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The Trouble With Social Media Listening

April 18, 2011

I say it wherever I go, whether speaking to a large group or coaching my clients one on one. Listening is the most important part of any social media strategy. Thing is, effective social media listening isn’t as intuitive as it may sound, and some never really get the value of it until I can show them cases. For those that do see the value there’s still a problem, and that’s HOW to listen.  Lots of people sign up for one of the amazing social media listening platforms like Radian6. Scout Labs, Attensity or SM2 with the eager and genuine intent to start listening for their product or brand.

But now you’ve got a pile of data and you don’t know what to do with it! Let me tell you, you’ll get a lot of information on pretty much any topic you choose, and it can quickly overwhelm.

So let’s talk about how to listen regardless of the tools
For starters build a list of all of the keywords you think people may be using when looking for your brand. Try to put yourself in their shoes. What do they think about when they need your product?

List them on a piece of paper and print it out. put it on a wall and  stare at it until your eyes blur and you can only see one word. Start with that.

Yes I’m serious. Well mostly. Odds are good you’ve got 20-30 words on that sheet of paper. Trust me when I tell you that’s too much to listen for unless you have a team who can focus all day, every day on just filtering the feedback you get from your listening tools!

Sure, you should listen for mentions of your brand, your product and your name, but beyond that you need to be looking for ways to engage people on topics related to your industry and your own interests. I suggest you narrow it down to no more than 5 key words or phrases at a time (yes, besides your brand), and 2 or 3 is even better.

Most of the social listening platforms charge you by the number of responses or number of keywords. Set yourself up to listen by selecting a few for a week or two and then switch to other key phrases until you find the ones that are most productive for you right now. In this way you stay focused and the landslide of social mentions is more controlled.
As you get used to it you can add more as necessary and not feel so overloaded. If you do get swamped, go back to limiting your queries. In my opinion it’s much better to track a few things and see the issues clearly than cast a wide net and see only the surface of the issues.

Now comes the fun part
You’ve got your keywords all set up and you’re getting piles of data back. Spend some time scanning through the links for content you can discuss. Is somebody having an issue with your product? Help them out. If you can’t help them yourself find someone who can and make the connection. Did you find someone praising your product? Say thank you. Really, that’s all you have to do. You don’t have to send them flowers, just a simple thank you. Of course once in a while flowers don’t hurt.

I’ll tell you a little story here as an example. I was posting an answer on Quora the other day and mentioned one of my favorite tools. Another user disagreed with me and went off on a rant about how that particular tool was worthless. I defended the product and then a few other users did too. The next day I got an email from the CEO of the company that made the tool thanking me for my support. He asked me for my mailing address and shortly afterward I got a lovely thank you gift in the mail. Of course it wasn’t necessary, but it made me feel good. Will I recommend that product again? You betcha. Not because he sent me a present of course (I’m not easy) but because I  believe in it AND I know I’m appreciated as a user.

What if they’re saying bad things about me?
Take the example above as a lesson. Quite often you may see negative mentions of a product where an actual user of your product steps up and corrects a miss-assumption, solves a problem, or defends you without even being asked to. That has more value than the company responding. Sure, you can still respond, but give your users a chance to do it for you. If they don’t do it, then dive in and work it out.

Creating conversation
When you’re listening you’ll start to see certain names coming up again and again in your reporting. These people may be “influencers” or they may just be opinionated.

  • Get to know them.
  • Do you have other topics you might discuss with them?
  • Could they be someone you might invite to the beta of a new product and get feedback? How can you support them in what they do?
  • Maybe an introduction to another person in your network?

Be generous with your connections and the knowledge you gain from listening and you’ll soon have more friends to support you and your cause or product.

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  1. Great article, Janet. Social media strategies have to flow from listening to be effective, and that means effective listening is key. This post is a great, straightforward explanation of how to listen with limited resources. It’s going to help many. Well done.

  2. Hi Janet. Thanks for this valuable post. I especially love the part “list your keywords on a piece of paper” and “narrow them down to 5”. Now, that’s what focusing on your niche market looks like. ~ Juan

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