Listen Up! Establishing A Small Business Listening Strategy


Social listening isn't just a strategy for enterprise-level organizations. There isn't a business, organization, or individual who couldn't benefit from opening their ears up to feedback and recognizing its value.

If you work with small businesses or are part of a small business, it's important to make listening a core part of your marketing efforts. Developing a listening strategy is often the first step. After all, how can you reach the right people at the right time without knowing what they're talking about in the first place?

Getting Started

Every business, no matter what its size, struggles with the idea of establishing a strategy for listening.

There's the question of what to listen for, how to actually listen in the first place (it's gotta be more than just feedback surveys, remember!), and what you'll actually DO with the feedback once you have it.

Start in the place where all successful strategies begin: goal setting.

Sit down with representatives from various parts of your organization, or if you're a one-person operation, start brainstorming. Think about problems that you could solve by getting more feedback. Imagine enhancements to your products or services that could benefit from a better idea of what your customers want or value. Identify the problems you know you're struggling with. Write it all down - no matter how audacious it might seem at first - and then pick a few key ones to focus on.

TIP: I'm a huge fan of SMART marketing goal setting if you need some guidelines.

Make Your Plan

After you've set your goals, develop a plan for how you'll collect your feedback. Remember to consider listening from multiple angles, which means:

  • Train your staff to listen. Develop a routine with your team to ask and listen for feedback. Record it at point of sale systems as well as points of contact. (More on that later in this post!)
  • Cull your contact points. Blog comments, social media posts, use of your hashtag, and reviews on sites like Yelp are all examples of contact points with your brand. Check and catalog them regularly.
  • Developinternal collection methods. Whether it's a shared Google Doc with comments you've overheard that week in conversations with customers, an emailed report from a social listening tool, or something more structured, find a way to collect and store the feedback you gain.
  • Use online listening tools. Social Mention, Addictomatic, Klout, and Google Alerts are all great options to collect feedback.

Not sure what to listen for? This post gives some smart tips on the types of information that might be most valuable.

After you've accumulated a nice library of feedback, it's time to digest it. What trends do you notice? What insights have you gained? How can you apply this feedback to the goals you set in the first place?

Engrain Listening Into Your Culture

Alright, so you've tried listening and you LOVED the insight you gained - now what? It's time to make it a habit.

Most small business owners feel overwhelmed by the idea of having to incorporate listening into their operations. It feels daunting to add yet another task to the list (isn't running a business enough?). But the truth is that it can actually save you time, hassle, and frustration in the long run. Just think: if you would have known about a problem sooner, wouldn't it have been so much easier to solve?

Here are some strategies you can apply to make listening a part of what you do every day:

  • Be open. Start by encouraging an open dialogue between your customers and your staff. Train your team to ask questions that lead to discussions that can give you greater insight. Whether they are helping a customer place an order or are helping with a customer service concern, your employees are a critical touch point with your brand.
  • Make the ask for feedback. Send follow-up surveys, create polls, let customers vote on new additions to your inventory, or ask open ended questions on social media. Techniques like these show that you're open to receiving feedback, which is a favorable brand trait. Not to mention, being collaborative in nature with your customers can support a stronger sales process.
  • Schedule it. Some business owners do well by scheduling time daily or weekly to listen to what's being said about their business. Don't be afraid to set up a reminder, block off time in your morning routine, or make it an item on the operational to do list. Do what you can to be consistent.
  • Live up to your value. The organizations that don't listen to their employees or stakeholders often struggle with listening to outside influencers, too. Instill listening as a core value by walking the walk - create a culture where people involved in your business feel that they are heard.

Negative Reviews Happen - But Here's How To Deal

"97% of consumers say they read reviews about local businesses.

[BIA Kelsey]"

If you think about the last time you had to make a decision about where to go for dinner or which auto repair shop to take your vehicle to, chances are you did a search for businesses in your region - and you paid attention to what others were saying about them.

Search results pages are filled with more than just pages of your website. They also contain online ratings and reviews, which if responded to quickly and with care, can help your business build credibility.

Reviews are a critical part of the small business marketing ecosystem and will likely pop up as you start putting your strategy in motion. The key thing is to make reviews work for you.

You can discover failings in your customer service process, gain insight into what your customers really want, and learn more about what your business does best. But you have to be honest about your flaws before you can fix them - and that means don't discount the negative feedback.

And when those negative comments do pop up, here are some ways to deal with it effectively:

Critical reviews can also give you valuable insight on areas of your business where you can improve. We all like to think our businesses are perfect (after all, we're often the ones who end up building them from the ground up!). But in reality, there are always things we can do to better serve our customers.

Also, don't forget to be your own advocate! Positive reviews can offset negative ones, so encourage the satisfied customers you know and love to leave a review. You have fans and champions. Sometimes they take the next step to shout your praises from the rooftops without a prompt - but it doesn't hurt to remind them that you appreciate it when they leave a review.


If you own a small business, you know that word of mouth plays a large part in your success. You know that people make decisions based on what they hear about you, the recommendations of friends, or reviews on trusted sites.

Customers who are talking about you, reviewing you, and sharing your business information are ALL influencers, no matter the size of their network. It makes sense to find ways to connect and learn from them - and that starts with having a listening strategy of your own.

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* Adapted lead image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by benjaminasmith

About the Author: Mandy Pennington

Mandy (Boyle) Pennington is the Director of Internet Marketing at Net Driven. She is also a published freelance writer, lecturer at Marywood University, and co-founder of NEPA BlogCon. She enjoys theater, not taking herself seriously, and all things food.

Net Driven

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