilled in. Do you know everything there is to know about your industry? Start listening for questions you can answer and establish your authority on that topic. It doesn’t need to be about your business either. If you’re knowledgeable about bicycling and race every weekend answer those questions too. Set up a separate channel for each area of interest. Bicyclists buy shoes too.

Where are people talking about you. Suddenly there are a lot of tweets about you in a totally different state. Is it time to franchise a second store? Mail-order? Ask people.

Look for an opening. Unlike personal face to face conversations, social media conversations take place in public and it’s quite alright to dive in and add your two cents. Watch for conversations that you can join in. (When you do, don’t make a sales pitch, be helpful and friendly but NO pitch)

Watch for opportunities. You’ve been listening to your competitor nd see that there is a particular forum that they aren’t involved in yet. Take a closer look. Is this an opportunity to gain a different audience?

Include conversationalists in your own posts. So you’ve been listening to a particular influencer online for a bit and they’ve got a very engaged following. How can you engage them? Answer questions. Read their blog and the next time you write something on your blog or Facebook page that relates to something brilliant they wrote link to them. Give them credit for being smart and align yourself with them online. They’re likely to return the favor.

Do a few real time searches every day to find out what the absolute latest on a topic is. When you break the news first your network knows you’re paying attention. When you’re the first commenter on a blog post every person who reads it or comments later sees how on top of it you are (well, as ling as you say something insightful).

Nurture your network. Once you’ve collected a network of connections use a tool like Gist to watch what tehy’re talking about too. Who can you support with their own initiatives? How can you reach out to them around issues, current events or business? Is it their birhtday?

Listen you your customers. Dell set up Idea Storm as a place for customers to share their ideas as well as their complaints. The users comment on each others’ entries and vote on the best ones. Dell listens, adds their input and in many cases actually makes the consumer dream a reality. Now THAT is listening.

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