Listen First, Engage Second In Social Conversation

There are many qualities that make one company’s social media efforts more successful than others. It could come down to the engaging nature of the product, interesting creative, or maybe the light hearted or even self-deprecating tone used by the person behind the controls. All of those things are important because they help customers feel closer to the company.

In the end however, those that listen to their constituents, acknowledge them, and then communicate with them in a genuine way are able to grow and develop much stronger customer relationships.

Monitoring Direct Mentions

Social media has brought customers and businesses closer together, period. For better or for worse, when customers have questions, praise or problems they often take to their social network of choice to voice them. Companies that listen are able to address issues and offer advice, while those that don’t are truly ignoring an opportunity to help. At the very least a company that retweets or favorites a customer’s post shows they are listening and that they care enough to do so.

Start simple by setting notifications to run through your primary email address. Each of your shop’s social networks has a notification center that allows for email updates. Adjust your settings so that all relevant incoming events (mentions, direct messages) trigger an email that you can check and respond to when you have more time. You may have to adjust things over time if you find one or two of the notification types to be unnecessary, but for the most part this method should give you relevant updates in near real time.

Setting Response Time Expectations

Appropriate response times will vary from business to business and only you know what you can manage effectively. You also don’t have to respond to, or acknowledge everything. Questions should always be addressed, but mentions may or may not warrant a complete response, and a like or favorite may suffice. The only thing I urge is consistency.

Industry standards are somewhere around the six hour mark for responding to incoming questions. Some companies are well below that number, while others seemingly ignore mentions for days. Again, only you know what you can manage. Consider checking and responding once mid-morning and then again in the evening. This way the longest someone would wait would be overnight before receiving the answer they are looking for.

Provide Personalized Insights

The real power of active listening in social media is that it gives you the ability to deliver more value to your customers through personalized insights. This doesn't have to be high-level “classified” stuff, but simply knowledge you have that benefits your customer.

Here’s a quick example. I recently purchased some of the new Hyper Hydration drink mix from Skratch Labs, along with a refill on both the Exercise and Daily electrolyte mixes. When it arrived, I posted this picture of my order on Twitter.

The next morning the company [Skratch Labs] started out by favoriting my post and thanking me for my order. They could have stopped there, but after reading an exchange I was having with another user they chimed back in with some insight on a problem I routinely experience and how their product might be able to help. It was timely and personal, and it brought me closer to their brand and products.

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The Takeaway

Ignoring social media mentions is like inviting someone to leave you a voicemail and then never calling them back. Set up a system that works for you and commit to time spent answering questions, fixing problems and providing valuable insight. In the end, your customers will know you appreciate them and that you are available wherever they are.

About The Author

Paul Haskell

Paul Haskell

Paul Haskell led social strategy at one of the country's largest gourmet food companies, and now offers independent social media consulting for small businesses.