5 Things to Listen for in Your Community

A community manager would probably make for a great spouse in real life. A few examples:

Attentive beyond what’s humanly necessary.
(“A question about which web browser to use at 7 a.m.? Coming, dear!”)

Hyper-aware of significant other’s feelings, complete with mood-swing tracking.
(“Did not respond well to suggestion of new product line for menopausals.”)

Offers material goods in exchange for general complacency.
(“FREE SAMPLES…if you just tell me you love me.”)

And like in any healthy real-life relationship, being a great listener is key. But while a multitude of conversation-mining tools exist to help unearth keywords, trends, and influencers, social listening at its best is less mechanical and a little more human – a daily takeaway of emotional readings and insights that can help you grow and relate with your community.

Even in your briefest daily maintenance, you can absorb plenty of insight. Look for these five types of feedback when you scan your brand’s social environment:

  1. Sentiment. Obvious, I know, but ignore the obscure algorithms that track positive and negative keywords. You can deduct for yourself when something’s gone sour with a simple glance at caps-locked, emoticon fury obscuring the page. But maybe there are some comments about a current campaign that have confused a few consumers, or a product defect has really made a large constituency fired up. Sniffing out the root of these immediate problems – or successes – is what’s most productive for you and your team. Hone in on the unexpected feedback.
  2. Competitors. You’ll see it often in threads where members ask for recommendations – where to get a great recipe, which brand makes the best pair of jeans, etc. The optimist in you hopes your brand’s site or blog gets all the referrals. But most of the time a competitor’s name is thrown in as a favorite. It’s an amazing one-glance competitive analysis. It helps opens doorways to new challengers you haven’t heard of, or potential partners to collaborate with. Maybe, just maybe, they’re offering value to your consumers that you haven’t been able to deliver upon yet. It’s worth a little reconnaissance later.
  3. Habits. It’s not always what they say that matters, but when they say it. What time of day are your consumers usually online? You’ll find the more you tailor your content around your community’s general schedule, the more feedback and reactions will follow. On top of timing, you can catch glimpses of other behavioral cues: do they expose any routines or other platforms – checking their email first before arriving at your Facebook page? In the retail experience, are they mostly coming to your page immediately post-purchase, or pre- in order to survey for sale announcements?
  4. Preferences. Preferences offer a more vocal side to habits – how the consumer picks and chooses which content to respond to. You may find that your audience has little patience for videos, but reacts strongly to quick photos. Maybe they like content framed up tutorial-style, where you take on the role of instructor. Or they might prefer a more active role in co-creating content. You’ll start to easily pick up on which content incites the most positive reaction from your community, and therefore the most potential for future campaign success.
  5. Personal attributes. Something as simple as a profile photo can offer a great gauge of your target audience: age range, family life, even hobbies. They’re our most efficient personal expression (which is why you’re personally offended when someone doesn’t have one), and can reveal more qualitative “listening” insight in a visual than the general demographic stats. Is there a cause-related ribbon in their avatar? Are people participating in a trend like celebrity doppelganger? These seemingly insignificant cues could actually give you ideas on how to connect; maybe your own brand can support a popular cause among your community, or participate alongside members in something fun like celebrity doppelganger.

When feedback is sparse, it doesn’t hurt to provoke conversation. Incorporate polls, surveys, and open-ended questions into your content calendar if you’re not doing so already. Engage with your influencers and use them as your constant barometer for the five areas above. Participate in threads as much as possible, trying to draw more details out of concerns, questions, or personal anecdotes.

It’s crucial to remember that social listening is an ongoing practice in idea-mining. Beyond this mental checklist of areas to watch for, always apply the filter of what holds the most potential for further carving a unique territory for your brand in an overcrowded space. Be inspired by what your consumer is telling you today.

This column was originally published June 2, 2011.

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