Eavesdropping at the Cocktail Party: Five Simple Steps for Social Listening

This post originally appeared on the Core Creative blog.

“The art of conversation lies in listening.” – Malcom Forbes

Listening is important – in business, in life, and in social media. For the purpose of this blog post, however, we’re focused on the last part.

Social listening allows you to be in the same room with the people who are talking about you, but not necessarily to you. And just like you wouldn’t run up to someone at a party and say, “I heard what you said about me!” … you must be cautious with how you interact in the social space.

There are a few different ways to monitor keywords and phrases on social media. Twitter is one of the most popular forums for social listening, due to its open concept and high utilization of hashtags (linked keywords).

Sometimes people will mention you (or your company) by name (Twitter handle, Facebook tag, etc.) because they want you to see that they’re talking about you. Other times, they may talk about you in a more general sense because they’re just looking to broadcast, not converse.

There’s a careful balance that needs to be had when deciding whether or not to jump into a conversation that may or may not welcome your presence. You need to really step back and think about when you should interact … and when it’s better to let things be.

Here are five simple steps for social listening:

1. Set up keywords. This should include your company name and other words associated with your business. With many services (such as Sprout Social, Hootsuite, etc.), you can geo-target your keywords to only show results within a certain geographic range. This comes in handy for businesses that only work in particular areas of the country, continent or world.

2. Monitor. Take a few minutes throughout the day to scan through your feed. Pull out any relevant or high-priority content to evaluate. You can usually spend just a few minutes in the morning, early afternoon and end-of-day to check for chatter.

3. Respond (but don’t be creepy). Obviously, this will take some careful consideration on your part. Pretend the comment didn’t come from Twitter, but from a conversation you overheard at a restaurant. Would you be OK with walking over to that person to address their concern or thank them for their kind words? If so, you’re clear to reply. If not, you may want to move along.

If the chatter is related to a customer service issue that should be addressed, chances are you should reach out. If you can help solve a problem or change an opinion, it’s worth it! Many companies with larger customer service departments have Twitter accounts dedicated specifically to listening and responding. Have you ever tweeted about your shoddy Internet connection only to hear from the service provider a few minutes later? That’s social listening.

4. Report. Keep track of your conversations and their outcomes. This serves many purposes – one of which is a documented history of interactions, which you can reference later on if needed.

It also helps build collaboration and accountability if you’re working with an agency or other partner. Know how you’re working together so you can better improve your efforts and move toward your desired results.

5. Revisit. Did somebody say something really wonderful about your company or product? Keep that in your back pocket for the next time you can offer a freebie or discount. Reach out to them personally to thank them for their loyalty and they will be quite impressed.

Similarly, if you have someone who is unsatisfied, touch base further down the road to see if things have improved. They’ll be happy to know you truly value their business.

One of the most popular (and probably most overused) ways of explaining social media is that it’s “one big cocktail party,” and we’re all guests in the same room. If you take advantage of a few simple tools and use them in the right way, you can turn that cocktail party into better business.