Most companies already use social media, but few actually use it to its fullest potential. For example, your brand might have claimed its own Facebook page, but how often do you post on that page to communicate with your customers? Only a small percentage of brands on social media make an active effort to improve their reputation or increase the size of their audience, while the rest simply treat it as something they "have to" have in the modern world.
Still, using social media for posting news, content, and promotions is only half the battle. "Social" media implies that some type of interaction is happening, which requires both outbound and inbound communication. Instead of using social media as an exclusively customer speaking platform, start thinking about social media in terms of its capacity as a customer listening platform.
What Is Customer Listening?
This is probably the first question you're asking. Customer listening is exactly what it sounds like. You'll be listening to (or in this case reading) various things said by your customers to gain insights and help develop your business. Unlike promotions, which have a direct and immediate effect on your reputation and inbound traffic, customer listening is more about gathering information to make meaningful long-term changes to your approach--and not just on social media:
- Monitoring popular topics among your key demographics can help guide you in what type of content to write and circulate.
- Reviewing interests and conversations of your key demographics can help you better understand their personalities, and help you market better to them.
- Scouting for your audience's other followers can help you identify key influencers in your industry, who you can then use to build your own reputation.
- Gathering feedback about your brand from fans and followers can help you make adjustments to improve your overall customer relations.
The bottom line for these strategies is this: listen to what your customers are saying on social media, and make adjustments to your business to better suit them.
Strategies for Customer Listening
Of course, it isn't always simple as clicking a button and being presented with a wealth of information. In many cases, you'll have to do some deep digging to get the information you're looking for. But you can also employ specific tactics to make your life easier and round up as much information as conveniently as possible.
Social listening is a term that refers to searching the world of social media for overall trends. Because there are billions of social users making millions of posts a day, you'll need a tool to help you out--for example, Social Mention is a free social listening platform you can use to search and analyze social trends. You can either search for a specific topic to see how popular it is and how it's being used or browse popular trends directly. Keep in mind that there are a variety of social listening tools out there, ranging from free to expensive, and each of them has a different range of functionality. Experiment with different versions to evaluate your individual needs and choose the one that suits your business best.
Personally, I've found that Twitter is one of the best social media platforms for customer listening. It gives public access to individual users' profiles and tweet histories, and also offers a fantastic function for organizing users and listening to them--lists. On Twitter, you can create lists that are public or private (in this case, you'll want them to be private), and select any number of users to be a part of those lists. For example, you could make a list of news organizations, and when you want to read the news, you can access this list and only read tweets that those organizations have pushed. For customer listening, this is highly convenient. You'll have to do some legwork upfront to build out lists for each of your core demographics, but once you do, you'll be able to, at a glance, see what your customers are talking about and take action accordingly.
Of course, your customers won't always give you exactly the answers you were looking for. If you have specific questions of your users, such as whether or not they like your latest product, why not ask those questions of your users directly in the form of a survey? Facebook allows some limited survey issuing functionality, which you can use to gauge your customer responses and gather feedback. Failing that, SurveyMonkey is always a great option for creating surveys and gathering information. You can syndicate the link to your survey to your targeted demographics, or your entire social audience, and then gather the data from there.
Through customer listening, you'll be able to gather information and gain new insights about the most important people to your business -- your customers. However, bear in mind that finding and analyzing this information is only the first step to meaningful action -- you'll also have to implement changes to your business and your marketing strategy in order to see worthwhile results.