Social media has given your customers a voice. This could be positive for your business if you are listening, learning and taking action or bad if you are not.
If you’re listening closely you’ll learn a lot about what your customers like about your brand and what they don’t. You will be empowered to step in to address minor complaints before they bloom into major issues and will be able to nip unfounded negative rumours in the bud. But if you’re not listening, a negative social media post that could easily have been dealt with can blossom into a reputational headache.
Listening to social media conversation is somewhat more challenging than it sounds because of the sprawl of channels you need to manage as well as the volume of conversations you may need to address. So where do you start? One important point is that listening to social media isn’t prohibitively expensive, but it does demand some commitment of human and financial resources.
You need to consider how important it is to your business and how much budget you are willing to earmark for social media efforts. You should go into social media with a clear idea of what you hope to achieve so that you can benchmark and measure it for return on investment.
It is also important to note that listening and responding to social media must be a goal that the whole organisation aligns behind. The subjects that your customers will discuss about your company online will cover nearly every aspect of your business, brand and customer experience.
Their conversations will be relevant to every part of your business from sales to customer care to logistics to billing to R&D or merchandising. If you decide to centralise your listening function with the marketing or PR department, it is essential that they have access to people in every department who can give them information and respond to customers.
Once you have an idea of your budget, you can begin assessing your operational options. One is to run your social media listening tools and processes yourself; the other is to outsource to a social media or public relations agency. Though you could outsource responding to social media issues as well, this isn’t preferable because it amounts to outsourcing your customer care. Outsourcing may be slightly pricier than building an in-house capability, but the agency will have the tools and skills to do your social media monitoring for you in an efficient manner. This can be helpful when you don’t have the skills or headcount to do the work yourself.
The other option is to run your own social media monitoring process. The caveat here is that it is not a junior role suitable for a clerk or an intern. It needs to be entrusted to someone with the knowledge of your organisation and the access to the right people who deal with all sorts of reputational, brand and customer service issues.
It is also a full-time job, especially in larger companies. For some consumer organisations, it may even need a dedicated team. Don’t make the mistake of appending it to a PR or marketing manager’s job description: either they will not have the time to handle the social media workload thoroughly or it will engulf their working hours and get in the way of their primary jobs.
The cost of social media listening can be calculated by adding the time of your team to the cost of your tools. For some small businesses, something as simple as Tweetdeck and a few minutes each hour each day will suffice. Larger companies will need a more robust toolset, such as Radian6 technology, and a dedicated focus on monitoring social channels. //www.accelerationmedia.co.za/online
The costs are relatively modest, given how important social media is becoming in the reputation and brand management mix in nearly every company.
The question shouldn’t be whether to listen to the social web, but which approach to doing so will work best for your business.
Gordon Geldenhuys is the online reputation management product manager at Acceleration Media.
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