How to Use Social Listening Instead of Promoting

Opening a new social media channel can be intimidating: You have the opportunity to post anything you want about your business, but what should you say? What if there’s no response?

Rather than diving right in and immediately promoting your company, take a step back and learn from your consumers. Focus on social listening—the process of assessing what’s being said about a company or brand online.

Social media is not all that different from customer service. Just as a company representative who is polite and understanding can build brand loyalty far better than one who ignores customer concerns, a brand that listens on social media will be more effective than one that constantly posts sales pitches.

At this year’s Chicago Social Media Master’s Summit, Bryan Moore (@BryanMMoore), the supervising producer of The Insider, reminded the audience (myself included) that behind every tweet is a person. It’s important to respond and listen to each one. Here are a few ways you can engage in some serious social listening:

1. Search hashtags to join an existing conversation. When she created the United Airlines Instagram account from scratch, Shanna Quinn (@Shanna), searched for certain hashtags such as #aviation and #travel to engage with users. By commenting on their photos, Quinn promoted the new United account to a target audience—in this case, users interested in aviation—which helped her build an active, engaged following.

2. Ask your audience questions and respond to their comments. Once you’ve established a following, engage with them by asking about their preferences. At the summit, Enjoy Life Foods CMO Joel Warady (@EnjoyLifeCMO) emphasized responding to every comment on your Facebook wall and website. Instead of promoting their brand constantly, his team asks their audience to pick which flavor of product they enjoy more, or choose what new food items they want from Enjoy Life Foods.

Warady said that the consumers should have the megaphones, not the company. His team uses social media to listen to what customers want, rather than to tell them only what he wants them to hear.

3. Differentiate for each channel. The content you post should vary depending on the platform and audience. On a social bookmarking site such as  Pinterest, for instance, users care most about interesting photos. But on Twitter, the most shared tweets are conversational in nature and contain links. Be attentive to the audience on each channel in order to differentiate your content.

For example, Ilyce Glink, the founder and CEO of Think Glink Media, has a Pinterest account that attracts an audience who is more interested in photos of beautiful homes than they are in articles about real estate tips. Posts shared on that site always include high-quality, shareable photos of gorgeous homes. Her Twitter audience, on the other hand, rarely clicks on stories about luxury homes but loves to read real estate advice. So on Twitter, she shares real estate tips and news rather than photos of high-end homes.

Social listening is an important part of building your brand. As your account grows and you add followers, be sure to revisit your strategy based on what your followers are saying. According to Quinn, it’s about quality, not quantity. An engaged audience is more valuable than a huge number of followers.

Camille Izlar is a web producer at Think Glink Media and manages a number of client social media accounts.

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