Social Media Success Starts with Listening

November 16, 2010

The grandmotherly maxim, “The good Lord gave you two ears but only one mouth for a reason” applies to social interactions in general, but is nowhere more critical than in social media marketing. A common mistake in social media is that companies will dive right in, setting up a Twitter account or Facebook page and blasting out tweets and status updates about their latest company news and new product announcements—and then wonder why their Twitter following isn’t growing and there’s no interaction on their Facebook page.

Social Media ListeningIt’s not just that most people aren’t waiting on eggshells in eager anticipation of XYZ Company’s latest PR announcement, it’s that the marketers and PR people at XYZ didn’t take the time to figure out what their prospective buyers and influencers do really care about and want to discuss. Without this information, the company’s social media pronouncements appear off-topic, unsolicited and out of touch.

So how exactly does a company “listen?” Whether you’re just getting a social media program started or are trying to revive a flagging effort, here’s a process that will tune your social media marketing efforts for greater success.

Find out who’s talking. Use social media monitoring tools to find the people who are talking about your company, your competitors, and key industry terms. Social Mention, Alterian’s SM2 Freemium and Google blog search are helpful free tools, and a growing number of commercial suites are available. These tools will reveal who’s talking about your topics of interest, where online they are talking, and what they’re saying.

Filter to find the influencers. Your initial searches will inevitably pick up a lot of “noise”–someone mentioning an important term, but only in an isolated, off-handed way. For example, your company may be mentioned in a tweet or status update that’s something like “Had lunch with my friend from XYZ corp yesterday.” Filter out the noise and highlight those who mention your company name, product name(s), competitors or key industry terms with some frequency. These individuals may not all be true influencers, but they are worthy of further investigation.

Follow the influencers. Just because you’ve identified influential social media users in your industry doesn’t necessarily mean you should immediately start talking. Follow them on Twitter. Subscribe to their RSS feeds in a reader. Join the same LinkedIn groups. Listen to what they are saying before jumping in.

Promote select influencers. Once you have an idea of who your true current or potential advocates may be, promote their content—whether it’s about you or just interesting industry news or commentary. Retweet them. Tag them on social bookmarking sites. Endorse them via Twitter’s follow Friday.

Contribute to the conversation. Thoughtfully and non-promotionally comment on your influencers’ blogs and/or LinkedIn discussions. Ask and answer questions. Don’t try to “sell,” but rather to establish a relationship built on the groundwork laid in the previous two steps. Share your own industry-related content. Focus on being social, and on being an industry resource.

With this foundation in place, the conversation can naturally turn a bit more commercial (though still not “hard sell”). The influencers will notice that you’ve been hanging around, saying some nice things, contributing to some interesting discussions. They may be willing to help you, as long it also enhances their image and helps their audiences. “I’m from XYZ Corp, and we sell blah blah” isn’t interesting, but “I’m from XYZ Corp, and we’ve got some ideas for simplifying network security and reducing costs” is.

Social media marketing is about earning your audience’s attention. By listening first, then contributing helpful information based on what your prospects and key influencers are discussing, you’ll be seen as an asset to the community and a valued contributor, rather than just another vendor schlepping its goods.

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One Response

  1. All great advice in here Tom.
    I think one of the most important points you hit on here is to not try to sell to the “influencers” but instead to build a relationship. By selling to them it seems more like a business only relationship, but if you actually build a rapport with some of these people and get them on your side they will be more likely to help support you and your cause because they really want to. I think that’s a key to having influencers, have them be honest and open and want to help you, not just feel like they have to help you.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

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