Listen before you speak in social media

For companies that are tentative about starting a social media program, ceding control over what’s said about you online can be a significant barrier. Regardless of your social media presence, though, the conversation is already happening.

Don’t you want to know what people are saying? Thanks to the nature of the web and search, you don’t have to guess what people are saying about you online. There are a number of tools to help you monitor “social sentiment”—the buzzword for what’s being said about you on the web. 

To start monitoring, designate someone in your marketing or communications department to track online conversations about your brand and report weekly findings. And while you’re at it, snoop on your competitors and see how they and their consumers are engaged in social media. Consider:

  • Setting up a simple Google Reader account. Just input your company and products as keywords, and every time a keyword gets an online mention (on a blog, a review website, etc.), it will display in the RSS feed. 
  • Manually searching Twitter for Tweets about your company, or
  • Using TweetDeck to automatically monitor conversations about multiple keywords. 
  • Searching Facebook for any mentions of your company in users’ status updates, links, etc.

Listening to the online conversation about your brand will help you plan a more effective social media strategy (for when you decide to get one rolling) and help you anticipate some of your challenges in this new marketing space.

What if no one is talking about us online? Then you need to lead the conversation—with an active blog, SlideShare account, Twitter feed, and Facebook fan page. If you’re interesting, people will talk. 

What if the online conversation about us is negative? Aren’t you glad you know about it? These negative conversations have been hiding for years in people’s living rooms and around the water cooler. Now that you’re privy to this active criticism, seize the opportunity to listen, understand consumers’ needs and improve your product or service.

Social media also is a great response tool for negative press. Instead of waiting days to release a statement in a PR crisis, you can explain your side of the story and offer a solution within hours. 

What’s the protocol for responding to negative online publicity? Before you begin a social media program, it’s important to set up a social media charter—one with clear policies that have the OK from your legal department. In the charter, you’ll decide what processes to follow for everything from a small customer service complaint to a large-scale debacle. These processes will vary based on your services, industry and company hierarchy.

While all of this sounds a little intimidating and 1984, you owe it to your consumers and brand to take part in social media. Not everyone can be a Twitter rock star or have 500K Facebook fans, but the least you can do is listen and learn to lead the conversation.

– Caroline Hatchett

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