To the late entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes, the art of conversation was founded on listening. For anyone managing a brand, ensuring audiences feel heard and understood is an essential component to success.
The key is not only to listen, but also to know what we are listening for. In this way, we can meet people where they are and provide them with what they need in any given moment.
This doesn’t just apply to face-to-face interactions. It also applies to our social media strategies. Most companies practice some form of social monitoring, which involves determining where and how their brands are mentioned. This is an important, quantitative part of the listening process – but periodically scanning Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is only a first step.
Ultimately, our qualitative goal should be to participate in the conversations themselves, even setting the tone by inviting and encouraging our customers to interact with us, keeping our brands relevant no matter what is going on in the world. The research involved in social monitoring helps us come to these discussions prepared, while sharper listening skills – garnered from standard conversation techniques – make that knowledge more applicable.
Social media will always remain central to building and maintaining a brand in a digital world. As such, the time is now to brush up on your social listening skills. Here’s how to get started.
Digital Interactions Are Still Conversations
On the face of it, this advice goes against everything we tell the tech-addicted generation of today. But as a business owner, you may not actually meet many of the people who engage with your brand online. It’s important to make a strong impression whenever you can.
Monitoring tells you what your audiences want. Whether they put it nicely or bluntly, you can gain an understanding of how they felt about a product rollout, which customer service experience made them smile last week, or how you handled a situation they were not so impressed with. Take a step back before you jump in. Even if whatever has happened cannot be “fixed,” consider how can you build rapport with your audience around a situation.
If you see a conversation going on in your mentions after uploading a post, join in. Appeal to humor, ask questions that demonstrate your understanding of what is being said, and offer to take the conversation offline – including when you’re being complimented.
A good approach to provoke these discussions is by posting polls or inviting public comment or multimedia submissions. The latter, in particular, puts social media at the heart of your brand’s relationship-building strategy.
The Right Connection for Each Moment
Keeping abreast of trends, both in your industry and society as a whole, is so essential that it should go without saying. It is particularly important to stay on top of news in your sector, be it an important merger or acquisition or a new service solution, and have a thoughtful perspective at the ready to share with audiences.
Still, our advice to clients is that a brand being itself is much the same as a person being themselves. Few people would go to a dinner party and expand upon a subject they know nothing about – it’s the quickest way to get tossed aside.
Engaging with the public on social media is a balancing act between responding to situations where audiences want or need to hear from you with empathy and sensitivity, and staying faithful to your brand’s image and expertise.
This means not trying too hard to be heard on an issue.
It also calls for leading with humility, not defensiveness, when your brand gets called out by its audience for any reason.
Cut Out the Competition
Being an effective communicator takes several elements, including making the person or audience you’re communicating with feel uplifted and supported by your presence, and absorbing the other’s words and being present in their ideas – rather than retreating into your mind to craft a response the way a debater would.
The best communicators are supportive and transparent, seeing interactions as exchanges rather than competition.
Social listening is about your audience being heard, which in turn means your messages have greater strength and resonance. We do ourselves a favor, both personally and professionally, to become more present, active listeners, raising the standard of dialogue overall.