Social Media: Step One Start Listening

Using Social Media and Web 2.0 Tools to Listen

The hype around social media over the last few years has pushed people, and organsations into the adoption of tools they don’t fully understand in order to keep up with competitors or industry leaders. This has led to many failed social media initiatives. No one argues that social media tools aren’t a great way to get the word out about all aspects of your work and social life. Depending on whether you are a private or public company, a government organsaition or just an individual with thoughts you want to share, social media can help you reach your audience.Why is it then that so many organisations are failing with social media?

The number one reason in my opinion, is lack of preparation. Essentially, organisations don’t research the medium correctly before jumping in. I’m not talking about expensive research like focus groups, or independent research. Researching social media is a matter of “listening”. Organisations simply don’t take the time to listen. Listening is the first step in any social media policy and if you skip the first step your initiatives are doomed.

Let’s bring it back to basics
If social media is an online conversation, which it is, then let’s apply the rules of conversation. To be a good conversationalist you have to be a good listener. Good conversationalists do it without thinking. Let’s say you are meeting a group, (e.g. at the pub, at a dinner party or attending a business luncheon). If the group is deep in conversation when you get there, what do you do? You smile, say hello and introduce yourself.

You then sit down and start listening.

You pick up on the topic of the conversation, you listen to the tone of the conversation to see if people are serious or having fun, and you pick out the people with the most influence on the conversation (or those that are most interesting to talk). You then start formulating your own responses on the topic, based on what you have listened to and your previous experience and opinions.Only then do you join the conversation. If social media is a conversation, why wouldn’t we approach that conversation with the same process?

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus (Greek philosopher associated with the Stoics, AD 55-c.135)

Luckily Social Media provides us with a multitude of tools to allow us to listen to the online conversation.
If you are a traditionalist, social media tools can be used in conjunction with older research tools to better understand stakeholder groups such as businesses, consumers, or citizens. In today’s world these tools are vital for gaining real-time insights into what the public and businesses are interested in, or are talking about. Unlike focus groups and occasional surveys you can conduct ongoing monitoring of your target markets’ conversations with each other.

What are you listening out for?

We assume you understand your customers and your industry well enough to know what to listen for, and the keywords that customers and competitors might use. However if you are interested in looking forward, and understanding future trends, future customer preferences and the future competition, running trusted consulting tools like the “5 forces” and “PEST analysis” can help you identify what terms and trends you should be listening out for. (For more information on these tools contact me directly)

Tools – Online Community

Setting up and running an online community website (using forums, chat rooms and discussion boards), is generally considered the most effective way to listen to customers. However this can be a considerable undertaking and developing a good community around your services can take a long time and I would argue you need to be using simpler listening tools for a while in order to understand the medium well. Another more cost effective and less time consuming option is to set-up and run an online community group on a social network such as Facebook or Linkedin.

You can start listening straight away with some of the free or paid for Enterprise tools that are currently on the market. Our clients (local government and small and medium businesses) by and large find the free tools more than adequate for their early social media needs.

Enterprise Monitoring Tools
Enterprise monitoring tools can be expensive but are being used more and more by larger corporations to understand what people are saying about their brand. There are many Enterprise Monitoring tools on the market, of which Radian6 is probably the most well-known.

Enterprise Tools

Free Tools

To get started, we recommend listening with some of the many free tools that are available online. Each person in your organisation can use these tools to listen more closely to what is happening in their specific area of expertise, to keep on top of latest trends relevant to their job and to find out what their customers are most interested in.

We have listed some of the best known tools below.

Provide fast and relevant search results by allowing employees to search specific pages only

Allows you to get feeds of information from chosen sites on a single page

Real-time social media analysis search and analysis. Like Google Alerts but for social media.

Good for researching trends or to find out what people are talking about online in real-time.

A great way to find out what industry peers around the world think and to get advice

This tool allows you to search what people in Facebook are talking about without having to login in.

So there you have it, step one of your social media strategy, start listening!

If you use any other tools that you highly recommend, please feel free to add them in the comments below and tell us how you use them to listen.

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Susan Bregman

Third-party Twitter applications like HootSuite let users follow conversations by setting up searches by keyword, hashtag, or user name. And if you use the built-in link shortener, you can track clicks.


thanks susan for the addition, yes the lit goes on! this blog is really an intro to those getting used to social media – i tend to try to get people to listen for a while rather than jumping in