Guest Post by Bryan Kramer, CEO of PureMatter

Too many companies treat social media as if it’s a one-way conversation. They set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and then start pumping out updates. But guess what? Your followers, fans, friends and customers are talking back.

1. Identify your audience. Once you know who your audience is, you need to know where they are. A common misperception is that everyone is hanging out on the same social network. But that’s not true. For example, according to a study by Anderson Analytics, Generation Z (13- to 14-year-old) social network users are slightly more active on MySpace than Facebook, only 9% use Twitter and none are active on LinkedIn. If you tried to listen to Gen Z on Twitter, you wouldn’t hear much. They’re not there.

2. Create a listening strategy. Once you know which social networks are relevant to your audience, you need to identify what words they’re likely to use in conversations. Create a list of keywords to listen for, including your brand, products, events, personnel and any topics relevant to your customers. You may also want to include your competitors and industry influencers as listening keywords.

3. Choose your technology. There are many social media monitoring tools for both desktop and mobile – both free and paid. Google Alerts is a free Google service that monitors keywords and sends you aggregated notifications. Social Mention, also free, allows you to monitor social media, blogs and blog comments. Do your research and determine what works best for you.

4. Appoint a savvy social media guru to be your designated listener. This is an important job. Big companies create teams of people to fulfill this role. You’ll also want to create a daily plan and regular schedule for monitoring. Ideally, you want to check your alerts and real-time tools every hour so you catch opportunities that are relatively fresh.

5. Create a response strategy. What are acceptable responses for different types of comments? Make a list. Ideally, your designated listener is authorized to respond so you don’t waste time with review and approval processes. One thing to remember—be human in your responses. Stiff and corporate don’t cut it in social media. It’s Facebook and Twitter, not the boardroom.

6. Be accountable. Be sure the execs know what’s happening on social media. Give them a report, yes, but also advise them on how the company may need to adapt. Things can spiral out of control quickly in social networks. Remember the latest brouhaha with Susan G. Komen For the Cure and Planned Parenthood? With social media, you need to be proactive. You’re not only trying to enhance your brand, you’re protecting it, as well.

Key Takeaway: Don’t just talk to your audience. Listen. Pay attention. How will you engage effectively with them if you don’t know what they’re saying?

I’d love to hear your thoughts or anything I’ve missed below.

A version of this post appeared at BryanKramer.com

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