In real life the art of conversation is as much about listening as it is talking.  So too on the social web.

Listening, or – in social media terms – ‘monitoring the conversation’ – is a critical first step when embarking upon your social media marketing program and just as important ongoing.

Take Twitter, for example.

Twitter is often likened to a busy bar. Now, imagine you’re a stranger in town: you wouldn’t enter a bar full of bravado and start shooting your mouth off, would you? Not if you want to make friends, anyway! You’d sit down, observe your surroundings to get insight into the lay of the land, keep your ears open to who is both interesting and interested in others, and gravitate towards them. Then you’d consider joining in and only when it makes sense to do so.

The same with Twitter. Rushing in and tweeting for the sake of being ‘part of the conversation’ – especially if you’re new – is not the best way to win friends or influence people.

Like most social norms, there are unwritten protocols on Twitter. Taking things steadily in the first instance, listening before bursting forth with too much enthusiasm is recommended – we cover more of this in the Twitter module coming up soon.

Three things to be aware of when monitoring the social web:  

1: Stand back. Watch and ‘listen’ before jumping in. We call it professional eavesdropping –

The best way to begin to understand how it works and discover who the active players are in your circle is to ‘eavesdrop’ on their conversations. Very quickly you’ll develop great confidence in the nuances of social networks, the tone of language used – not to mention the online ‘shorthand’ like 🙂 or 😎 if you wear glasses like Yvonne and Trevor!

2: Look for red flags –

For major services-based business such a bank or telco or airline, it is absolutely critical to keep an ear out for any pending issues or potential threats happening in online conversations. As a small business, you should also keep the radar on via free monitoring tools (see later in this module) but don’t get overly-paranoid about negative comments. They can be just as useful for your customer service reputation as a positive testimonial. Monitoring conversations about your brand and your industry will give you the edge.

3: Find opportunities –

This is the exciting part of being involved in social media. As an active participant you will always show up, add value, be authentic and helpful. When an opportunity to contribute presents itself you will feel compelled to join in. You’ll see it as clear as day. Eg: you’re an accountant and someone on Twitter asks whether anyone knows the answer to a specific tax question. A mutual connection suggests you, you answer the question and the person who asked it becomes a new follower for you. However, if you’re inactive on Twitter and just show up when you’ve got a tax-time special offer to talk about you’ll be going against the spirit of the social-web and gain no followers.

A great example of this is 13CABS who monitor Twitter for hashtags (see ‘Whats a hashtag’ below) about events happening around town. As the event seems to be drawing to a close, they make sure there are cabs available outside and they leave a friendly mention on Twitter using the same hashtag like: ‘Hi everyone at #imbs14 – hope you’ve had a great day. We have cabs waiting outside for you’

Clever huh!?

What’s a hashtag?

The # symbol on Twitter is known as a hashtag. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to group related messages together during a search. For instance, we can guess there would be a hashtag #smallbiz for tweets relating to small business topics. Search for it on Twitter and you’ll see how it works. If you’re tweeting a topic related to small biz, add the hashtag anywhere in your tweet and it too will appear in the search results!

Monitoring is essentially about OPPORTUNITY.

The opportunities include:

  • Building your network
  • Helping others
  • Demonstrating your expertise
  • Building relationships with colleages
  • Creating valuable content
  • Leveraging an online crisis

So as you can see, the social web is not a place where you can just show up every now and then, add your two bob’s worth, and then leave again. Not if you’re fronting up as a business. There are plenty of reasons to participate regularly, and this means monitoring the array of social channels where your customers hang out – watch, listen, learn, respond…keep an eye out for negative sentiment (directed at your business, or your competitors) as well as potential issues by all means, but also don’t forget to mine the online space for opportunities to get noticed and have people engage with your brand.

(originally written in conjunction with Trevor Young)

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