Community Management, Convince and Convert, Social Business, Social Media ROI

6 Parts of Your Company That Should be Listening to Social Conversations

“Once upon a time, customer contact was centralized around the switchboard, and the phone was the preferred method for communication between companies and customers. When it rang, you answered, because it was likely a customer or a potential customer on the other end of the line. Now, the calls are coming through online, via the social phone.”

That’s wisdom from Radian6 CEO Marcel Lebrun (disclosure: Amber’s employer) about the changing dynamics of communication via the Web, and the importance businesses need to place on paying attention to discussions online via social media listening. And not just the basics.

listen man 6 Parts of Your Company That Should be Listening to Social ConversationsHere are 6 areas of your business that should be listening.

1. Sales

Although social media is rarely a direct sales channel, it can be a fine way to uncover prospects and meet them where they are. Listening programs give you the opportunity to find prospects when the timing is perfect and when they’re actually asking for answers you have.

For example, say you’re the owner of a local home improvement store and you’d like to see a lift in your lawn and garden sales. Monitoring for phrases such as “new lawnmower” or “recommendations for a grill,” can help you, well, be helpful. It’s like consultative selling. But here’s the thing: you’re approaching people when they’re ready for you. You’re focusing solely on hand-raisers who are expressing need through the phrasing of their social communication.

2. Marketing & PR

Marketing and public relations professionals spend a lot of time trying to craft and deliver the perfect message.

Listening helps make sure that the language you’re using as a company is the same language being used by the people you’re hoping to hook. If you’re calling yourself a digital strategy consulting company but your prospective customers know you as an advertising agency, there’s a fundamental disconnect that you can uncover and address. Listening also gives team members ambient awareness about the buzz around their organization and what’s resonating with their community that can not only inform marketing decisions but help anticipate emerging needs.

3. Customer Service

When someone’s microwave goes on the fritz, the 1-800 number is no longer the exclusive conduit for their frustration. Increasingly, individual customers are airing their concerns, questions, and grievances over social media channels, especially if traditional channels prove less than helpful. Listening gives you the ability to find those comments when and where they happen; it also helps you respond quickly and in the medium that your customers are choosing to use.

As listening platforms become more integrated into customer service, keep a lookout for connections with call center systems, customer relationship management (CRM) software, and other information centers that can help track those all-important customer interactions and experiences in social media.

4. Research and Development

Product and service development is a constant, iterative process to respond to the competition and market demands. And every company wants to claim innovation, right? You can fuel your idea engine by harnessing the input, thoughts, and creativity of the online audience. They don’t have to be your customers to give you inspiration!

This is where competitive and industry listening can come into play. Are there unmet needs in your market that a new product or service could help serve? Could you add new features or create an entirely new offering that addresses some of the shortcomings of the competition? Are you customers talking among themselves to suggest improvements or changes you haven’t thought of yet?

5. Human Resources

Human resources isn’t typically the first place most companies think of when discussing social media. But even in passive, information-gathering mode, HR can glean an awful lot from simply paying attention to the discussions that happen online.

The obvious potential here is talent recruiting, in both finding potential employees and examining their online social graphs. HR professionals can search for people in the appropriate sector or with the right titles and responsibilities. They can see how connected and networked those people are online and how they make use of the available social channels. Or they can watch the impact factors that can influence their hiring: talent on the move in the industry, big layoffs, hiring freezes or surges, or key new positions being developed in competing companies.

6. Executives and Management

Based on what company leadership learns through listening, they can identify potential adjustments to the strategic plan, or even to the company vision overall. They can understand market trends through the unfettered viewpoint of the online masses and determine whether they’re behind, ahead of, or riding the curve.

They can even get a sense of the balance between internal culture and external perception and learn whether the two feel like they’re in balance.

How many listeners do you have in your company?

(image by Shutterstock, a Convince & Convert sponsor)

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Convince and Convert Blog  Social Media Strategy and Social Media Consulting » 5 Attributes of a Healthy Real Time Culture 6 Parts of Your Company That Should be Listening to Social ConversationsThis is the fourth in a 7-week blog post series covering themes included in The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More Social - my new book with Amber Naslund, debuting February 1 (pre-order now and win prizes!).

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  • Anonymous

    Really great post, Jay. It’s exciting to see more companies testing what they can do with social media and using it across the entire company. Easier said than done, I know :)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Absolutely easier said than done, and of course most social programs start in marketing or customer service. And that’s okay. The trick is to make sure they don’t stop there too.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Absolutely easier said than done, and of course most social programs start in marketing or customer service. And that’s okay. The trick is to make sure they don’t stop there too.

  • Anonymous

    Really great post, Jay. It’s exciting to see more companies testing what they can do with social media and using it across the entire company. Easier said than done, I know :)

  • Anonymous

    Really great post, Jay. It’s exciting to see more companies testing what they can do with social media and using it across the entire company. Easier said than done, I know :)

  • http://twitter.com/thebrandbuilder Olivier Blanchard

    Excellent advice. The business world needs a lot more of this type of insight into social media integration – helping them move beyond the belief that social communications is primarily a Marketing, PR or digital function. Cheers.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks OB. We appreciate your support. Viva the decentralization of social.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks OB. We appreciate your support. Viva the decentralization of social.

  • http://diyblogger.net/about Dino Dogan

    Thorough post Jay..thnx. Out of curiosity, who is the target audience is for your upcoming book?

    Of course, all of this ties into the fact that the hierarchical nature of corporate world is changing (at least in the world outside of corporations) into a network of peers. Since corps are still VERY hierarchical, they have a hard time adapting. This of course will be their undoing.

    History will repeat itself.

    In USSR, while US was investing in telephones (flat network of peers), USSR was investing in PA systems with wires running all across the vast expanse of Mother Russia (hierarchy). This way the gov could talk AT its citizens and no input was needed from the citizens.

    And while the history is not finished (hehe), this authoritarian approach to governing (or doing business..same thing really) will not stand.

    Anyways…I could go on and on but I just wanted to say I enjoy your work and Im looking fwd to the book :-)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Dino. The book is written for everyone. Some of the sections (like this one) on human resources skew a bit more big company, but almost every example and case study in the book is purposefully geared for small and medium-sized businesses.

      I love that telephone vs. PA analogy. Have you written that as a blog post? If not, would love to see it as a guest post here.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Dino. The book is written for everyone. Some of the sections (like this one) on human resources skew a bit more big company, but almost every example and case study in the book is purposefully geared for small and medium-sized businesses.

      I love that telephone vs. PA analogy. Have you written that as a blog post? If not, would love to see it as a guest post here.

  • http://www.whitevector.com Mikko Rummukainen

    Thanks for this post! I find it quite relevant since at the moment I am writing an in-house paper on the different solutions our social media analysis tool is designed for. One of the things to consider in this paper is exactly who should find each solution useful, and so far we’ve touched upon the same functions due to many of the reasons you listed. Kudos!

    I would agree that listening to social discussions is a very effective method of finding out your customers’ preferences, finding potential customers/markets and even finding inspirational ideas to help your company be more innovative. And as long as there is a sensible process for listening – so that it doesn’t feel like yet another task taking focus off the task at hand – this can be extremely cost-efficient as well.

  • http://www.socialmediaphilanthropy.com Jeff Gibbard

    I think what’s interesting about this post is that its a variation on a conversation that seems to be taking place fairly frequently: What department owns Social Media?

    I think the answer to it based on my experience, your post and common sense, is that no ONE department owns it, it is a powerful tool that will ultimately permeate all aspects of business in some fashion.

    Good stuff! I’ll be sharing this one.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Jeff. You’re absolutely right. Eventually, nobody owns social media, because eventually it becomes a skill, not a job.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Jeff. You’re absolutely right. Eventually, nobody owns social media, because eventually it becomes a skill, not a job.

  • Colin N. Clarke

    Great post, Jay. We continue to advocate “listening” among all the groups you listed. Often times our clients eyes gloss over and they say, “How could we possibly respond from 6 diff depts?” And then they put thier head right back in the sand. Few want to tackle their own internal barriers in order to communicate externally. A status quo thing. We have a lot of work ahead to educate them, posts like yours are EXTREMELY helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Great advice here Jay – smart companies talk less and listen more… and todays social media listening tools can effectively help every aspect of your business.

    Cheers to you : )

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks very much. We envision a day when everyone (or many people at least) in the company, have a listening tool on their computer, as a baked-in desktop or browser app. It’s coming.

  • http://twitter.com/redslice Maria Ross

    Working on rebranding with a client right now that helps HR folks manage and control all of the various new recruiting sources out there, including social media. HR absolutely has to be listening on social media, good call. It’s no longer just enough of a talent recruiting strategy to scour Facebook and post clever Help Wanted Ads on Twitter. It has to be more strategic, coordinating and measureable than than.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Absolutely Maria. And proactive. The best candidates are usually those that aren’t actually looking for a new job.

  • Anonymous

    Great stuff as usual, Jay. Thanks for sharing. What is interesting to see and what we are beginning to see more often is the emerging importance of providing each group a view into the details of the customer engagement. Granted each unit may have specific interests and only want a specific segment of audience data but it’s important that social business collaboration allow for this type of sharing between team and groups. So, although each group may have specific needs and intents for listening and talking with customers, there’s the recognition of the importance for each part of the organization to be involved.

    Thanks for a great post!

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Thanks Jennifer. Death to silos!

  • http://www.ricardobueno.com Ricardo Bueno

    Heh, this conversation sounds familiar ;-)

    But I have to agree with you Jay, the more responsive companies are to responding to the social phone, the happier their customers/fans/and potential customers will be. At my company (Diverse Solutions), we’re increasingly more active on social networks for Sales & Customer Service. Just being there and engaging in conversation with folks makes a HUGE difference (on both ends).

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Yes!! Being there is a big part of it. You can’t take the metaphorical phone off the hook. Radian6 (and Amber) call this “listening at the point of need”. You never know when the social phone is going to ring. Keep your antenna up.

  • http://twitter.com/C_Pappas Christina Pappas

    I like how you laid out the different departments to explain why in its relevant from their point of view but I feel that everyone within a company should have a vested interest in the social conversation about their brand. Freelancers and hired consultants would learn a lot from just following the people they are contracted to work with for instance. And even the technology team and finance group have a vested interest in what is going on about the brand (and what others are doing and talking about) outside of the brick and mortar.

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      100% agree with you. Ultimately, social is a skill, not a job. And the same way we all (almost) have phones on our desk and email accounts, we’ll (eventually) have listening apps on our desktops and mobile devices. We’re trying to put forth a playbook within The NOW Revolution on how to get there, however, and these 6 are (to us at least) the most obvious first phase of decentralization of social listening.

  • http://twitter.com/patmrhoads Pat Rhoads

    Great post Jay. And I have to say that for the most part I agree with you. There is one question I have.

    You’ve said that social will/should become a skill, not a job. If I understand you correctly, you envision a decentralized way of handling social media, where various people from around an organization can all listen to communications received via social media. My question is this: do you also envision that these areas will also directly respond to posts/comments/questions, or would that be done through a social media team or community manager? Here’s why I ask.

    My experience has been that if you do not have a somewhat centralized conduit for corporate communications, the potential for mixed messages or conflicting messages is pretty high. Typically, not everyone knows everything about how the organization wants to communicate, with the exception (hopefully) of those trained to respond to the public on behalf of the org. Having responses or communications posted through spocial media going through staff trained in his type of communications would minimize risks to the organization, just like you don’t have just anyone answering the inbound customer service or public relations phone lines. Make sense?

    (I retyped this about 15 times trying to word it right!)

    • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

      Excellent question, and one we talk about in next week’s post. In short, it’s both. You need official and unofficial ambassadors, with a command and control structure to keep the whole thing humming.

  • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

    Great stuff Jay.
    I love that what you describe above is starting to become more reality today than just talk. We’re still a fair bit away from seeing companies fully take a plunge like this, but we’re on the way.
    Social media can used for so many useful things (both from a company and a user perspective) and I think we’re still only scratching the surface on what can be done. What an exciting time and field to be in.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (http://sysomos.com)

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    Absolutely. We very intentionally tried to create a book that will be valid in 5 years. At that point, some companies will be at this point. Some will be past it. To others, it will still be alien.

    Because it’s so culturally driven, social participation – real participation, not just throwing up a Facebook page – will happen when the company is truly ready, and not before.

  • John Sonnhalter

    Jay
    Good Stuff. Many companies are still too busy trying to talk instead of listening. R&D and HR are the two areas most companies forget about and these could see some immediate benefits if they do indeed listen. Keep the great info coming!

  • John Sonnhalter

    Jay
    Good Stuff. Many companies are still too busy trying to talk instead of listening. R&D and HR are the two areas most companies forget about and these could see some immediate benefits if they do indeed listen. Keep the great info coming!

  • Shami

    Well said Jay & Amber

    We have been using Factualz for a while. It provides excellent and intuitive interface to track all about our brand for a low cost. In addition it is helping us to keep a tab on our competitors too. I would recommend Factualz. try visiting http://www.factualz.com.

  • http://www.jivaldi.com Info

    I still think that businesses tend to fall primarily in one of two groups when it comes to social media. Those that constantly post (specials and such) with no concern for interaction, and those that post constantly (specials and such) with no concern for interaction. Ha! A few astute clients then go on to ask ‘why isn’t anyone interacting’ – when all they do is create 1-way communication. This is tongue in cheek of course, but until they realize that they should be trying to strike up conversations, they won’t get very far.

  • http://jobspert.com/placement-papers John Papers

    Thanks this post..
    keep writing your blog will be more attractive. To Your Success!

  • http://www.benchmarkemail.com/blogs/detail/creating-an-email-marketing-plan-reaching-your-customers Email marketing plan

    I think that you have a great point here as far as the integration of social media and customer service. This relatively new forum gives the customer power to get their concerns across and for you to monitor the effect that this can have and respond quickly.

  • Amy S.

    Hi Jay! I know I’m late to the party, but in a response to Pat Rhoads’ comment (below), you mentioned that his questions about official and unofficial ambassadors would be answered “in next week’s post.” Could you please point me to that link? Thanks. Great stuff. Keep it coming.