If you've been involved in social media for business for anything more than a minute or two, you've probably heard a lot of talk about "listening". Listening to the conversations about you and your brand is a VERY important part of effective social media marketing. It's a fundamental. It's where you learn about your customers, identify opportunities and find your on-ramps to engagement. Listening goes beyond keywords and mentions however. That would be monitoring. The difference here is insight. Drawing insight from your monitoring elevates your efforts to listening and then becomes something of great value.
The question then becomes what is the insight? What are you reflecting to your audience? What is your audience reflecting back to you and to those around them? Listening will help you reveal the different dimensions of this reflection and uncover areas of discrepancy and hopefully alignment.
1) What You Are Saying To Your Customers
Likely you have spent a great amount of time and money carefully crafting your marketing messages. You've agonized over your tag lines and site copy. You've perfected how you speak to your customers. Your tweets are carefully crafted and your Facebook updates are on point. You have a communications plan in place that lays out how you respond to your customers on blogs and other un-owned properties. This is one dimension of your total social reflection. It also happens to be the ONLY dimension you can control. Much like a gal getting ready for a date – great care should be taken with the face you wish to put forward. What people think about it however is a completely different story.
2) What Your Customers Are Saying To You
The second dimension of your reflection comes in the form of your customers commentary to you. TO you. It often comes in the form of feedback collected during market research, customer surveys or even direct communication on a social network or platform. These are things that people are saying when directly engaging with your brand. They will likely tell you the truth if you ask. But there is going to be a large percentage of your customer base that won't say anything unless asked. So you have to wonder what they are reflecting about your brand when you're NOT asking. Important to keep in mind is that this reflection is simply a representation of the what you are "putting out there" combined with their experience with you. This mash-up ultimately makes up their perception.
3) What Your Customers Are Saying About You
The third dimension of your reflection is made up of what your customers are saying ABOUT you. Note the critical difference here is that this is not TO you. This is ABOUT you. This is the piece of the reflection that your customers are actually putting in front of their audience. This could be their friends, their family or coworkers – anyone they talk to whether it be on or off line. What they are saying about you is going to be a mixture of what you are presenting, their experiences with you and your product/service mixed in with their motivations in the particular situation the communication is taking place. This is going to be particularly important if they are an influencer.
Listening data and information gathering can help provide insight in to each of these dimensions. The trick then is to take that data and derive insight from it. Then compile it in a way that allows you to see your "Reflection" in it's entirety.
You've now compiled a pretty accurate look at the current state of your brand. Now you need to develop a picture of your desired state. The delta between these two points is ultimately what needs to be targeted. How can you move current reflection to more closely resemble desired reflection?
As an example. Your organization touts itself as an organization that puts its customers first. Customer-centric. After doing your homework you find that either you're known for poor customer service or perhaps even more strongly for something completely different like low prices. If desired state then is to become known as being customer-centric and you realize you're actually known for lowest prices – you know you've got some perception shifting to do.
This work is intensive. This work takes time. And it can mean making some fairly fundamental shifts in how you do business. But facing reality square in the face and being honest about who you are as an organization and what you need to change is the only way you can maintain relevancy. You owe it to your business to go through this process and ultimately and learn and grow from it.
Kristy Bolsinger is a Senior Associate at PwC in Seattle, WA. She has previously worked at Ant's Eye View (acquired by PwC in 2012), and RealNetworks (GameHouse). Prior to her time at RealNetworks, and Ant's Eye View - Kristy was working as a Social Media Marketing Consultant and completing her MBA at Willamette University. She maintains a social media blog and can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.