Listening Is Always Key in Meaningful Conversation… Online Too

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In a day and age where everyone has a voice and wants to be heard, the concept of listening is getting harder and harder to put into practice. Marketers have been talking about the importance of listening for years, but it has almost become a reverse approach given the trend to be heard. So, what’s the deal? Is it a catch 22?

Just like so many other areas of marketing, there needs to be a balance in listening versus being heard. If you’re so focused on pushing your message out to your audience, then you may speak too soon and find out the hard way that you are not connecting with them. On the flip side, if you spend all your time listening to what your audience is talking about but you fail to jump in when you have the opportunity, you also miss out in effectively positioning yourself. It’s a balancing act to get it right, but it pays off.

Listening sounds so basic, but it is so hard for some people to do. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone that interjects themselves every couple of minutes so much so that you never really get to state your point? It’s one of the most annoying things, especially since the people that interject themselves usually seem to be “know-it-alls.” In the online marketing world, the equivalent of this type of behavior is, for example, when a shoe retailer reaches out to everyone with foot complaint with “buy our shoes now!” talking points. It’s annoying in person, and it’s annoying online.

So, how can you really listen and have it mean something?

First, understand what it is that you want and need to be listening to. As social networks have grown, the noise level has also grown. Define your target audience through conversations that are already happening and that you wish you were part of. This weeding process could also come, in part, from offline resources as well as online.

Secondly, identify who you should be listening to. This aspect really helps you sort through the noise. Companies should look at their customers, overall consumer trends, influencers in the industry and competitors. These perspectives will provide valuable insight into what current and potential customers want and what your competition is doing, so you can effectively engage in conversation.

Thirdly, create a monitoring system for listening. Whether you use Google Alerts, keyword lists on Twitter or other paid tracking alternatives, this will help you avoid scrolling at your computer all day long looking for conversation. Again, with so much information, you need a means for dissecting the information that applies to you and your brand.

Once you’ve implemented these practices and have some data, you will then be able to start participating in the conversation. As you begin this process, you must remember that it is a conversation. This may seem elementary, but spend 5 minutes online and you’ll know why I’m saying it – the conversation must be a natural, 2-way communication in order for it to work. You can’t shove your product or services down someone’s throat every time they mention a need. If you can be of help to them, it would be much more effective to send them a link to a blog post stating why your methodology behind building your product, for instance, is sustainable, durable, etc. as opposed to sending them a link to your product page. To make your conversation meaningful, you must set yourself up as a valuable resource, expert, or something that will keep people engaged before and after a sales transaction takes place.

Effective listening sets the stage for this type of conversation. And once you begin, it becomes natural. This is when companies can move in and capitalize on opportunities.

During the Grammy’s that took place last month, popular roast beef chain Arby’s executed this beautifully. The company’s social media manager “listened” and saw that many people were relating his brand to Grammy winning artist Pharrell Williams on Twitter. Seizing the opportunity, he jumped into the conversation not by convincing the artist to buy a sandwich or become their spokesperson, but by being relevant and contributing to what was already being said.

Arby's Tweet to Pharrell Williams

As a result, the tweet was retweeted more than 83,000 times and also included a reply from Pharrell. What’s more, other brands like Pepsi, Quaker Oats and others retweeted it too. It proved to be a huge win for Arby’s gaining the company more than 6,000 new followers.

Twitter Interaction during Grammy's

This is why listening is so important for your marketing strategy. It leads to conversation and potential wins such as Arby’s had recently. It takes time, but other than that, it’s one of the easiest but most powerful assets to your marketing efforts, so start listening.

Abby Johnson

Abby brings a unique perspective to the mix because her background consists of both traditional broadcast and public relations to now the world of online. She is very skilled at looking at the big picture and understanding how to get the message across to a particular audience.

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