Social Listening: Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

With the number of Sri Lankans on Facebook passing one million recently, more and more Sri Lankan brands are now starting to realize that the ‘eyeballs’ of their consumers are no longer lies within the range that they could reach through prime time TV. Historically, the advertising budgets of brands always followed the eyeballs of their consumers; from press to radio, radio to TV, and TV to web. From the obsession of brands going online with web advertising (banner ads), where is the next destination to follow the eyeballs of your consumers?
Today, more than 60% of the world’s internet users have joined at least one social networking site like Facebook. 58% of Sri Lanka’s internet users are already having a Facebook account. 25% of search results on Google for world’s top 10 brands, links to user generated content. 90% of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know; 70% trust opinions of unknown users.
It is estimated, consumers generate over 250 billion ‘influence impressions’ annually on social networks by sharing what they like, read or do. These are ‘social impressions’ which can change the behaviors of those others who exposed to them. When I say “change the behaviors”, it includes your consumers purchase behaviors as well. Wait a minute; isn’t that the job that your marketing department is suppose to do? Influencing the purchase behavior of your consumers? 

All these statistics lead us to one conclusion; that is people are increasingly having conversations online through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. These online conversations lead to behavioral changes among the masses.  If that is the case, then aren’t you interested in knowing what your consumers are talking online? What are they saying about your brand? How do they compare your brand with competition? May be 10 years ago, all this information were very expensive for a brand with an average marketing budget to afford, given the fact that regular focus groups were bit too expensive, and research firms were charging a fortune to gather a summary of consumer opinions. However, thanks to the fact that Social Media is fully open and easily trackable, listening to your customers on social media is not going to be that tedious and expensive endeavor even for most average brands.

In the age of social media, the ‘image’ of the brand is no longer in the full control of the brand owners. Increasingly, the conversations taking place on the social web is affecting the way your brand is perceived in the eyes of your consumers. Those brands who adopt to this reality, and adjust themselves are finding it very easy to win the race, while those ‘protective’ brands who wish to delete every negative comment on Twitter are losing it very fast. The first thing companies must do is, to make their organizational culture ready for social listening. Are you ready to read that blog post which describes how incompetent your customer service executives are?

What is social listening?
Social listening is the active process of companies monitoring and analyzing the online conversations taking place on the social web, regarding their brands, competition, industry in general and any other area of interest which can generate business insights for the company.

There are free and paid social analytics tools available to make this process less painful for companies. However, more than the tools, what is important is to get your process right. Here is a simple six step process for a company to roll out an effective social listening plan.

Step 1: Know what you want to listen
Set your conversation criteria. What do you really want to monitor? Are you going to track the conversations only about your brand? Or, are you monitoring the competition as well? How about the industry in general? First, decide what type of information you want to track. With your conversation criteria as a guiding principle, then list down the ‘trigger words’ you want to monitor. 

Step 2: Learn where you currently stand
Monitor the conversations around the ‘trigger words’ which are already happening. There are free tools available for you to effectively track social media conversations based on keywords. Use the analytics options available on such tools, to measure the current ‘consumer sentiment’ about your brand. Is it positive? Is it negative? Or is it neutral? Who are the most inflectional people on social web, blogging/tweeting about you? If the available analytics options are not enough, develop your own algorithms to analyze the tracked data. Get a clear understanding about where your brand stands now.

Step 3: Action points
What are the actionable insights from the data that you have gathered? If people are talking negatively about your brand, what can you do about it? Are they blaming you for a problem that you have already fixed? If so, how can you trigger people to talk about your fix? What improvements you can make in your products, processes, and communications? 

Step 4: Respond to feedback
Once you know what actions to be taken, the next thing you have to do is responding to your consumer feedback. A set of frustrated customers might be having a conversation online about a customer service issue, which you have already solved. Apologize to those who were affected, and tell them your side of the story (politely! Never sound like “there’s nothing wrong in our end, and it was all some other party’s fault”).

Step 5: Engage 
The ultimate goal of building a social media presence for your brand, is to effectively engage with your customers. If you do effectively engage with the customers, and keep them happy on social media on a consistent basis, they will come forward to defend you when you are attacked by a few angry/unsatisfied customers.

Step 6: Manage and Optimize
 Keep monitoring the outcomes of this process, and keep optimizing.  Learn from the mistakes; specially the mistakes of others! You don’t have to repeat the same mistake to learn the same lesson. For example, if you are an oil company, you don’t have to spill another million gallons of oil into the sea, to learn that social media bites!

Who should be responsible for social listening?
If you ask this question from a typical marketing consultant the answer most likely will be “it should be everybody’s job”. But we all know, nobody actually ends up being doing the job of everybody. So, there should be somebody who is made responsible and accountable for the function of social listening. In most developed countries, the job title “Chief Listening Officer- CLO” is now becoming very popular. Although, this is not a C-level position who sits in the boardroom alongside with CEO’s, CTO’s or CFO’s; it’s a very meaningful title for someone who is responsible for the social listening function of a company. 

In my opinion, all Sri Lankan companies should now start considering creating a vacancy for a CLO in their marketing team. This person should be assigned the responsibility of listening to the conversations happening online about the brand, and actively engaging in those conversations, representing the company. Few Telco companies in Sri Lanka are already having social media managers in their marketing teams. 

Is it really important to put that much weight on social media, in a market where the internet penetration is barely less than 10%? Well, this is a decision you need to discuss within your company and come to your own conclusions. No one is there, to force you to put emphasis on social media, but the fact remains that the people will talk about your brand (positively or negatively), regardless of if you are willing to get onboard or not. By the way, when did you last Googled for your brand to see what’s appearing on top? Well, if you are looking for a starting point, take that as a hint!

Originally posted on Like this blog? Get email updates when I post next time, or subscribe to the feed on a reader. Follow me on Twitter @Amisampath 

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