Why Online Listening is More Important than Ever

What’s the biggest faux pas amongst all of social media’s best practices? Apart from choosing to not partake at all, it’s that the majority of us aren’t listening and those who are listening aren’t even doing a half way decent job of it. It borders on embarrassing. To say that most businesses are clueless when it comes to active listening and participating in conversations online could be considered a vast understatement.

I attended a conference recently where an eager small business owner was actively promoting his site’s Twitter account. With every business card he passed out he was sure to add a “don’t forget to follow” or a similar variation of the be sure to check us out on Twitter pitch. His enthusiasm was through the roof, but his execution was poor at best. All the Tweets appeared to be 100% automated, were repeated word for word every three hours throughout the day, and only promoted content on his website. The worst part was that there wasn’t a single @reply. I asked him about his methodology and his excuse was that he didn’t have any free time to have conversations.

Really? No time?

His priorities are completely backwards. He’s eager to tell people about his account and blast his followers with automated direct messages, but isn’t willing to put in the time to use search.twitter (which is an absolute must). He’s earning a big fat F in the listening department. It’s almost as if he views Twitter as his own personal megaphone to spread his brands marketing message. His intentions may be for the best, but his voice is getting lost amongst the vastness of the social web.

Active listening is the secret to breaking through the clutter and standing above the noise.

How do we improve our ability to listen?

The first step is to find a set of tools to make the job easier. It’s may be extremely difficult/impossible to read every blog post and online status update related to your brand and industry, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Fortunately there’s a wide assortment of services available to fit any size budget.

Free options

Google Blog Search
Google Alerts
Social Mention

Under $100 per month


Enterprise level

Alterian SM2
Radian 6
Visible Technologies

After identify the services that fit your needs, the real challenge comes in the discipline of using them day in and day out. The social web never sleeps and it never stops. There’s a continuous cycle of information that needs to be sorted through. If you’re a large company, it’s wise to hire an agency or a full time community manager and possibly a full team of professionals to handle the work. Small business owners have to learn how to leverage their time and dedicate at least a small portion of the day towards listening. The good news is that if you’ve taken the effort to monitor online conversations and are actively responding on any level, odds are that you’re already outperforming the competition.

Learn to listen and keep working at. The commitment is steep, but so are the opportunities.

Image credit: Emily Kendall

  1. It’s so true that listening is probably the most important part of social media for companies. Social media has given everyone a voice and those people want to know that they’re being heard. That can mean having conversations with people, answering questions, responding to customer complaints or even just listening and taking action on what you hear (like making product improvements based on customer feedback).
    There was actually a really interesting in article in TechCrunch yesterday about how customers are more likely to purchase from a company that answers their questions on Twitter than from those that don’t. See: http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/29/users-say-theyre-more-likely-to-buy-if-a-business-answers-their-question-on-twitter/
    Listening really can be the most importnat part of doing social media.

    Also, thanks so much for recommending Sysomos here!!

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  2. Thanks for the comment Sheldon. I’m a big fan of the work you’re doing over at Sysomos.

    The TechCrunch article is just more proof that monitoring and responding to questions can help improve the bottom line.

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