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The Art of Listening Online

A few key strategies to make the most of brand monitoring can help your reputation in a big way.

Five years ago, in a small town on the east coast of Canada, the team behind Radian6 realized that businesses, big and small, would need a better way to engage with customers on the web. They built a platform to facilitate customer relationships by listening first. Now you can monitor a brand online to understand whether a product is getting compliments or complaints, attracting fans or foes. Radian6 quickly grew to dominate this space, with clients including Dell, Microsoft, and General Electric. But there was no better sign that listening is serious business than when Salesforce just announced it was buying the New Brunswick company for a whopping $316 million.

Whether you use Radian6 or simply manage your digital presence through search, there are a few key strategies to make the most of brand monitoring. If each of these are followed well, you will quickly find your most loyal ambassadors and give your reputation a boost.

1.  Plan ahead

Think back to a couple of years ago when Domino's Pizza was dealing with two disgruntled employees who videotaped themselves doing unsavoury things to customers' food and posted the results on YouTube. Many bloggers were critical of how long it took the company's CEO to respond—almost a full 48 hours. As enticing as it is to simply dive into the listening realm, a well-organized plan is a must so you can establish how you're going to deal with both good and bad buzz. The plan should include response timelines—in other words, determine how often you plan to review online conversations and how quickly you'll commit to responding. Many social media disasters can be avoided if you react quickly. But failing that, react correctly. Fortunately, Domino's CEO J. Patrick Doyle produced a video apology that was honest, authentic, and just in time.

2.  Connect consistently

It's tempting to lurk online, stay back a safe distance and just watch the conversation unfold. However, the most effective companies are quickly learning that connecting is key. Just take a look at what great community managers, such as Ford's Scott Monty, are doing online. The head of social media in Detroit always posts interesting updates, but he's even better at responding to anyone who has something to say about his company. Check him out @ScottMonty to see how connecting consistently can create a loyal following.

3.  Measure often

There is no shortage of great software to track how popular your links are and what users are saying about your products or services. In order to determine if you're engaging effectively, it's important to regularly track positive and negative mentions. This means monitoring how often people are praising or criticizing what you do, and monitoring how this sentiment changes over time.

Assuming you have a great product or service, when the art of listening is done well, there are no limits to how a solid web presence can help your company grow.

Read more: Work Smart with Amber Mac

[Image by Beverly & Pack]

Related: 7 "Oh So Easy" Steps to Doubling Your Sales

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  • Marshall Toplansky

    We are all grateful to the pioneers in the social media listening world, who have made us aware of the tremendous value of mass opinion.  However, the world that Radian6 and BuzzMetrics created is now moving beyond them.   Just as social media itself has matured from an activity largely characterized by kids to something far more representative of the overall population, analyzing what people say in social media has matured, too.  

    The tens of billions of comments people post are, we have found, a very accurate indicator of what they DO in the real world.  As a result, businesses are now building models that let companies adapt faster than ever before to changes in their marketplaces. At Wise Window, have seen and developed models that predict sales, market share, churn, stock prices and even elections.  

    The implications go far beyond marketing.  Customer service, working capital levels, competitive position, sales forecasting and ultimately company value are all affected by this new source of mass opinion.  The old world of market research, which specializes in taking expensive "snapshots" of consumer sentiment, is in the process of being disrupted by this new, real-time and continuous technology.

    We are at the cusp of a major revolution in the way we manage organizations in real-time.  Listening technologies are already starting to look quite different from the first generation tools, like Radian6. Over the next decade, capabilities will expand greatly.

    Marshall Toplansky
    President, Wise Window

  • Scott Zimmerman

    I completely agree that there are no limits to your company’s growth if you have a solid online presence that provides relevant content and connects with customers in a way that motivates them to take action.

    In order to do that, you have to develop a well-planned strategy that aligns with overall company goals, yet still allows you to engage with customers in a timely manner. There are some risks involved in losing control of your message when communicating (and listening) online. The real-time nature of the web encourages a “publish now” dynamic, so you need to ensure that what's being published is accurate, honest and in line with your company's values. And should an online discussion turn negative, you should have customer service processes in place to take the conversation offline to engage with those customers directly to resolve the issue . . . and hopefully retain their business.

    These components are all critical to mastering the art of listening online, but the end result is well worth it.

    Thank you for the post.

    Scott Zimmerman, President of

  • PeopleBrowsr

    1)The Domino's case is the perfect example of how corporations must act faster. Social media moves in REAL-time. A quicker response from the CEO would have gone a long way in distancing themselves from the rogue employees.
    2) The best way to build a blog presence is to listen effectively and comment relevantly.

  • Lauren Vargas

    Thank you for sharing our exciting news last week and placing the news into context with essential listening strategies.

    Lauren Vargas