Listen. Listen Well. Listen to Benefit.

by sanjay on August 5, 2009

The title of this post might sound like it’s from a Dale Carnegie book. And sure it makes all the sense to listen well, in life. But here, I refer to the concept of listening in to the Social Media buzz. And the ample opportunity that it provides, to any brand, any company, any individual, today.

In our presentation (our own Social Media 101), we emphasize that the first opportunity for businesses on Social Media, is the opportunity to “listen”. It is an opportunity akin to eavesdropping the homes of your consumers, legitimately too :-)

Listening enables you to get insights about your brand that you may not be aware of.

Listening can give you new product ideas, as you hear about the consumer’s wish list.

And many benefits of the kind.

And yet, as we speak about this, at events and to prospects, we have been asked questions like:

“Is it really worth it?”

“What do we do after listening?”

“Will it not be just too much conversation to manage and digest?”

“Are there such conversations happening, really?”

And after voicing such doubts, marketers return back to look at their advertising budgets, and decide to spend some more, just to make up for their diminishing returns on the earlier budgets! The low-resistance option. The option where you can buy yourself one month, or maybe three, to figure out why sales are down.

While all the time, the reality is there in front of the eyes, but the choice is made to ignore the reality, as it might just demand a lot more work.

Like a lot more analysis. “Those four conversations that were extremely negative about the product quality – how do they extrapolate to the larger quality challenge?” for example.

Or to figure out the real impact of a tweet recommending a competing product, from someone who has 5000 followers. What is the real “reach” of that message, and can it cause damage to your market share??

Say you find a thread of a complaint against one of your salesperson at one of your outlets. Do you ignore it and wish it will disappear or be forgotten? Or is it a PR crisis about to blow in your face?

All of these are tough questions, really. And there are many more of the kind.

It is easier to get them off your mind, and sit with your Excel spreadsheets, and figure out more media buy and more budget allocations. And hope that, in doing all of that, there is salvation. And a recovery of sales and of market share.

The fact is that you cannot wish away reality.

That the game is changing. And changing rapidly.

Increasing amount of purchase decisions – be they products or services, be they B2B or B2C – are being influenced, if not actually being made, via Social Media.

“Which phone should I buy?”, “Can you recommend me a good lawyer?”, “What’s your opinion of brand xyz?”, etc. are questions that you see all day long on Social Media.

Likewise, it just needs a few tweets or a particularly critical blog post, or a ‘caught in action’ video to pull a brand reputation down. One which had been built at great cost and one which will take even more cost to recover!

There IS real virtue in listening. Listening to the Social Media buzz. Listening to conversations about your brand, your company, your vertical, your competition.

Yes, these will take effort. To go over. To classify. To figure out the genuine from the junk. It will need time to understand the game, to come up with methods and strategies for this new reality. But you need to start somewhere. And the more you put off that start, the more difficult it will get to catch up.

To answer a simple question that someone asked us, “do such conversations happen, really?”. Okay – what kind of conversation can you expect to see on social media?

Those kind that you’d have with a friend over a drink.

Those issues that you discuss at a Parents-Teachers meeting.

The watercooler ones.

The chat that you have with your golfing mate, as you walk on them greens.

That chatter that is typical at a party, or at a dinner with friends.

The calls that you make to seek advice – on anything!

In short, any conversation that was natural to do offline, will now find its way on to the Social Media space. So go figure! Does your brand get discussed offline at all? Then, you can be sure to find such conversations on the social media space.

And then you can find some more.

“Because in my offline network, I might have not had the necessary expertise for say, those exclusive, high-end speakers that I was considering to purchase, or that piece of European art that fascinated me, or about a particular University in Ottawa that my child was planning to go to.”

Where the offline network stops, the online one is still accessible and alive.

And then to answer the other questions, “Will there not be too much data? How do I find it? How do I manage 1000s of conversations that come up?”

Well, this is where tools and service providers come to help.

Take for example, the SM2 Techrigy social media monitoring tool. Available in a Freemium model, it is something that you can immediately experiment with, and it can give you interesting insights in next to no time. Put in a set of keywords / phrases, tweak it with some conditions (language, geography etc.), and it starts pushing back to you, conversations from blogs, message boards, forums, video sites, social networking sites, twitter, etc. etc. that match your conditional requirements.

AND it does more. It gives you a basic sentiment track on all the conversations, it identifies the ‘influencers’ from the set of conversations, it enables an actionable workflow where you can assign the conversation to a team member. And many other such interesting features.

And in case you do not have internal team resources to manage this, or you want a higher level of value addition, there are service providers who can offer you that. In fact, our company provides services of the kind, where we do a manual read of all the conversations, do a more accurate sentiment tagging, and further tag the conversations around your areas of focus, such as quality issues, price issues, competition, product features, etc. That way, when you see a report, it is immediately actionable, no matter the quantity of posts that have been generated around your brand.

A few case studies of such social media monitoring work have been showcased earlier, on this blog.

In conclusion, I must share a job post that thrilled me no end, earlier this week. Even as we have been working hard to convince clients about the benefits of “listening to the social media”, we were happy to see Kodak announce a position of Chief Listener! That is amazing foresight, and acceptance and understanding of the new ways of doing business.

Whether you appoint a Chief Listener or decide to outsource your listening effort, do make a beginning. You will not regret, I assure you!

So are you already there ‘listening away’? Or what are your views / plans on the same? Would love to hear from you.

Disclosure: Social PR Outsourcing Pvt. Ltd., the parent company of Social Wavelength, is an authorised reseller for the SM2 Techrigy tool, for India.

  • Puneet Taneja

    Great insight. I think a listening post really forms the bacbone of any campaign/strategy being planned. It really helps an organization to understand the thought of its consumers and use the same to device effective and targetted campaigns

  • sanjay

    Thanks, Puneet.
    I have seen recently also that, several companies are thinking about the listening post, but are not happy with the pricing models that few brands have come up with. It is in this area that the SM2 Techrigy model provides a good option. The pricing is a Freemium style, and packages are available for as low as US$600 per month levels. As I mentioned, we are resellers for Techrigy, in India.

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