Improving the eyes and ears of your company

Most of us gossip, as it is human nature to sometimes avoid confrontation. We patiently await certain people to leave the room, before unloading our concealed opinion of them without restraint. Nothing new so far, huh?

The same goes for your customers: what people truly think of your business might be different from what they tell you on the phone or at the store. In conversation with you, decent customers express themselves in a polite, toned down manner. But will you ever really know what is on their mind?

Luckily, with the rise of online media, it is possible to discover what some of your customers gossip about. Their raw opinion might not always be pretty to read, but it does point your business in the right direction.

Tracking gossip among your customers is commonly called social listening – the main topic of the article you are about to read.

So, where should you keep your ear to the ground? And how do you make use of the information you retrieve through social listening? Let’s dive right in.

Get the full picture

Obviously, in the first place, you should pay attention to what customers say to you directly – questions they ask, complaints they file. This is valuable input to improve your business with. What is often overlooked, though, is that some people also – or only – talk about your business when you are not in the room, proverbially speaking.

Companies that aim to understand their customers’ needs, at any given moment, are usually the best at what they do. This is where they get their info:

Social media

Websites that feature user-generated content and interaction are a good place to start to look for gossip about your business or any related topic.

Here is an overview of the most important social media platforms, and how to use them for social listening:

Facebook – It shouldn’t come to you as a surprise that people post and discuss just about anything on Facebook nowadays. A rich source of customer intel, you might assume. Unfortunately, the majority of the content on Facebook is only shared among friends, so you can’t get to that. Some people choose to share their content publicly, though. Go to Facebook’s search bar, type in your company’s name or other related terms, and see what pops up every now and then.

Twitter – Despite not being the most popular social media platform, Twitter is still a gold mine for social listening. By default, every post on Twitter is public and searchable. Also, the 280 character limit forces users to choose their words more carefully. This makes it easier for you to scan through many people’s posts and retrieve a lot of useful information on a daily basis.

Forums – Aside from the countless one-topic forum websites run by companies, fan clubs, local communities and the entertainment business, there are also forum platforms that cover just about any topic you can think of. Reddit is probably the largest and most popular multi-topic forum on the internet. User-generated content on Reddit is searchable, and quite elaborate and witty by nature. Chances are that some of it is valuable to your business.

Search trends

Another thing to keep an eye on are popular search queries. What are people looking up today? And do these search trends relate to your business somehow?

Google, the most used search engine in the world, has made it easy for you to be in full control, with its Trends website. This user-friendly dashboard lets you tap into Google’s search reports, by country and by category, giving you an overview of what people are crawling the web for. It even has a feature that will let you run a customizable, realtime search trends wall. Put it on a second screen in the background at the office, so you and your co-workers will never miss the latest search trends.

News media

Last but not least, stay in the loop of what traditional news outlets, like newspapers and TV stations, are broadcasting.

When the media decides to run a story on you, or something related to your business, the item will rapidly reach a large audience. Thus, depending on the contents of the media coverage, you will either greatly benefit from the free publicity or have a PR crisis on your hands.

In case of a PR crisis, you probably want to get ahead of the story and fix the narrative. Don’t make any rash decisions, though. Before you get involved publicly, you should first get a full picture of the situation. Locate the root cause, closely monitor how the story unfolds minute by minute, assess what the impact is to your business, and carefully consider the different scenarios available to you, with all its pros and cons. Calm and collected.

It doesn’t hurt to scan the other headlines in the media as well, the ones that are unrelated to your business. After all, these are the main stories everyone is thinking and talking about at the moment – stories that might also be top of mind for your customers. When you pay no attention to what else is going on in the world, you risk your carefully planned publications and events to be overshadowed by the big news, or even to be inappropriate.

Apply what you’ve learned

So far, you have monitored the world around you: what is currently on people’s radar? Does a story spin out of control or is it contained? Is the exposure in your favor or not? Up to this point, you haven’t acted on it yet, and that’s clever. Be well-informed and well-prepared first. It will greatly benefit the public conversation when you listen before you engage.

There comes a time to act, though, based on what you have observed, like responding to bad press or joining the conversation about a rising trend. In your approach, be sure to show people that you have done your homework, and that it is undeniably clear that you are aware of their concerns or understand their excitement.

You are not one of those companies that blindly ride the wave of popular hashtags and other opportunities to quickly reach a large audience, with the monthly turnover target in mind. You want your company’s contribution to be credible and have a long-lasting effect. Closely listening to what customers are saying to you and each other, makes it easier – and also a more satisfying experience – for you to build a vibrant community and to get better at content marketing. Read more about those topics in a different section of this website.