Written by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund, authors of The NOW Revolution (Wiley; February 2011)
Once upon a time, customer contact was centralized around the switchboard, and the phone was the preferred method for communication between companies and customers. When it rang, you answered, because it was likely a customer or a potential customer on the other end of the line. Now, the calls are coming through online, via the social phone.” That’s wisdom from Radian6 CEO Marcel Lebrun (disclosure: Amber’s employer) about the changing dynamics of communication via the Web, and the importance businesses need to place on paying attention to discussions online via social media listening. And not just the basics.
Here are six areas of your business that should be listening.
Although social media is rarely a direct sales channel, it can be a fine way to uncover prospects and meet them where they are. Listening programs give you the opportunity to find prospects when the timing is perfect and when they’re actually asking for answers you have.
For example, say you’re the owner of a local home improvement store and you’d like to see a lift in your lawn and garden sales. Monitoring for phrases such as “new lawnmower” or “recommendations for a grill,” can help you, well, be helpful. It’s like consultative selling. But here’s the thing: you’re approaching people when they’re ready for you. You’re focusing solely on hand-raisers who are expressing need through the phrasing of their social communication.
2. Marketing & PR.
Marketing and public relations professionals spend a lot of time trying to craft and deliver the perfect message.
Listening helps make sure that the language you’re using as a company is the same language being used by the people you’re hoping to hook. If you’re calling yourself a digital strategy consulting company but your prospective customers know you as an advertising agency, there’s a fundamental disconnect that you can uncover and address. Listening also gives team members ambient awareness about the buzz around their organization and what’s resonating with their community that can not only inform marketing decisions but help anticipate emerging needs.
3. Customer Service.
When someone’s microwave goes on the fritz, the 1-800 number is no longer the exclusive conduit for their frustration. Increasingly, individual customers are airing their concerns, questions, and grievances over social media channels, especially if traditional channels prove less than helpful. Listening gives you the ability to find those comments when and where they happen; it also helps you respond quickly and in the medium that your customers are choosing to use.
As listening platforms become more integrated into customer service, keep a lookout for connections with call center systems, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and other information centers that can help track those all-important customer interactions and experiences in social media.
4. Research and Development.
Product and service development is a constant, iterative process to respond to the competition and market demands. And every company wants to claim innovation, right? You can fuel your idea engine by harnessing the input, thoughts, and creativity of the online audience. They don’t have to be your customers to give you inspiration!
This is where competitive and industry listening can come into play. Are there unmet needs in your market that a new product or service could help serve? Could you add new features or create an entirely new offering that addresses some of the shortcomings of the competition? Are you customers talking among themselves to suggest improvements or changes you haven’t thought of yet?
5. Human Resources.
Human resources isn’t typically the first place most companies think of when discussing social media. But even in passive, information-gathering mode, HR can glean an awful lot from simply paying attention to the discussions that happen online.
The obvious potential here is talent recruiting, in both finding potential employees and examining their online social graphs. HR professionals can search for people in the appropriate sector or with the right titles and responsibilities. They can see how connected and networked those people are online and how they make use of the available social channels. Or they can watch the impact factors that can influence their hiring: talent on the move in the industry, big layoffs, hiring freezes or surges, or key new positions being developed in competing companies.
6. Executives and Management.
Based on what company leadership learns through listening, they can identify potential adjustments to the strategic plan, or even to the company vision overall. They can understand market trends through the unfettered viewpoint of the online masses and determine whether they’re behind, ahead of, or riding the curve.
They can even get a sense of the balance between internal culture and external perception and learn whether the two feel like they’re in balance.
How many listeners do you have in your company?
Jay Baer (@jaybaer) is a world renowned social media strategy consultant. His blog, convinceandconvert.com, is consistently ranked among the top business blogs, and he speaks to tens of thousands of marketers annually at industry conferences and conventions. He is a senior advisor to ExactTarget, one of the world’s largest SaaS companies. A digital marketing pioneer, Baer has founded five online companies since 1994 and since then has worked with over 700 brands. Amber Naslund (@ambercadabra) is the Vice President of Social Strategy for Radian6, a social media listening and engagement platform. Amber writes an award-winning blog at BrassTackThinking.com, and frequently speaks on the topics of social media, communication, and community strategy for business.