Listen Up! 5 Enablers for Social Listening Success.

monkey-not-listeningThe CDC is now listening to what people say on social media to track outbreaks of the flu and other viruses. Researchers at the University of Warwick were able to increase a mock stock market portfolio by 326% between 2004 and 2011 by looking at search patterns in Google Trends data.  The predictive power of social media in political elections is being watched carefully by candidates around the world.

I’ve said before that good marketing adapts to the world it inhabits. People aren’t just talking politics, stocks, and complaining about being sick on social media. They’re also discussing business pains with their colleagues, researching products and services, and praising or complaining about you.

A couple weeks ago, I gave a presentation on how to use this data to make better business decisions at the Social Media Strategies Summit in Chicago. Below are 5 key enablers I shared with the audience.

1.       Get a social listening tool. A good one.

You can’t mine all the data yourself. There are tools out there to help you. Nearly all of them cover the basics; sentiment analysis, word clouds, share of voice, buzz trending, influence, reach, and pretty charts.

But what really sets these applications apart is their natural language processing capabilities. Does the software know that “This iPhone has never been this good” is positive, and “This iPhone has never been good” is negative? Does it know what ‘kewl’, ‘gr8’, and ‘tight’ mean? This stuff is easy for you and me, but it’s not easy for a machine to do. Run some tests before you buy.

2.       Hire people that know how to use the tool you just bought.

Turning big data into big insights is one of the 3 Skills for the Next Generation of Marketers I’ve written about. Tools will only take you so far. You need people that know how to turn the data into insights you can use.

3.       Establish processes for consistent social listening.

If you want to make social listening part of your organization’s DNA, you have to make it part of your DNA first. Build a consistent delivery schedule for actionable insights, and follow up with people on your key recommendations. If your insights are ‘tight’, you should have people lining up hear what you have to say next.

Incidentally, I was just informed by my wife that this metaphor is medically invalid and you cannot in fact, “change” your DNA. That little factoid will come in handy next time I do something that pisses her off. “Honey, it’s in my DNA. I can’t change that.”

4.       Leverage tele teams to process inbound inquiries via social media.

What did people do before social media when they wanted to get in touch with you? They picked up the phone. Today, the same types of customer service, product info, and lead generation inquiries are flooding in via social media. Yet, most companies are expecting a “social media lead” to process all that inbound traffic. That solution doesn’t scale.

The same teams that pick up the phone when customers call are the ones best equipped to handle social media traffic that requires a 1:1 response. Yes, you’ll need processes and training to educate these tele agents on the nuances of social media interaction. But it’s your best chance at living up to the near real-time expectations of the people communicating with you through these channels.

5.       Be patient. Getting good at this is a process.

In my mid 20’s I shared an apartment with an old friend. He worked out a lot. After a few months of feeling terrible about myself, I started going to the gym. Anytime I wasn’t feeling motivated to go, he would say to me, “Going for a little bit is better than not going at all…”

This is a process. At a minimum, you should be listening to what’s going on out there (Passive). Good organizations take action based on what they hear (Reactive). Great organizations change their business model based on the new reality they’ve identified (Proactive). But just listening is better than “not going at all”.

In the 1971 western  Big Jake, John Wayne turns to his oldest son and says, “You’re short on ears and long on mouth.”

For a long time, I imagine the same could have been said about the state of marketing. It’s not like we were bad people. It’ s not like we all sat around a Brazilian Rosewood boardroom table, had a scotch, smoked a cigar, decided to intentionally ignore what our customers had to say, and then laughed evilly while we rubbed our hands together. For decades, listening to customers was time-consuming, expensive, tough to scale, often artificial, and partially reliable at best. Only companies with the deepest pockets and big market research teams could do this consistently.

That is, until our customers were given the platforms to publicly post, pin, tweet, and blog their every interest, desire, and complaint. There’s never been so much data about what customers think of you, so readily available, raw, unfiltered, and unbiased.

But just because it’s public doesn’t mean it’s free. The challenge is turning all this unstructured data into insights you can use to make decisions. Follow the key enablers above, and get started on the journey to becoming an organization that listens to their customers as a way of doing business.

Follow the conversation at #marketingpfft or @Adriel_S.

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