What is Social Listening?

Social listening is an area of customer (or client)-relationship management that, as the name implies, involves listening to social networks. This is important both for for-profit companies who want to know if their customers are having poor experiences on social media and non-profits who want to make sure that they are serving their customers the best they can.

There are a few elements involved in creating a Social Listening Plan.

  • Discover which social media your clients are using
  • Identify the positives and negatives they’re expressing about your organization
  • Design a process for reaching out to them
  • Implement the process and collect feedback
  • Repeat the process on a regular basis

We’ll go into each of these elements below.

Discover which Social Media Your Clients are Using

It’s important to know where your clients are, and this will depend on your demographics. Many non-profits service clients who are economically disadvantages and so they don’t use or own computers at all, but as more and more individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds move online, it will become more important for non-profits to know where their clients are.

Learning some basic Google searching skills will help you find your clients.

  • Typing your organization’s name in brackets will search for exact matches of your agency name
  • Using the hyphen or minus sign “-“ will remove elements from the search
  • Using the asterisk “*” will find wildcards, so if your organization is known as “Center” but is commonly misspelled “Centre”, you can search for “Cent**” and both matches will be found.

If you circulate any kind of survey or evaluation, you can ask your clients what kind of social media they use. This can be part of a broader social media strategy, to help your organization engage with clients online. The more involved your organization is with those clients the more likely it is that they will reach out directly to you. The best social listening is the social listening you don’t have to do – because your clients do it for you.

Identify Areas of Praise and Concern

No organization has perfectly satisfied clients. It shouldn’t be too difficult from reading the communication your clients are posting what their major concerns are. It’s important at this stage to resist the urge to respond defensively; barring something inconceivable (a person claims that a crime was committed against them by one of your staff in a program your agency doesn’t offer, for instance) these complaints should be treated as valid.

If your organization has a large online footprint it can be helpful to summarize this information so that you can begin making a plan to rectify the identified issues. This can be an ad hoc process, or integrated into your organization’s strategic planning process.

Begin Reaching Out

Depending on the exact natures identified by your clients, the concerns may be obvious. For instance, if a lot of the negative feedback surrounds how difficult it is to access services, that’s very straight-forward. If complaints describe poor service by staff or other more subjective complaints, then you might have more work cut out for you.

Before you begin reaching out, you need to design a process for this. Will you appoint one employee for the task, or have each program coordinator or individual employee handle complaints in their area? The advantage of using someone who works in that area is that they have more experience and are more aware of the nuances of providing service in that area, but they are also vulnerable to getting defensive.

Small organizations may be stretched thin and want to add a little bit of this work to each employee, while larger organizations may have an Outreach Coordinator or similar who adds social media outreach to their existing duties.

Depending on the platform, the exact way you reach out will differ. Twitter and Facebook both have opportunities to be seen as your organization (Facebook’s “Pages” and company-branded Twitter accounts), while other social networks may make it more difficult.

Think carefully about how you will respond. Make changes in advance if possible, to begin rectifying the situations identified. If you can tell people that changes are underway, they are much more likely to respond positively.

Invite those with more difficult problems to get in touch with the organization directly. Make it known that you want to make sure that their negative experience isn’t repeated.

Implement the Process and Collect Feedback

Once you let your clients on social media know that you are beginning this process of improvement, you’ll want to collect feedback from them. Invite them to complete an anonymous survey to find out about their experiences. Integrate this into your existing evaluation procedures if you have them, and consider using tools like SurveyMonkey to automate the process of data collection.

Be aware that positive change may not be reflected in feedback immediately. Dissatisfied clients may not have the energy to respond, and they’ll need to be coaxed. Knowing that you’re not going to judge or fight them, and merely accept what they have to say as valid from their point of view, will go a long way to helping feel comfortable in responding.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

It’s important that your social listening not be a “one off” process. Social media is changing every day, and more and more contributions will pour in from your clients. If you take your ear off the ground, you’ll miss these important communication and reputation management opportunities.

Consider using tools like HootSuite to manage your overall social media presence as well, to ensure that clients can make it as easy as possible to tell you exactly how great a job you’re doing, and ways that you can continue improving.

It takes work to perform adequate social listening, but with efforts you can improve your organization’s reputation in the community and improve your services.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "What is Social Listening?," retrieved on August 25, 2019 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/what-is-social-listening/.

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