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The Importance of Social Listening for Brands

We are facing social explosion at the moment. As marketers, we understand the importance of sharing good-intentioned finely crafted messages with our audience, and what could they mean for our brand. However, we aren't enough paying attention to those who are actively receiving our messages or are willing to engage with us. This has caused a lot of problems for big brands in the past, and this is when social monitoring became quite an important aspect for any brand's social reputation. Also the way you listen and how much sense you make out of it has become a key component of social media strategies and community engagement. 

Recently, the New York Police Department had an ugly social media escapade when they launched a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #myNYPD. The intention was to have people sharing pictures that glorified NYPD cops happily helping citizens and maintaining the social decorum in a jovial manner. However, the magic bullet backfired - hashtag turned into a ‘bashtag’ and so begun the flurry of people sharing pictures depicting New York’s finest indulging in brutal exercises and other misdemeanors.

A perfectly well-intentioned social handshake transformed into an online reputation disaster requiring damage control. It is hard to digest, but social media is brutal and you must have a response team in case of such situations. Here are few of the famous social media blunders that could have been avoided with some listening. 

The saying 'One Man Army' is true: Ask Dell

I'm sure most of the readers would remember the 'Dell Hell' fiasco of 2005, when Jeff Jarvis, a disgruntled Dell customer, painstakingly blogged about his customer service issues. The blog started by Jarvis was called Dell Hell, and overnight his story picked traction with New York Times and Business Week covering their own versions, leaving the company in a PR nightmare. Dell was facing issues with its customer care infrastructure that was caught in a mash-up of overseas customer support call centers.

Dell knew it committed a blooper and understood that customers called the shots, they are in control.  If customers can be the reason behind a brand's success, then they can get the better of it as well. It is important to note that even though the company has come a long way since the 'Dell Hell' debacle, it has never distanced itself from social media learning through which it actively listens to its customers, responds to them and keeps them in the loop if it has plans of introducing a new service or a product.

At present, Dell's Facebook page sits happily with almost 7 million subscribers, and direct competitors HP and Lenovo failing to reach even half of its mark at 3 and 2 million, respectively. In order to directly connect with audience, Dell started Direct2Dell and IdeaStorm blogs that fostered candid and open conversations between the company and its customers. Arguably, those two blogs represent the best examples of global corporation implementing social listening to improve their customer experience. They have not only learnt but managed to remain on top of their counterparts. Facebook Likes don’t mean much to some social savvy people, but they do make a difference when it comes to social perception of a brand. 

McDonald's and Burger King Social Sagas

McDonald's were perhaps the most innocent victims committing social media gaffes when they sponsored a hashtag asking Twitter users to tweet about their nice personal dining experiences at its outlets. The sponsored farmer-based video content and hashtag- #McDStories drew the ire of certain people who started tweeting about obesity, service delays and poor food quality, instead. The hashtag caught traction and people kept criticizing McDonald's for weeks later, even though the company had pulled out the campaign within two hours of its launch.

Like its direct counterpart, the popular fast food franchise Burger King has poor experience with social media luck. Their social account was hacked and the new bio read - “Just got sold to McDonalds because the whopper flopped =[ FREEDOM IS FAILURE.]” The pranksters didn't just stop at that, many racial slurs and hate messages followed the same.

Isn't that a social death? To be publicly humiliated that too at the hands of your rival. This compelled McDonald's to denounce the incident in public via tweet - “We empathize with our @BurgerKing counterparts. Rest assured, we had nothing to do with the hacking.”

There are two lessons to be learned from the above stories, first - knowing and understanding your audience are two different things, and second – being accountable, even if it's not your fault. Burger King mishap also highlights the importance of taking care of your social profiles' security where your audience is watching all the time and following your every move.  Napping won't help your cause ever.

Had McDonald's paid more attention to what their customers think of them, or what issues they were facing, the hashtag promotion on Twitter wouldn't have taken place. On a good note, what they did for Burger King was truly inspiring – it's not every day that you'd see two rival firms empathizing with each other that too in public.

Wake up! Tesco

Tesco, UK's leading supermarket chain, loved auto-tweets and one day its affection attracted the wrath of offended Twitter users over a simple tweet. Apparently, Tesco had gotten involved in a horse meat scandal and an auto scheduled tweet surfaced from their Twitter account that read, “It's sleepy time so we're off to hit the hay. See you at 8am for more #TescoTweets.”

This sparked the local animal lovers to publicly ridicule the 'coldhearted' tweet, following which the company's online and public reputation was reduced to tatters. The lack of social listening intervention had turned Tesco into an overnight decadent. What followed were a number of apologies via social media and national print media. The Tesco debacle had put the importance of public sentiments into direct spotlight – the things that could make a difference.

Emotions are a big component of social media marketing, and if your listening strategy isn't able to connect the dots between what is right for your audience or what isn't, then social debacles like Dell and McDonald's will become inevitable.

Savvy social listening is the only cure. Also it's good to use technology for solving easier issues but unchecked automated tweeting is a complete no no. People expect humans to interact with them rather than machines or algorithm in all cases. The age of iRobot is still to come, and hence we should keep it Human to Human at the moment. Things are easier that way.

Everybody is getting social!

Conversations matter, and in social media marketing, they matter the most. Be it new leads, client grievances or public opinion – everything could be productive through social media learning. You can purchase social monitoring tools, invest in paid social media, but all that is worthless if you aren't aligning your focus marketing ideas with areas your customer find interesting or worth engaging.

People love to discuss and share their thoughts through social interactions, which could be reason why we have over 750 different social networking websites present across the web. However, if you are not giving them relevant topics or keep sharing things that they don't find interesting, then your social media marketing plan is kaput!  

Why Social Listening is so important

With social listening, we can identify the key focus groups for different social networking channels, and design and implement corresponding engagement strategies. It helps you in identifying the voice of your audience and filling the gap where your marketing strategy is failing.  Bryan Kramer in his aptly titled post 'There Is No More B2B or B2C: There Is Only Human to Human (H2H)' refers to the gap that marketers face with their audience.

Most marketers would agree that well-known brands are positioning their social strategies without addressing their key focus areas and engagement intentions. The thing is simple – mechanisms are already in place for social media information exchange and audience interaction. We have Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, amongst many others, but each of them has its own specific community reach and engagement definition.

Where most marketers are going wrong is that they have different approaches to their social media strategy for one platform, instead of one approach for different platforms. For instance, Facebook is better suited than Twitter for customer care services owing to its large consumer base and engagement. Twitter on other hand is ideal for analyzing what your key influencers are talking about – what things interest them and what don't, or something more directed towards sales – what customers think of your new product, service, or what'd they like to see you do? It would be inspiring to see a marketing strategy that actually aligns with customer experience. Imagine the possibilities!

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