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Social-Listening: 5 Ways To Really Engage With Your Social Media Audience

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What do you consider social-media marketing? For most businesses and brands, the answer is simple: an opportunity to publish relevant content, grow your follower base, and generate both thought leadership and engagement.

But what if we told you that in limiting yourself to this definition, you’re missing out on what might be the most important part of social media marketing?

Everyday, countless members of your target audience discuss topics that relate to your brand, either directly or indirectly. They don’t care whether you hear about it or not, and they’re not taking special steps to comment and discuss their topics of interest on your social media channels.

To engage this audience, you have to know where to find these conversations, and how to engage with them. In other words, you have to engage in social listening. It sounds reasonable, but only few brands do it; in fact, only 24% of businesses engaged in social listening in 2015. Don’t be one of those people, and build your social listening strategy using these 5 steps.

1) Prioritize Social Listening

Should you really spend a significant part of your resources browsing through social media posts rather than posting your own? While most brands understand the general value of social listening, they don’t quite get just how important it can be to business success. The answer to that question, though, is a clear yes.

Consider Twitter. Of all the Tweets about your brand, only 30% actually include your Twitter handle. Even more importantly, only 9% use the @ in addition to your handle. In other words, 91% of updates that you should know about will never show up in your notifications. If you don’t search for them yourself, you may never know about them.

In addition, if your goal is to grow your brand awareness, you should think beyond your brand and toward your industry. Experienced content marketers already know about the importance of reaching beyond promotion and toward thought leadership.

If you can find relevant discussions within your industry, the value of injecting thoughtful and valuable information without directly selling your product is immense. Of course, that’s impossible to do if you don’t know how to find these conversations.

2) Find Relevant Keywords

Once you and your team understand the true importance of social listening, it’s time to build a strategy that helps you structure and scale the process. Similar to SEO, building that strategy begins with finding the keywords and phrases your audience regularly discusses.

Naturally, that keyword list should include the various iterations, abbreviations, and even misspellings of your brand name. The more variations of your name you can come up with that members of your audience may actually search for, the less likely a comment about your product or service will slip through your cracks.

In addition, begin to research industry-specific phrases that tend to encourage discussion. A graduate school looking for potential students, for example, may want to begin listening to keywords such as graduate school, grad school application, and goal statement (a crucial part of the application process).

Finally, consider including keywords for your competitors, as well. You may not want to directly engage with all of the conversations concerning your competition, but it’s valuable to understand the greater discussion not just around you, but your entire competitive environment.

3) Use the Right Tools

Social listening would be impossible without a number of tools that can help you conduct automated searches through social media for the keywords you found above. Fortunately, a number of services can help you streamline that process without a significant time investment.

Some social media management tools, like HubSpot and HootSuite, offer integrated listening services. Others, like Social Mention, are free but require manual searches. Yet others, like KeyHole, and NUVI offer more comprehensive, dashboard-based services for a fee. This list provides a more comprehensive overview of the best listening services available for your brand.

4) Create an Engagement Strategy

Of course, even the best keywords and tools matter little if you don’t know what to do once you actually find relevant discussions for your brand. That’s why the majority of your time should be spent not listening, but responding to the relevant conversations you find on social media.

To streamline that process, create an engagement strategy. You will find all types of comments, from complaints to praises, comparisons, and general industry discussions. Create a rubric that allows you to be strategic about the best response to each type of comment.

You should also be strategic about the various networks on which these discussions might occur. A comment on LinkedIn, for example, requires a very different type of response than a Tweet. Understanding the medium should be a core part of how you engage with each user.

5) Evaluate and Adjust

Finally, as is the case with any type of marketing efforts, build your social listening strategy in a way that allows for adjustments over time. Not every response will be viewed favorably. Some users may feel they are intruded upon, while others will use it as an opportunity to lash out at your brand. Keep track of your wins and losses over time, in order to better understand how you can best treat each individual comment.

In addition, give yourself the opportunity to adjust your keyword strategy overtime. If you find that some keywords never seem to gain any traction, eliminate them from your reports. On the other hand, if you keep coming across keywords you’re not tracking yet, add them. That way, you can be sure that when a discussion relevant to your brand occurs on social media, you at least know about it.

Given the weight we give others’ opinions on social media, it’s baffling to see just how few brands prioritize social listening as part of their social media marketing. At the same time, it’s also an invaluable opportunity: by creating a strategy around it, you can get a leg up on your competition and more effectively reach your target audience.

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