Imagine having a constant — and free — focus group at your service any time of the day or night when you need some information on how consumers view your brand or industry. All you have to do is log in to a software platform (or two) and voila! — you can pull a report to get the basic data. But developing an accurate and helpful social listening campaign is not quite that easy.
The future is here today. You actually do have access to all this information via social media listening tools. People are most likely already talking about your brand and your products, services, and offerings on various social platforms, so it is up to you to listen and derive takeaways from what they are saying about your company or clients — whether it is a customer service complaint, a compliment, or any other opinion or comment that you could learn from and potentially improve upon.
And of course, acting upon these takeaways is the ideal conclusion to the process — but it is ongoing, after all, because social media never sleeps.
Social Media Listening Best Practices
While social media listening and marketing are relatively new techniques, there are already some established best practices. These include using several different free and paid tools to cross-reference findings and reports for the most accurate and relevant results. After all, the success of any given social media listening process is all about the setup and tools that have been chosen to begin with — your learnings, insights, and takeaways are only as good as the data you gather.
Start With the Software: Popular Social Media Monitoring Tools
Some popular free tools include Feedly, an RSS reader with social integration, and Social Mention, an aggregator/search engine that sources mentions of a particular keyword across various social channels and rates them according to passion, reach, strength, and sentiment, using basic analytics. Google Alerts is another free option, but it doesn’t always capture everything (so it’s best used in conjunction with other tools). That said, setting up alerts for your brand name and possibly your competitors’ names certainly doesn’t hurt, and it is relatively passive once you set it up. IceRocket is another great free option for tracking activity around your brand name and associated keywords across the blogosphere.
Naturally, Facebook and Twitter also offer unique tools for brand managers, community managers, and analysts to use. Facebook Insights provides plenty of data to page administrators and owners, while apps like Twitalyzer, TweetDeck, and Hootsuite offer similar dashboards for Twitter accounts. All these tools show the impact of a given social media account based on reach, influence, engagement, velocity, and sentiment, along with some user demographics. These apps are great for tracking mentions that go beyond hashtags as well, since not every user who engages with your company on Twitter will use the prescribed or recommended hashtags. Topsy is another option that captures blog conversations, and this free service can also be linked to your brand’s Twitter and Facebook as well as generate email alerts.
Of course, there is more than a plethora of paid options as well. Unilyzer helps you see which campaigns are the most effective on a given social network, including tracking network size, growth rate, referral visitors, and more, along with measuring the overall quality of your social media posts and corresponding referral rates. Brandwatch is another relatively cost-effective browser-based software platform that allows business owners and their marketing teams to collect, analyze, and report upon their social media audience.
Granted, there are many more options out there; in fact, Time magazine has put together an extensive collection of the options currently available.
Start by Establishing What Success Looks Like
Of course, these free and paid services are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media listening software; clearly, it is essential for marketing professionals to do their research and establish their goals and what they wish to learn about their audience before they make any final decisions about what software to work with and the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track — something that is further detailed in this recent IMedia Connection article.
Another element to consider when you are choosing social media tools is whether or not you can publish directly from the monitoring platform — this can affect the efficiency and effectiveness of your social media team. After all, many insights (particularly those related to customer service) are immediately actionable, so the ability to take direct advantage of observations and quickly reply to any potential customer service problems is a bonus of many paid social media monitoring platforms.
Building a Solid Foundation
However, any free or paid tool is only as good as the setup and the keywords and topics you are tracking. Setting up monitoring reports that collect data on your brand name (including any common or likely misspellings and abbreviations), any associated slogans or hashtags, keywords related to your products and services (including any brand names you carry or work with if applicable), and even competitor names or brands is the first step toward social media listening effectiveness.
In addition, determining what KPIs are actually valuable for your business is key. There are hundreds if not thousands of metrics that can potentially be monitored, but of course there is only so much time available — and chances are your boss and/or the C-suite don’t want to read endless reports anyway. Moreover, automating as much as possible from the very beginning not only makes the reporting process easier, it allows you to more accurately track progress and performance month over month or week over week, lending valuable insights for future content creation and other marketing activities.
Understanding Boolean search best practices is also key, especially depending on the way the tracking tool(s) you have chosen to use collect data from the social web. Using common operators like “and,” “or,” etc. will help refine your tracking and eliminate irrelevant mentions, especially if the keywords you are tracking have alternate meanings or are homonyms for completely different topics. Want to learn more? The Social Media Examiner recently published an excellent piece that details how to properly utilize Boolean search to boost your social media marketing efforts.
Get Granular: Filtering Out the Signal From the Noise
So what should you be looking for and listening to, specifically? Obviously you want to provide positive customer service and answer questions whenever possible, especially when they are directly solicited by a user calling out your brand’s handle or name. What’s more, you’ll want to track and analyze both positive and negative sentiment toward your brand as well as where people talk about your company the most (whether it is on social media sites, blogs, review sites, or other platforms), since that will likely influence your advertising strategy going forward.
Social media listening can also be an incredibly valuable market research tool. You can use customer or target demographic discussions to determine new trends as well as currently unmet needs and wishes, and provide product updates and services accordingly. Furthermore, you can see what your audience truly values about your brand and what they look for from your industry or vertical based on what they post about on their own time in their personal networks — when and where they have no ulterior motives.
You can also monitor what your competition is doing and how your audience perceives their brands. Learning from their successes and failures is another reason for advertising agencies and marketing professionals to engage in social media listening and reporting.
Overall, getting ultra-granular with KPIs and using multiple platforms as well applying multiple facts of analysis is key, as this Tech Republic article details. Despite the popularity and ease of use with most software options, some human analysis is still required in order to understand the many nuances and facets of the language being used by consumers. After all, tools can’t detect sarcasm, don’t understand slang or other acronyms, or may be stymied by typos that a human would understand.
Acting Upon Your Social Media Listening Insights
So what are the next steps if your listening process brings up a post or subject that requires attention and a response? The community management team themselves should be empowered to respond, and they should have a crisis management plan in place so they know what is appropriate and what they could offer to appease a dissatisfied customer.
Following up by posting positive articles or news and finding new ways to interact is helpful as well — conversations with customers should always be two-sided, don’t talk at people, talk to them by providing helpful, entertaining, or otherwise shareable info. There’s a fine line between listening and inserting your brand into conversations where it doesn’t belong — and your social media listening process can help you discern exactly where that line falls (especially learning from your competition’s and other company’s mistakes since social media backlash tends to be swift and public).
Speaking of the general public, helping you to respond to any customer service issues openly and honestly is one way that a social media listening setup can help your brand become a digital superstar. Other users see the way that you handled a problem and it helps foster an overall positive feeling, and other users with the same issue may find your response via search themselves; therefore, you have solved multiple problems with a few posts. In addition, if the same questions come up repeatedly, consider adding the answers to your FAQ or support page on the company website.
The Final Steps: Apply Your Learnings Going Forward
Social media listening also helps you figure out what types of content actually make an impact. You can not only measure and track the impact of a given post, you can help your client and its brand managers ensure they are connecting with the target audience. And if not, these tools will provide some information on who is actually communicating with the brand on social media and what they are saying and why.
Taking advantage of all the learning opportunities that social media listening provides is the first step toward developing an effective social media monitoring and marketing campaign. It is this knowledge that can help you foster community around your brand, deepen existing conversations and help spark new ones, track brand mentions, and discover customer service issues and opportunities.
Need help getting to know your customers?
If you’re still unsure how to narrow down your client’s target audience, Digital Current can help! With over a decade of experience developing integrated online marketing campaigns, we know a thing or two about reaching the right audiences with the right message.