Amongst the various debates around social media's effectiveness as a business tool, one aspect that's undisputable is the value of social listening. After many years working in media monitoring - where clients pay a premium to track as many mentions as they can - it's surprising to me that with so much of this data now freely available, more businesses are not listening in. It's a great starting point for any brand looking to establish a presence in social media - if you're not convinced social media is for you, set up basic keyword tracking and confirm one way or another. The data is there, the conversations are happening. I'm yet to see a case where a business has tried some level of keyword monitoring and come away saying there's nothing it in for them.
One of the reasons listening is such a great starting point is that it makes it all about your business. This is not someone trying to convince you of the benefits or lauding the importance of future proofing - it's about your brand, right now, relevant conversations are right there in front of you, ticking over in real-time. Not only does this highlight the immediate relevance, but it can also open your mind to the extended possibilities of social media marketing. With consumer reliance on social media increasing, and the means for listening readily available, there's no reason why businesses shouldn't, at the least, be making themselves aware of the conversations around their niche.
What's Being Said?
The first step of establishing a social media monitoring process is to establish your target keywords. Start by establishing a list of possible key terms, the most common words or combinations of words people would use when searching for your products and services. You want to get down as many possible options as you can - we'll refine them in the next stage. A few notes to keep in mind:
- Think of possible slang terms people might use for your brand and common mis-spellings of your key terms - ensure those are also included
- If you're using numbers, ensure you list both the numerics and actual words
- Include competitor names and key terms also, you can list them on a separate competitor tab - important that you're also tracking their mentions to get a full overview, whilst also highlighting possible opportunities
- Include a negative mentions listing - Brand AND fail, Brand AND bad, etc. These ones you really need to know about
Extra tip: A good way of connecting with people is by thanking them for sharing your content, but often when people share a blog post, they only include the post title with no reference to the author or source (other than the link). It's worth setting up search streams for post titles after you've published them, enabling you to locate any shares of your content and reach out to those who've done so.
Once you have a listing of possible key terms, you'll need to refine it down. Most people don't have time to sort through thousands of mentions every day - the more specific you can get, the better. You can test your keywords in Topsy to get an understanding of how popular they are - if one of your terms is getting 30k hits per day, probably not going to be very helpful as you'll never get through them all (if your brand name is getting that many hits, first, congratulations, second, it's gonna' take some work to stay on top of it). If a term is too broad, add in a qualifier to narrow it down:
Instead of: Social Media
Try: Social Media AND Consulting
Topsy will show you how popular each term is and has been over the past hour, past day, past week, etc. This will enable you to target your terms more specifically, reducing the noise so you can track your mentions in the most productive manner.
Extra Tip: Topsy only searches Twitter, which is generally a solid indicative measure, but if you need data from Facebook or Google+, apps like Mention, Social Mention and even Google+ search itself will provide info to help solidify your keyword choices. You can also use Google Trends to see what people are searching for in relation to your terms, with the option to narrow it down to your region.
Putting Keywords into Action
Once you have a list, set yourself up with a social media management tool like HootSuite so you can track the conversations on all the major networks on one platform. HootSuite's basic offering is free and allows you to establish up to 200 streams, each of which can be dedicated to a different keyword search combination, if required. This is relatively easy to setup - an experienced user will be able to put a basic monitoring system in place in less than 30 minutes. You can check it once an hour, once a day - whatever works best for you. This will introduce you to keyword tracking and highlight the potential benefits.
Extra Tip: You should prioritise your keyword lists to ensure the most important streams are checked more regularly - negative mentions, for example, will be higher priority than others.
Tracking Conversations = Blog Fuel
One of the major benefits of tracking conversations around your industry is you can get a better understanding of what questions your audience are asking. What are people concerned about? What are the common issues raised? Each of these can be noted down and expanded upon in blog posts on your website. Seeing things from your audience's perspective is basically blog fuel. If you're ever unsure of what to write about, a collection of suggestions and prompts will be flowing through your keyword monitoring streams, ready to be fished out anytime you need.
Geographic Targeting and Sentiment
One feature worth investigating is the ability to search for mentions within particular geographic regions. Sure, you can put in [city name], [keyword] as a search string (for most networks this is the only way to narrow down geographic mentions, though that may soon change), but for Twitter searches, you can also utilise 'geocoding' to search all tweets within whatever geographic range you desire. HootSuite has this built-in with a simple target icon, so you can set up the stream, click on the target, and there it is, all tweets mentioning your chosen keyword/s within the immediate vicinity (the default range is within 25km of your location).
You can also manually enter location co-ordinates to track a specific region - say, you wanted to track mentions around one of your offices in another town - you can look up the latitude and longitude details of the target site (easy to find in Google Maps or itouchmap.com) and enter them into the search string:
[search term] geocode:[latitude],[longitude],25km
You can change the range from 25km to whatever you want, miles (mi) or kilometres (km). This is a great way to filter your results and target key prospects.
Here's a simple example of geo search in practise - a hamburger shop might set up a search string for all mentions of 'burger' within 10km. A person tweets 'where's the best place to get a burger in Sunnyside?' The store could respond with 'Come visit us, here's a link to our menu, 10% off if you order via Twitter.' While direct selling like this is not always advisable, this type of interaction would benefit the customer and the business and may help differentiate you from the crowd.
Twitter's advanced search functionality also lets you track positive ('[Subject] :)') and negative ('[Subject] :(') mentions. While the accuracy of automated sentiment detection is debateable (Ben Donkor wrote this excellent piece on the limitations of automated sentiment analysis), it's worth testing to see what results you get, looking at what's being said about your brand and your competitors.
Extra tip: There's no way to focus geocoded searches to a specific country, but there's a way around this. By locating the central point of the desired nation and using that as the geocode base (lat + long), you can then set a search range of half the length or width of the entire nation - whichever is greater - to track all mentions within that region. So, for example, Australia's central point is near Alice Springs and the nation is 4000km wide. I'd use:
[search term] geocode:[lat of Alice Springs],[long of Alice Springs],2000km
That code would return all matches for my term/s across Australia. You might get some overlap into neighbouring regions, but I've found this to be the more accurate than using the 'Near this place' advanced search operand in Twitter.
A Little Information Goes a Long Way
Basic keyword tracking is great for finding conversations where potential customers are looking for your product or service - these people are essentially one-step away from conversion - but what about those that are two steps away? What if you could, based on your understanding of your business, locate conversations where people were engaging in activity which was likely to lead them to becoming target customers? For example, let's say you're a local electronics retailer. You know, based on experience, that people who buy a Thermomix are time poor but earn a better than average income. What if you targeted graduates moving into highly paid jobs, people working in, say, medicine, who are likely to be concerned about their health, well paid, but extremely busy. You could add them to a list and track their interactions - you don't want to go in guns blazing, telling them they'll be seeking products from you shortly like some sort of creepy Nostradamus, but maybe you can track those potential customers who are two-steps away, 'Favourite' some of their tweets, interact with them in some form. Those brand awareness efforts could pay off when the time comes for them to make a purchase - who do you think they'll go to if you've been able to make a connection with them ahead of time, maybe even been able to offer help on another problem at some stage? Think about the stepping stones that lead to people seeking out your products, what are the common discussions or life changes that might help you find them before they even think about coming to you.
Utilising Intelligent Data Tracking to Establish Brand Authority
The more time you spend monitoring, the more you'll be able to track and utilise client-relevant data. This is how the social networks already market their advertising products, through the value of targeted audiences. Tracking keywords yourself allows you to locate your target groups in a more controlled and cost-effective way. What's more, as you branch further into monitoring and learn what works and what doesn't, you'll be able to better establish your brand authority by making yourself part of the conversation before your services are needed. The more people are aware of your brand, the more you're able to build trust and create lasting relationships with your target audience. The possibilities are only limited by your own creative thinking around how best to track the data. It takes time to master, but you know why people come to your company, you know the common factors that lead them to your door - you've been mentally tracking this data through your daily business interactions for years. Now you just need to work out how to best use it.
It takes a time to gather the necessary insights, but the value of social media monitoring will increase as you gain more information and refine the data. If you build each element, understand what people need from your business, you'll not only set-up an excellent process for gaining insight, but you'll also put yourself in the right frame of mind to be of best benefit to your target audience through improved comprehension of how they use your products and services. It all starts with listening, taking it in, and seeing where you can be of most benefit.