Listening & Understanding with Social Intelligence Tools
When I was a kid, my parents always encouraged me to be a good listener. They wanted me to listen to them, of course, but also to teachers, other adults, my siblings and playmates. Little did they know that one day listening would become a big part of the business I’m in.
Listening is a hot topic in Web analytics today primarily because companies in all types of industries are coming to terms with social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter give customers a place to talk, connect and share their feelings and ideas about anything and everything, including brands and businesses. Because they don’t control the conversation, many companies aren’t sure what these new channels mean to their business. (Here’s our fundamental perspective on the issue.)
Specifically, organizations are not sure what to do first with social media. Jump right in or keep out of the conversation altogether? Quietly seek friends among the current base? Perhaps advertise a little?
These are tricky questions to answer. Listening is a great place to start, because it helps companies understand who their customers are, what they want, and how they feel about current offerings. Just like my folks believed listening would make me a better person and help me learn, businesses can better understand their online marketing and service opportunities by listening to what people – past and current customers, future customers, advocates, influencers – are already saying about them.
Technology is part of the story. Listening software and tools are attracting lots of attention. A recent Forrester reporter described the evolution beyond “basic brand monitoring tools” and toward technology that can “turn social media data into actionable insight.” That’s the heart of effective analytics, in our view.
The end game is what Forrester calls “social intelligence – the concept of informing marketing and business decisions with insights found in social media data.” To get there, “the technology and analytics infrastructures that mine and analyze social media to deliver insight … become essential tools within the enterprise.”
We can’t argue with that perspective, but technology isn’t a silver bullet here. Just because technology enables you to listen and can notify you when your brand pops up in an online conversation, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically have the insights you need to improve your online operations or strengthen connections to customers.
Like analytics more generally, listening means committing resources, opening up to new ideas and perspectives, and being prepared to action on insights. Yes, you need technology to listen, but you need to people to learn and decide the best course of action based on what you’re hearing. In our experience, few companies put enough people behind their analytics technology.
Gatorade, for instance, has created a “mission control center” where a number of full-time associates monitor Twitter and Facebook, 24 hours a day, using tools to “aggregate and weigh real-time opinions.” They may reach out when customers are looking for more information, but seem to be thoughtful about jumping in too quickly or intrusively. That’s good listening. It’s also important to note that the effort is focused on the big idea of the business – which is to sell more sports drinks. All analytics efforts should be grounded in the reality of the business.
Here’s another example, from the usually very chatty media industry:
News organizations are getting more scientific about studying the value of … social media services… The Washington Post … is looking for patterns that could illuminate whether certain types of stories are more appealing to audiences in social networks … and has started compiling a daily tracking report showing what social networks are driving audiences to the Post and what those users are reading.
Again, that’s good listening and, because it’s linked to core business objectives, effective analytics.
Both Gatorade and Washington Post recognize that they are just getting started in the listening business. That’s fitting because social media users are a constantly moving target. Listening isn’t something to be done for a short time or during a one-off initiative. New media requires long-term ears.
One other point about listening and understanding: because social networking is in its infancy and all the hype is distracting, companies may be tempted to overlook the basics of analytics. You must keep “listening” to the activity from your core online efforts, like traffic patterns on your web site and the effectiveness of your email campaigns. Listening to Facebook and Twitter is not a shortcut to analytics success. But, listening can lead to understanding, which can allow you to properly weigh and balance the impact of social media on your web site.
These same principles apply for smaller organizations. You don’t need advanced software or daily tracking reports or a huge technology budget, but rather only Twitter and Facebook accounts, maybe a few freeware tools and the willingness to invest some time. In return, you can hear firsthand what people are saying about your company, products and industry. Some consider this an alternative to focus groups. The next step – figuring out the best way to connect with them to grow your business – is what social media is all about. That’s why it’s so popular with small businesses.
Think about it – if word of mouth is the best marketing there is, you have to have your ears open to understand how well you’re doing and how you might get out the right word to your target listeners. It’s not a stretch to say that you have to listen before you can say anything people will want to hear.
Or, as my parents would put it, listening helps you learn and then you can join the conversation with something intelligent to say.