This post is a part of a multi-part series on social listening.
The Goal Is Empowering Engagement
We’ve all heard the buzz around “listening,” and you’ve seen companies tout their world-class listening command centers. Listening is built on the premise that it is the first step in a social media strategy. But, many companies have conducted listening exercises and find themselves left without actionable insights that lead to a social strategy. So, before embarking on a listening investment, you need to understand the true purpose of listening: unlocking the secrets of engaging with your target audiences.
Listening Is Critical to Driving Business Impact Through Social Engagement
Our recent research, “The Economics of the Socially Engaged Enterprise,” A PulsePoint Group Study Conducted in Collaboration with The Economist Intelligence Unit, found that leaders in social engagement have four times greater business impacts than laggards. The chart below shows that “Thrivers” make up only 14.6 percent of companies surveyed, but far exceed others in driving business value because they excel at engagement.
We found that listening is a critical step in becoming a “thriver” and enabling engagement, with 21 percent of survey respondents indicating that their listening initiatives contributed to increased market share in their industry. This is the second most significant social engagement activity in terms of contributing to market share, second only to C-suite buy-in.
Our research also found that responding to posts within hours is one of the best drivers of economic value. (It’s the fourth most significant behind crowdsourcing new products, empowering employees, and proactively building relationships.) Social listening centers are critical to identifying opportunities to respond quickly and deliver value in social conversations.
However, it’s important to note that the research also showed that listening on its own doesn’t drive significant value, rather, listening is a gateway to value because it enables engagement.
While business impact requires using listening to build relationships and drive deeper engagement, The Economics of the Socially Engaged Enterprise demonstrates that listening is a critical part of delivering business impact through social engagement.
Measurement Is Limited, but Still a Good Start
Listening and measurement tools are a bit behind. They all measure volume, interactions and platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, etc.). They are beginning to develop sentiment analysis, but most don’t understand sarcasm. They have proprietary formulas for suggesting key influencers, though many will recommend your competitors as your top influencers, and most suggest “hot topics” or conversation clouds.
Natural language processing technology and sophisticated search engines offer real potential to boost the performance of these tools. Despite their room for improvement, listening tools still offer a great start to inform your engagement strategy.
• Volume, particularly peaks and valleys can inform the issues and topics that drive or suppress real conversation.
• Platform breakdowns will help you understand where your brand is being discussed, so that your team can build engagement strategies around that platform. It doesn’t make sense to launch a Twitter campaign if your brand and industry aren’t being discussed in Twitter. Platform analysis can help you understand this.
• Key influencers can inform whom you should build relationships with and who is driving the conversation around your brand.
• Finally, “hot topics” help you understand which topics your audiences care about and should guide any meaningful content strategy. All of these are critical pieces of your engagement strategy.
We recommend that you benchmark these figures, and then track and modify over time.
Beyond these automated features, advanced, robust listening requires analysts to identify particular nuances in the conversation, including linguistic elements, rhetorical strategies, community power dynamics and social norms that exist within the community. Some advanced tools are starting to delve into linguistic and rhetorical strategies, but trained analysts are still the best bet today. However, with technologies like IBM’s Watson, there is huge potential for computers to unlock some of these elements soon.
Listening Identifies Engagement Opportunities
Beyond benchmarking the historical conversation around your brand, on-going listening serves to identify real-time opportunities for you to join the conversation beyond your planned content.
Listening to influencers and to the conversation in your communities will identify individual conversations that your brand can join to add value, and potentially more importantly, identify emerging questions and trends that can, and should, inspire your content strategy. Emerging social CRM tools can tie these engagements to your other marketing and engagement initiatives to help you understand how you are connecting with your customers across their online and offline journey.
A great example of using social CRM and listening is AT&T’s use of Facebook for customer service. The company actively listened to the conversations on their Facebook page and saw an opportunity to engage by offering customer service and by answering burning questions. They used social analytic tools to track the path of their customers from ATT.com and through Facebook. They then used Facebook’s discussion tab to offer customer service. Following this initiative, they found that AT&T is over delivering on all customer service measures; brand perception is much stronger among the AT&T Facebook community, compared with the general population; its Facebook efforts have driven sales; and their Facebook page consistently delivers positive return on investment.
While there are several models to distributing engagement and community management responsibilities, central to them all is an effective listening model that enables listeners and analysts to communicate with community managers and content creators.
Not an End in Itself
As a social listener, I wish I could tell you that listening is the shining light of social media, and that it is a silver bullet that will skyrocket your social media efforts to world-class status. Unfortunately, listening isn’t an end in itself. It’s wonderful to understand the conversations around your brand, but the benefit of listening is that it gives you the information you need to develop a world-class social engagement strategy, and to course-correct and adapt that strategy as the conversation evolves.
The data is fascinating, and any analyst would be mesmerized by the data we can track today, but it’s important to look beyond the charts and graphs to understand how to take action based on the data you’ve gathered. To do that, you have to remember that the ultimate goal of listening is to inform your engagement strategy.