It’s good to talk, so the classic BT ad campaign told us. And, bless ol’ Bob Hoskins, he was right, it is. But to have truly meaningful conversations with customers, brands don’t need to just talk, they need to listen.
Which, considering the plethora of ways that people communicate, is no easy task. When it comes to knowing what conversations people are having about your business, do you track Twitter and LinkedIn? Do you dig into what people are writing about you on blogs and forums? What about review sites or articles and their subsequent public comments?
Fortunately, despite the myriad of channels there are to chinwag on, social listening lets you stay on top of what people are saying about you.
What is social listening?
By creating alerts for certain keywords, social listening software lets you see what people are saying about you on public digital channels – websites, social media, blogs, etc – allowing you to step into online conversations should the need arise. Unlike the post-campaign gathering of data to find out how much engagement it garnered, social listening lets you get involved in – and help manage – real-time conversations about your current activity or your wider brand reputation.
Social listening also helps you delve beyond the data and into context. By measuring social sentiment (collating your mentions into positive, neutral or negative scores), instead of just knowing that people are talking about you, you understand how people feel about you – a much more useful metric than just measuring likes and retweets.
Why you should care about social listening?
Social listening helps you understand what people think about you, which means it’s like having access to a real-time focus group you can tap into whenever you want.
This helps you identify opportunities to talk to your customers about your campaigns, your products and your brand. This could be something simple, such as informing someone when your latest fashion range will be hitting the shelves or saying thanks to someone for leaving a positive review. Or it could be something more substantial, such as gauging the reaction of your latest product launch or the success of your advertising campaigns over the years (see our analysis of the John Lewis Christmas campaigns to see how this works).
Essentially, you should care about social listening because through understanding the public sentiment of your activity – whether positive, neutral or negative – you have the power to do something about it.
Controlling the conversation
There’s not much point in listening to people if you’re not going to do anything about what they say. This is why social listening should be an integral part of your marketing and communications strategy. And whilst it’s great to say a huge thanks to someone who’s digging what you do, social listening is arguably more important for responding to those who are unhappy with your service.
Jumping as quickly as possible on negative sentiment – and doing so in a public channel, such as social media – is essential in limiting the damage done to your brand, and might even help turn a negative into a positive.
Hilton Hotels, for example, respond to over three tweets an hour, ensuring that those unhappy with the Hilton experience are quickly reached out to and their problem dealt with. Hilton have gone a step further, too, combining social listening with their call centre and in-app support. As quoted in this Awario article, Vanessa Sain-Dieguez, social business lead & strategist for Hilton Worldwide, explains further:
“We took a different approach than a lot of companies. We want to help our guests no matter how they come to us - in the app, at the front desk, or on Twitter. We are there where they want us.”
Social listening can also help you keep track of the competition. What percentage of the social media share do they have? Do they get more engagement than you and, if so, how can you redress that? Has sentiment about their activity suddenly taken a nosedive, offering you the opportunity to exploit it for your gain? Could it lead to the chance to fire a well-aimed shot across their social media bows?
Social listening isn’t just about understanding what people think about you. It’s an opportunity to understand competitor and industry sentiment, too, which in turn may inform your marketing communications to ensure you stay on top of the pile – or start climbing it.
All opinions are equal, but some opinions are more equal than others. So George Orwell might have said if he were in the marketing industry. And, whilst we don’t like to go all elitist, it’s true that certain social media opinions hold more influence than others.
By monitoring conversations about you and your industry, you can identify who the key influencers are and connect with them. Maybe you can include them in an influencer campaign for your brand. Or maybe it’s about playing it cool and commenting on their posts or tweets in order to build a rapport that they then organically pass onto their followers.
However you court their favour, winning round influencers is a great tactic in pushing your brand awareness and reputation.
Listen up – the final word
Social listening can paint a detailed, real-time picture of who’s talking about you, your competitors and your industry. It can highlight the important influencers you can curry favour with. And it can help control the conversation, turning negatives into positives and positives into even-more-positives.
But it can only do this if you integrate the results of your social listening into all aspects of your marketing communications, from Twitter to press releases. Because listening is only part of the game – it’s how (and where and when) you respond that makes all the difference.
Daniel Swepson is head of marketing and communications at Woven