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There is little doubt that social media has had a powerful impact on how we do business. From large corporations all the way to entrepreneurs running their own websites, the very structure of social media has tapped into a powerful audience. This means that customer bases have been rapidly expanded thanks to the sheer power of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the like.

However, despite the overwhelming success, many businesses have also not been fully able to exploit this new frontier because they use the same old marketing practices as they have for decades.

Social media is an interactive environment where listening is just as important, if not more so, than speaking. Too many online businesses have failed to engage in proper social media listening which has hurt their prospects and actually caused their own brand to be diminished.

Why Social Media Listening Is Often More Important Than Talking

The art of social media listening is vital to understand for all types of businesses because it is a window into how your customers think, feel and react to your own marketing efforts. Effective social media listening requires patience, understanding and the ability to change from previous patterns in order to fully address what your customer base is saying.

Listening is more than just an action, it is a skill because it not only requires you to hear what is being said, but also to interpret it correctly and take the appropriate action.

Effective social media listening requires effectively assimilating the information and presenting an appropriate response, otherwise the ramifications for your business may be irreversible in the long run.

Arguably the most important reason to engage in effective listening is to appropriately address the concerns of your audience. While there will always be the random person who complains about everything and nothing, there will always be concerns from a much larger group of your audience that will need to be understood and addressed in order to keep their trust. It is these larger concerns where your social media listening skills will be put to the test.

By not responding in the proper manner, you business can wind up looking tone deaf which is arguably worse than not addressing an issue at all. Good social media listening skills provide a pathway towards effectively addressing issues of all types to the audience’s satisfaction.

Why Businesses Talk About Listening, But Often Don’t Themselves

The phrase “We listen to our customers” may be one of the most overused in the business world and sadly not nearly as true as what otherwise is stated. Arguably, the main reason why social media listening in particular is not what businesses do best is because it goes against their marketing nature.

As a business, you must be proactive in terms of your marketing which means writing content, managing online audiences, running advertisements and generally reaching out to find new customers. The emphasis is on growth because the more customers you have, the bigger your slice of the pie.

Listening, especially when it comes to social media, is really a passive endeavor that requires not only stopping long enough to hear what is being said, but actually formulating a proper response that addresses the concerns of the customers.

This means a combination of listening, deductive reasoning and crafting a response that addresses those needs which are skills that are not usually part of what a business offers, at least in terms of dealing with a wide number of customer concerns and not the specific ones that they bring to a business.

How To Listen Effectively And What To Listen For

Building up effective social media listening skills starts by reading what people are saying and locating patterns that indicate that an issue should be addressed. This means cutting through certain individual comments from those who seemingly always complain and discovering what general trends can be found among the audience in general.

Seek out trends
Remember you should be listening for both negative and positive comments in finding particular needs that your audience wants addressed. Quite often, they start as singular concerns that may get overlooked, but will start to build as other customers join into the fray.

By quickly spotting what needs to be addressed on a general level, you can effective short circuit a trend from growing and help build up your brand in the process.

Answer concerns quickly
A good way for your audience to know that your business has good social media listening skills is answering a specific concern that you are aware of quickly and directly in a friendly manner. As long as the answer is direct and meaningful, you can stop negative trends before they start.

Address comments in a direct, but broad manner
In preparing your response, the focus should be on answering the concern as if everyone shares it in some manner.

For example, if a growing trend is about your business being late in delivering products, then a proper response would be along the lines of, “We have listened to your concerns about how fast our products are being delivered.

In this manner, you recognise that this is a concern shared by more than just those who have spoken out.

Be truthful
The old saying that ‘telling the truth is better only because it’s harder to remember the lie’ may sound cynical, but there is actually a lot of truth to it. Customers will always want be told the truth and it delivers a consistent response.

Trust is hard to build and easy to lose, so make sure you stay true to your business ethics.

Business Practices For Social Media Listening

  1. Always start with an objective. Know what you want to listen for and the reasoning behind it before jumping in.
  2. Determine which channels, platforms or audiences to listen to.
  3. Use software to assist in the social media listening process.
  4. Establish a structure to analyse, filter and take action when necessary.
  5. Social media listening is not a one-off job. As long as you are active in online spaces, you should be listening to your online audiences.

 

Effective social media listening takes practice and arguably can never be perfected, but it does offer your business a way to address concerns quickly and discover new means to reach your customers even better than before.

You may find that a customer has a really good idea that can be implemented to your business that helps everyone, or that a concern that is affecting one person may affect others unless you act quickly.

In any case, the health of your business and your brand rides in large part on your social media listening skills which provide the path to better serving your customer base.

Do you listen effectively to your social media audiences?

Do you have a listening structure in place as part of your social media management and customer service strategies?

Image courtesy of: Softinventive