Thursday, March 13, 2014

Social Listening -- Limitless Insight

Social listening is probably the second most valuable source of insight necessary for creating user-centered content, right after search keyword discovery. Many marketers think of listening as a way of knowing what the market is saying about you -- positive or negative -- and of course, that's important, but there's so much more to it than that.

No matter how good your products and services are, no matter how relevant your white papers and commentary, there will always be
Social Listening
conversations that are relevant to your business happening outside the web space you own. Mostly, these take place in the social mediasphere. Around Twitter Accounts, blogs and forums, Linked In and Facebook groups, among people who have strong opinions about your market environment, the business you're in, the products and services you sell, the features you promote.

Monitor and Understand
It is in your business's best interest -- and the best interest of your customers and visitors -- for you to be aware of these discussions. Social listening enables you monitor these conversations, and gain 4 key types of valuable insight.

1. Understand who's taking part in these relevant but far-flung conversations.
2. Understand who's leading the conversations.
3. Understand what their issues and concerns are that are relevant to your business.
4. Understand the words and language the market uses to discuss these topics.

The people taking part in these relevant conversations by commenting on a blog, discussing in a forum or a group, or responding to tweets are likely potential customers for your product or service. They're engaged for a reason. The people who own the blog, or moderate the group or forum, or the ones who post or tweet most frequently are influencers. If you can engage with them and win them over, they can become powerful advocates for your brand, product or service.

There will always be conversations that are relevant to your business happening outside the web space you own.
The discussions they are taking part in give you valuable information about the needs of your market, what people think of your company, your competitors and individual offerings. You can learn what's important to them, what keeps them up at night, what challenges they need solutions to. You can take advantage of this information to inform your thinking about new products, services and features, new areas of content marketing for your digital presence, how to solve user experience issues, even how best to communicate to these potential customers.

Moreover, discovering these relevant conversations gives your business the opportunity to participate in them. You or your social team should do this subtly at first, by subscribing, making positive comments and following other members of the community. Once people are familiar with your contributions, you can engage more deeply by suggesting relevant links to your own or other social properties, and eventually, by making contact with the influencers in the group who you think may be amenable to sharing your company's information about your launches, events and other content. This is advocacy, the digital marketing holy grail.

Keyword Insights from Listening
Finally, social listening reveals the words and phrases the actual market uses to describe their needs and the solutions to those needs. This first person narrative is an important source of keyword discovery, suggesting words you should be optimizing your pages for and building content around. It also gives you key insight into how to name and communicate about your brands, products, services and features.

There is no substitute for this kind of data because if you optimize around the words your market is searching for and build your content based on those words, then...

1. You'll get more visits to your site because people are actually searching for those words.
2. When searchers for those words arrive at your site, they're more likely to find the answers they're looking for.

If your product, service and feature names and your marketing communications take this data into account, then it'll be easier for your customers to find you.

Social Listening How-To
Social listening techniques can run the gamut from a simple, free approach using a dashboarding app combined with various searches such as Icerocket social search and Google Alerts, to paid approaches involving full-fledged social listening suites, which can run from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

You can have your own people do this in-house using the tools, or most of the search tool vendors will also contract with you to do the listening for you and add expert consulting, reporting and recommendations to the service. Many agencies also offer this service.

You can arrange to do listening in real time continuously or on some set cadence, monthly, quarterly, etc.

Depending on the size of your business and your available resources, you choose the combination of these that fits your budget. But I'd recommend starting small and free, learning how to use the insight, then expanding.

At the very least, every company should set up some Google Alerts for their company name and the names of their products and key people and check those alerts at least once a day. That way, you're sure to pick up any negative comments that are specifically directed at your company. It's best to know about this type of comment at the outset and respond to it as quickly as possible in as engaging a manner as possible to prevent it from escalating into a serious PR problem.

Of course you'll also be able to catch positive comments about your company and expand their effect by retweeting or tweeting about them and using them on your Web site and in your marketing materials.

Any way you do it, social listening is empowering for a company. The market is speaking whether you're listening or not. If you are, you can reap the benefits.

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Next week: Content Strategy

Ken Godfrey

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