Businesses can no longer plead ignorance to customer needs and wants. They have to start paying very close attention to customer behavior on the social web, and this can only be done if they take the time to listen.

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It is very dangerous to assume what your audience wants when it comes to marketing and the social web.

Yet, we continue to see the outpouring of content that appears to have no audience, or completely misses the space that audience occupies. How and why is this still happening? Sadly, it seems that companies are still relying on legacy marketing tactics that worked with specific marketing channels. They don’t realize that these practices won’t work with the new tools immediately available to them, AND that their “audience” is more savvy to the marketing messages that are being thrown their way.

Businesses can no longer plead ignorance to customer needs and wants. They have to start paying very close attention to customer behavior and communication patterns on the social web. This can only be done if they take the time to listen. Best practices of social media dictates that this be done, and it favors those who do this homework.

“It is very dangerous to assume what your audience wants when it comes to marketing and the social web.”

Why is listening so important?

  • It provides insight into customer/audience behavior
  • It gives you a solid indication of the strength of your brand
  • You can get a better idea of what your competition is up to
  • You gain marketing and consumer insights into your related business and industry sectors
  • You can identify business opportunities to capitalize on
  • It helps identify the types of content you need to share
  • It helps you know where to share that content and how

Most important, listening is the starting point from where all your social media marketing efforts should stem from.

The companies and organizations that skip this step are easily recognized. They immediately claim profiles on the big social networks and begin populating their feeds with self promotion. More than likely they auto-populate their content so it really doesn’t matter what social network you choose to follow. The message will be the same everywhere. This goes on for about a month until all of a sudden, things go quiet. There is no activity and their social media efforts are ignored, if they weren’t already. Now they have to work twice as hard to re-position their brand and earn audience trust.

Okay, we drilled the point – you need to listen. How do you go about doing this?

  1. Build your Social Media Intelligence Dashboards. These act as hubs that collect all the helpful resources you come across during your listening. Use free tools like iGoogle or Netvibes to get started.
  2. If you are not already, get familiar with Google Alerts. These are daily or weekly alerts that can be set up on just about any subject and can be sent to your Gmail.
  3. Open an account on Hootsuite, Tweetdeck. or one of the many free Twitter dashboard tools.
  4. Start plugging in keywords of your competition, industry terms, related vendors, and organizations into Google and your Google Alerts. A good starting point are keywords identified for SEO efforts.
  5. Start subscribing to the RSS feeds of the blogs and articles from the above categories you find helpful. Assign these feeds to show in your iGoogle Dashboard.
  6. Start plugging in Twitter accounts of your competition, industry leaders, and related organizations into your Twitter Dashboards.
  7. Pay attention to Twitter hashtags and start adding them.
  8. Use bookmarking tools to archive helpful articles and resources you come across.
  9. If you are a team of one, good luck. If you do have a team of people, distribute listening assignments accordingly.
  10. Make sure you take the time to meet regularly and discuss what you have discovered. Make adjustments as necessary.

That’s about it. Okay, there is a heck of a lot more than just these ten steps, but they should get you started.

Listening can be a full time job. Depending on the size of the organization and business goals, you may find the need to staff resources for this social media component alone. Don’t believe us? Take a look at what Dell is doing. You probably don’t have to go to that extent, but it shows you how well Dell understands the importance of listening, and something called customer retention.

“The fundamentals of marketing haven’t really changed that much.”

The fundamentals of marketing haven’t really changed that much. You still have to always be attentive to who your audience is, and what they expect from you. What has changed, and continues to change, is the capability an audience has to vocalize and magnify their approval or disapproval of your marketing efforts they are exposed to. Customers are now playing with the same tools, and in some cases they may be better at using them then you.

So do them and yourself a favor, pay attention and listen.

Photo by e-magic

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