The Importance of Listening Online

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Building Community and a Following through Engagement

Regardless of how big your business is — whether you're one person like myself or hundreds deep, listening online for mentions of your brand should be an integral part of your overall social media strategy.

It's an essential part of businesses today, both online and off.

[Editor's Note: This post has been edited and upgraded for 2015, it was originally published in October 2013]

Having a plan in place regarding where, when, and what you're listening for — as well as the tools you'll use to find these mentions helps to ensure this plan will not only be a success but help you build your community one mention at a time.

If your community, and customers (as well as potential) are talking about you online, shouldn't you be there to hear it?

What is Listening?

Listening is jargon for monitoring. It's simply paying attention to, and seeking out what is being said about your brand. With the advent of social media there are now numerous ways to talk about brands, and conversely find out what's being said.

85% of American adults are online today, and they're talking. A lot. In 2010, 24% of consumers who had a negative service experience shared their unhappiness online via a social networking site. That's a 50% increase since 2009. Now that we have the tools to share our experience we're talking openly and much more about our positive and negative experiences with brands. Make sure you're there to be part of that conversation!

Why It's Important

Listening to what your community has to say ensures a lot of positive things. I personally believe the number one, most important opportunity that listening offers is the ability to engage with your customers. It literally demonstrates that there are real people behind your brand. It's an awesome opportunity to give that human touch, which quite frankly in this busy world is often overlooked.

Monitoring what is being said lays the ground work for everything else. It allows you to get feedback about your customer's experience with your product, as well as thoughts on what they like, what they don't like, etc. It can also help increase sales, and help to evangelize your product. When done correctly listening helps you to build a loyal fanbase.

Think about it. Have you had a brand respond to you unexpectedly online after you mentioned it? How did it make you feel? Good? Surprised? I'm willing to bet it solidified your loyalty just that much more. What about when you reached out to a brand via Twitter, or asked a question and got zero response. How did that make you feel?

Think about your own interactions with brands online, and emulate or go in the exact opposite direction.

My Own Experience

I tag many brands, and companies online when I write about them, or am evangelizing a product of theirs. (Be sure, I've also mentioned them when I'm not happy.) Because of this I have had a lot of interactions with brands I use on Twitter.  It never gets old receiving a nod or a response from a company I like. Conversely, when I've had bad experiences in the past nothing ensures my faith more than when a company makes it a point to make things right by contacting me online through a tweet or a comment I've made. My annoyance is immediately alleviated.

Here are a couple of my latest experiences, that are good examples of brands interacting on social media:

love to see #gettoworkbook out the door and into your hands! thanks for sharing @meigsotoole!

A photo posted by @gettoworkbook on

I recently bought Elise Blaha Cripe's incredible product The Get to Work planner. I was so excited about it I took a photo, and Elise shared it on the planner's Instagram account. This is a great example of using user generated content to share within your own feeds as well.

With this tweet, I was simply waxing about a possible imagined feature that might be great for LinkedIn's users (but not necessarily great for their traffic), regardless that didn't stop their support team from seeing if they could offer some help.

I love that YogaGlo responded by confirming the instructor's expertise in this area, and kindly didn't even mention that I spelled 'restorative' wrong! Yogaglo is very attentive online, I always get some sort of response from them. Which is so smart considering their business model is delivering yoga classes online. I highly recommend their site if you want to do yoga at home or work. (See what I did there, or more so, what YogaGlo did by consistently acknowledging my tweets?)

This is a great example of acknowledging your community by utilizing listening tools, I didn't even tag Moyers & Company in this tweet. I used a URL that led back to their site. Talk about making a fan for life! I'll cover below how they may have found this tweet, and how you can employ this tactic.

Here the amazing, and very powerful tool IFTTT is simply just saying thank you. It takes seconds to respond like this and leaves your community feeling really good. It's a no brainer.

By listening, and responding to your community online it lets your customers know you're interested in what they have to say. A simple response to a tweet, a Facebook, or Instagram comment takes seconds and can do a lot of footwork around customer relations. It also drives home that you are indeed listening, and encourages your customers to continue to mention your name.

Timing

Responding is all in the timing. Because things move so quickly online it's important to recognize questions, comments, or statements within a specific timeline, my benchmark is no later than a few hours if it requires an answer.

Replying many hours or days later to a question or concern posed online is a missed opportunity. Your customer has already moved on from that moment. They're light years away from that tweet or comment by now. But I'm willing to bet, they remember that you didn't reply.

Some data for you to drive it home: Oracle performed a survey where they found 81% of Twitter users expected an answer within 24 hours. While more than half of the Facebook users they polled expected a response within 24 hours.¹ In a separate study done in 2012 by NM Incite (now Social Guide), 71% of those surveyed who had positive, quick brand response said they were likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to only 19% that do not receive any response.²

So yes, timing is everything when it comes to listening.

Comments that do not need a reply, you can simply 'heart' or 'like' on Twitter and Facebook respectively. Just a simple nod can goes a long way.

Like it or not, things happen fast online — and it's important to be available. Take the man whose father's luggage was lost on British Airways, he most certainly took things into his own hands and it became national news, and a serious precedent was set.

Timing is key. Especially if it's a negative sentiment. You want to stop a PR nightmare before it happens, a simple response can do that. Social media allows customers to take things into their own hands, immediately. But it also allows us as business owners to be involved in that process, and create an advocate for your brand, and get in the mix all at  the same time.

But I'm Not in Customer Service

Are you selling something? Then yes, you most definitely are in customer service. Sure, you may not be your traditional business that offers services to consumers. But if you're selling your work whether it's art, crafts, or creative services you certainly should be listening to what is being said about you online and cultivate that relationship.

If you are using social media to push your work, then you should be listening to what is being said on those same channels. It's a two way street.

Look at my business, I am not in a traditional customer service role. Most of my business is B2B. But I write blog posts, and say things online, and I like to see what people have shared of mine online. I often thank them for sharing (or retweeting), heart, or like comments they make. I also try to answer any questions they have for me regarding social media as quickly as I can. I find it incredibly rewarding to speak with people online who have utilized something I have created. It means a lot to me.

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Tools

So how are you going to start listening for mentions? There are many ways to monitor sentiment of your brand online. We've got the obvious: notifications, tags, and @ mentions that alert us. But there are also a few simple ways to find out what people are saying about you that may not be super obvious to those of you new to the social media landscape.

I'm only going to cover free, and basic tools — not the major social media dashboards — to get you started. Let's talk about them!

Twitter Search is very powerful, and super easy to use. One of the best things about Twitter Search is you can search URLs to see if people have shared them, but have not tagged you specifically. It's a good idea to set up saved searches, and check them regularly:

Saving Custom Searches on Twitter

Editors Note: be sure to remove the http:// when using Twitter search, otherwise it will come back as empty. Since this screen capture was taken they have changed their search function.

I also search for my blog posts often on Twitter to see who has shared them, so I can thank them, favorite them, or simply respond if they have a question:

Saving Search queries on Twitter

The Bill Moyers tweet above could have easily come about by this trick — although they most likely use an engagement dashboard to find their mentions. Using Twitter Search is a great way to find anyone that has shared your blog, website, or a URL you're looking for on Twitter.

Saved searches on twitter make it easy to search

Twitter Advanced Search is a great tool for drilling down search results. Its a separate page that allows you to plug many different search queries to help you find specific tweets. (Pro-tip: be sure to check out the operators to do a deeper dive) You can search right down to positive or negative sentiment and whereabouts! This is a great tool to search tweets specific to an industry's interests, and proximity. It can help you find possible new leads if you use it wisely.

Facebook Search is still wanting, but the company has been working hard to make it a more valuable tool. Don't hesitate to search for your content there, by typing in your website and your brand name. It will share with you posts from friend, Groups, and Pages.

Google Alerts is perfect if you're producing a lot of content, or your brand is mentioned a lot online. It's also a great way to learn about what is being said about your peers within your industry. You can set contained queries up to email you when your brand has been mentioned.

Google Alerts is easy because you set it up and that's it! It notifies you when your specific search parameters have been mentioned. Choose a few, and they'll show up in your inbox when they happen - you can choose when you receive them too: hourly, daily, weekly.

Pinterest 'Source' Search is an easy trick to find all of the pins that have been pinned from your website. Simply add /source/yourwebsite.com to the end of www.pinterest.com in your browser's address bar. It will then pull up pins that have been pinned from your website.

An easy trick to find all of the pins that have been pinned from your website.

If you have a business page on Pinterest then you already have access to their analytics, but I find this workaround to be helpful so I can see all of the pins from my website that have been pinned across Pinterest, so I can easily like or comment.

(On a side note: If you are a business and have not upgraded to a Pinterest Business Page I highly recommend you do.)

I hope these basic tools, my thoughts, and experience help you and encourage you to make listening for your brand a priority. Remember, the number one thing a patron wants from brands is to be heard, make sure you're listening. ¹Oracle, Consumer Views of Live Help Online 2012: A Global Perspective [PDF] ²NM Incite, State of Social Customer Service 2012 [PDF]