Social Media Listening Made Simple

We are over-complicating social media. We, the marketing industry, want to make it this complex and philosophical phenomenon that holds the secret to all marketing success.

It’s a mysterious box filled with ever-evolving technologies and platforms. It’s given birth to a plethora of new behaviors that only the most specialized, social media specialists can understand.

We build up this legend in elite marketing circles. We tell these grand stories to the most senior decisionmakers.

And yet, we’re paralyzed from taking action.

According to a recent IBM study, only 16 percent of CEOs participate in social media.

Our fearless leaders are not listening.

But let’s take a step back for a second. What’s the cause for hesitation? What’s really changed about people’s behavior that’s so difficult to understand?

We talk. And we listen. We share interesting things with others.

This conversation pattern has not changed. Nor has its value to marketers.

The advertising legends from 60 years ago knew how to immerse themselves into this conversation, even in an analog world. Sit in a crowded bar. Walk the streets. Observe people inside of their homes. Herein lies the spark to the next brilliant creative idea.

You could argue that it was, and still is, quite simple.

The Conversation Pattern Today

So what’s changed about the conversation pattern, if not the fundamental elements of talking, listening, and sharing? I distill the difference down to three factors – speed, volume, and open privacy. Together, these three factors have supercharged the way we talk.

We cycle through the same conversation pattern faster, more frequently, and more openly. As a result, we talk more, we listen more, and we share more effectively.

But I need to reiterate this point – we listen more.

The average social media user probably doesn’t realize how much more listening she’s doing in a given day. We take for granted that each time we open up feeds on Facebook and Twitter, or take a journey through YouTube, we are in super high consumption mode. We listen to 100 stories before we say one thing of our own. This was not the case 60 years ago, or even six years ago.

So while most people think that social media has spawned a generation of over-sharers, in fact, we’re more aptly described as the generation of listeners.

The question is why aren’t marketers doing the same?

Maybe Silence Is the Solution

The fallacy of the average social media strategy is that it usually starts with building a communication platform for your brand. We jump to the conclusion that we need to build our own virtual soapbox, among the million other soapboxes, just so we can be heard louder than the rest.

Of the top six ways that Asian brands use social media, the focus is still on pushing or controlling a message:

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And while it’s important to say something that’s meaningful, entertaining, or useful – a lot of brands are skipping the natural order of the conversation pattern. Listening has lost its luster. We all want to jump straight to making good virals.

Why don’t brands listen 100 times more than they talk? Is it too difficult to execute? Is the business value not clear? Do we not trust what we hear in social media?

Coming from someone who sells social media insights as a professional service, I’m going to tell you that it doesn’t always have to be complicated to listen. You don’t always have to buy the quantified research package if you just want to have a peek. In the same way we used to go sit at a crowded bar and just listen, social media allows you to do the exact same thing from your computer. (Alcohol optional.)

Sometimes all you need is 15 minutes to do this:

Just like sitting at a crowded bar, oftentimes the side conversations are just as insightful as the content that brought you all together.

Search on your local micro blog to get the pulse
Just like hitting the streets, doing a quick search on Twitter or Weibo can tell you what’s buzzing in real time.

Take a visit into the niche communities
Just like visiting a family’s home, sometimes you need to go deep into an interest group (e.g., cars, mothers, shoes) to understand the most burning issues among passionate consumers.

It’s predicted that in the next five years, 57 percent of CEOs will participate in social media. Let’s hope in the meantime that 100 percent will start to listen. It’s really not that hard.

Home page image via Shutterstock.

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