Social listening is a valuable tool for every single business in existence, even businesses without a strong online presence. From private schools to auto parts stores, and everything in between, social listening is imperative for maintaining a successful, continually improving business. Social media communities from Facebook to Yelp offer businesses with an invaluable resource for gauging customer buying trends and more.
Eavesdropping vs. Listening
Eavesdropping has so many negative implications, and it’s unfortunate, because eavesdropping can be a very useful and positive tool for all parties. Rather than having nefarious purposes, eavesdropping, particularly through social listening, can offer valuable insight essential for improving products as well as improving relations between consumers and businesses.
There are personal conversations that should be seen as off-limits, for two primary reasons, one ethical and one practical. The practical reason is because being privy to personal conversations that are not specifically pertinent to business is time consuming and inefficient. A business doesn’t need to know, for marketing purposes, the details of someone’s love life, their relationship history, or their family dysfunction, unless the consumer volunteers such information with a specified purpose.
The ethical reason is that, even in the day of reality television and Instagram, people deserve some privacy. It’s hard to remember that, as we are inundated daily with images of people’s most private spaces and parts, along with the public airing of people’s worst confessions and deeds. However, it’s important to try to preserve some semblance of a boundary, allowing individuals to choose how and when to share their own personal information.
What Is Social Listening?
Social listening is truly an art form. The first, most valuable step is to set up a social media presence. Facebook is the most popular and perhaps the most easily adaptable. The first step is to set up your own personal Facebook page; then you create a Facebook page for your business. You can choose to leave your business’s newsfeed open to posts from everyone, or open to posts only made by you. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
Leaving it open for everyone can quickly become overwhelming in terms of management of spam, but it is also the most direct and valuable way to communicate with customers. Even when the posts are complaints, calm, kind, and resourceful back-and-forth displayed on the page is positive. In turn, this gives you the option of becoming friends with particular posters, so that you can in fact further listen to any social media exchange that might directly pertain to your company, going through their newsfeed.
However, you can still achieve social listening on Facebook if you only allow your own postings on your page. Your followers will see these posts, and like or comment on them. If you post polls, you’ll get great, informative results. You can run contests, ask questions – the more you do to engage the people following your page, the more social listening you’ll be able to do. And this type of listening differs drastically from peering into people’s private lives; you are instead focused on people’s conversations directly pertaining to yours.
Twitter is another invaluable resource for social listening, but for Twitter to be an effective social listening tool, you really need automated software to scan through the tweets for references to your business or brand. When it comes to Twitter, there is absolutely no question about whether social listening or eavesdropping are okay; people tweet in the hopes that someone, anyone, will listen.
Social Listening’s Usefulness
It goes without saying that knowing precisely what your established customers think of your business and how they evaluate your products and/or service is imperative to long-term financial success. However, in order for that long-term financial success to continue unabated, there also has to be continual growth. Social listening offers such a unique opportunity to do just that: choose a way to grow. When you’re able to virtually listen to your consumers’ needs and desires, you can expand your business to accommodate, thus filling an important void and retaining customers for the long haul.
It’s also a decent way, provided you do it subtly and with grace, to solicit new customers entirely, but you can’t just turn every conversation about screws into a conversation about your specific hardware store. You can, on Twitter or on Facebook, offer suggestions and advice, and occasionally – like, when asked – pepper in mentions of your company and its goals, or perhaps link to some information. The trick is knowing when to do so and when to refrain.
Being Helpful Rather Than Annoying
Where social listening or eavesdropping crosses the line into negative territory is when it is being used merely to name drop or link back to your company. When you begin to use comments on various sites – Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and others – as a way to increase your brand recognition, with less thought to actually assisting the consumer, you become an annoyance.
At that point, you become more wrapped up in being a sales presence than in being a helpful company, and this is a really important consideration. Because, the irony is, when you become focused entirely on selling, you become a lousy salesperson. People want their needs met. They want someone to listen to what those individual needs are, and they want someone to help them satisfy those needs.
Conclusion: The Wave of the Future
Social listening is truly the next great marketing tool, with the potential to change the entire face of marketing in general. Large software development companies see this, too, and are creating powerful tools to help companies automate it. There are potential problems with this, of course, dependent upon how well the software evolves and how businesses choose to use it; if it becomes too automated, with less focus on individual attention, this form of marketing could easily spiral downward into yet another way for consumers to distrust businesses. Used properly, though, this becomes a new way to meet consumers’ needs while also expanding businesses (and their profits) accordingly.