Blogs, customer reviews, tweets and Facebook status updates are voluminous and noisy, full of cat gifs and One Direction fandom. But buried in that is powerful information about your business and trends in your industry. So how do you gather it?
Social media’s deepest value stems from your efforts to engage directly with your customers, identify early trends in your industry and improve customer service.
Being easy to find on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon and other apps helps you meet your customers and community where they already are. This direct connection is absolutely invaluable, but only if you are devoting time and resources to it. Have a real person scrutinize comments and questions about your business or products, and write real answers. Ask them good questions, like how they might improve your widget. Promote their content sometimes. Make sure they know you want a two-way dialogue. Write interesting and engaging content (we can help!) using photos, infographics and videos, and encourage your customers and community to share.
Monitor trends and identify early opportunities by setting up keyword or hashtag monitoring to see what people are saying about you, your industry and your competitors. You’ll gain fresh perspectives about your customers and your target audience, and be inspired to create new opportunities to engage them. I love to use social bookmarking sites like Delicious, Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon to kickstart ideas for my own writing with the latest industry blogs and news stories; Flipboard is another good source.
Improving customer service can be done by monitoring negative customer sentiment and complaints via social media, then responding to them calmly with the facts. This can be done in-house by staff who are responsible for monitoring key social media channels through Google Alerts, Mention, and Social Mention, or by one of the many vendors offering this specialized service. Whether you have an online or social media presence or not, you or your organization may get negative reviews or comments from others who do use those channels. One thing to remember as you are monitoring customer sentiment online is that negative sentiment is louder than positive.
Social media provides a rich vein of business insight for those who are willing to take the time to find it. Whether or not you are participating, these conversations and critiques are happening hourly online, in a public arena that allows the customer to amplify their criticisms or praise to the entire world. Since we cannot change this, we must learn how to use it to our advantage by monitoring our personal and professional online presence, and that of our industry and competitors.