January 10, 2011

Guide to monitoring social media conversations

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How & why your organization should be tuning in the social Web

JD LasicaMost brands and nonprofits have received the memo: To succeed in today’s interconnected world, you need to listen to what your supporters and customers are saying about you. With the new year still fresh, you may be finally ready to put into place a listening program to tap into the conversations taking place on the social Web about your organization or sector.

Social media has blown apart yesterday’s top-down communication funnel and replaced it with a peer-to-peer model of empowered citizens and producers. People are tiring of mass media and prefer to listen to their peers’ recommendations about products, services and causes. It’s no longer just about driving people to your website. Today the action revolves around a complex set of social conversations outside of your control — but not outside of your influence. Even the most technically unsophisticated users can now use social tools to spread their messages with unprecedented ease. So what are they saying about you?

In this weeklong series launching today, we’ll cover:

• Why and how to listen (see below)
20 free, awesome social media monitoring tools
10 paid social media monitoring services for nonprofits
How to build & manage a monitoring dashboard

Some people confuse monitoring with metrics. For our purposes, monitoring refers to tracking the conversations people are having about you; metrics refers to measuring the impact you’re having by tabulating such things as visits, tweets, registrations, donations and so on. Monitoring informs the metrics process.

If you’re just starting out, we recommend beginning with a few small ‘listening’ techniques to ‘hear’ what people are saying about you. Set up only a few alerts and track a few feeds – don’t turn on a firehose that you won’t be able to manage. Monitoring can be built into your existing work processes; get started by building a monitoring dashboard (coming Thursday) or by creating a social media dashboard for an integrated approach to manage your participation on the social Web.

Note that although our monitoring guide focuses on nonprofits, the lessons in this series can be applied to any brand. Have your own tips? Please share in the comments!

Why listen: A multitude of brand opportunities

monitoringBefore you dive into a river of conversations, you need to understand what people are saying about you. Learn. Understand. Only then, speak. Share stories. React, inform and engage.

Listening is only one step in the process of engaging with your supporters or customers. Other steps in  your social program might include the following: monitoring; setting business goals; creating and tracking metrics, and incorporating learnings from your listening and metrics efforts into your operation. You’ll want to share your learnings with marketing, sales and your organization’s version of product development or R&D.

There are a multitude of reasons why brands — nonprofits, companies, cause organizations — need to listen to conversations on the social Web. Here they are:

10 reasons to listen to social media conversations

1Assess overall sentiment. In the main, do people know what your organization is about? Do they like your goal but not how you’re going about it? Do they love your platform but don’t connect emotionally to your cause? Take the temperature of the room!

2Target new stakeholders. Can you do a better job getting one of your offerings across to a new audience that’s only loosely connected with your organization? What are their particular interests and motivations? Is there a potential to build a new vertical or niche community around your service or cause?

3Identify your champions. Do you know who your brand’s strongest advocates and evangelists are? How are you rewarding or engaging with them? Particularly with a new brand or campaign, you’ll want to reach out to these leading voices and influencers who can help spread an opinion about a brand faster than your own website can.

4Identify your critics & fend off crises. Your reputation could be jeopardized by criticism — warranted or not, true or not — taking place on the social Web. You need to swoop in and respond in a positive manner, correcting any errors of fact and demonstrating problem-solving abilities, before misperceptions harden into negative sentiment. This is also a critical step in warding off PR disasters. And your critics aren’t always wrong. Adds Liz Strauss: “Listen for the things that you don’t want to hear” and learn from them.

5Audit your efforts. At some point you’ll want to step back and do an assessment of your social media channels. What’s working? What’s not worth the staff’s time? Monitoring tied to metrics will tell you.

6Study the success stories. What resonates with your users? Do you have a good sense of what pages on your site, which blog posts, which Facebook postings, Flickr sets or YouTube videos — by your team or by others in your sector — are causing the most stir and generating the most interest? Track what’s working and emulate the best features.

7Identify new program or product opportunities. Brands are beginning to realize the value that users can offer about their programs, products, services and campaigns. To some extent, the social Web is the new focus group — only free, larger and instantaneous. Social media can help you to stay abreast of the latest development in your sector and to use that business intelligence to inform your organization’s product or program roadmap.

8Identify donors or lower costs. Business development and sales teams are increasingly turning to the social Web for sales leads and business prospects. Nonprofits are beginning to use social media to track potential donors and new sources of funding. Businesses, meantime, are reducing internal costs by employing online services that save time and effort.

9Keep tabs on competitors. What’s the competition up to? Today it’s easier than ever to monitor your sector or industry to find out about a new competitor, to get an early warning about competing brands’ strategic moves or to take advantage of the public’s dissatisfaction with a competitor’s product or service.

10Improve your campaigns and programs. Are you launching focused efforts to move the needle for your organization? Track the mentions of your brand on social networks before, during and after a campaign to see what’s resonating. Use social media’s feedback loop to improve implementation of your programs.

What to listen for: Insights from your community

Listening isn’t about numbers, although the right data can help. It’s about understanding your community, internalizing their remarks and then acting on the information. As the wise social media strategist Liz Strauss writes, “Listening is the most important part of a conversation. Conversations are how communities begin.”

In parts 2 and 3 of this series, we’ll look at a rich array of free and paid monitoring tools you can use. But let’s focus first on the how. How do you wade through the mindless babble and discover the gold shavings?

Your social media team should be trying to turn information gleaned through social media channels into actionable insights. Your point person, or team, should start out by creating two things: (1) a Community Insights Checklist that’s informed by your organizational goals and (2) a Keywords Checklist. Here are some key questions that you may want to add to your first checklist (Note: These are not the questions you put to your community but rather bottom-line conclusions you’re trying to draw over time).

Community Insights Checklist

  • What do people like or not like about our brand, cause or organization?
  • What are their complaints, and what are the best channels to address them?
  • Who are our champions and evangelists? How do we entreat them to become even more involved?
  • Are there perpetual detractors about our brand that we can turn around?
  • Is there a need in the marketplace or in our sector that we can fill?
  • How can our community help inform our new offering, service or product?
  • What suggestions do they have to help us improve our next fundraising campaign?
  • Are there ways to crowdsource some of what we do to decrease the strain on our staff?
  • What existing outside communities can we tap into? What partnerships can we strike?
  • Can we use stories in our public outreach based on some of the community members we’ve touched or helped?
  • Bottom line: How can we use these insights to drive our mission forward?

Keywords Checklist

  • Organization’s name
  • Name of your chief executive or other individuals associated with your organization
  • Names of key services, programs or brands
  • Name and url of your blog or online community
  • Name of key events you put on or attend
  • Names of key terms or phrases in the sector
  • Names of your competitors or other organizations in your space
  • Anything else that’s distinctive to your mission or business objective

While some brands turn to social platforms only as part of a short-term social marketing campaign, it’s much more powerful to incorporate social media as part of your organization’s ongoing efforts. That way, your listening will come more naturally rather than seen as a self-serving data-mining technique by the community.

Next: 20 free, awesome social media monitoring tools

Image at top right by Terrence Stamp on Flickr (CC-BY)


Top 10 social media dashboard tools (Socialbrite)

Monitoring articles on Socialbrite

Metrics articles on Socialbrite

ROI of Listening by Nonprofit Marketing Guide

ROI (Results on Insights): Nonprofit Examples of How Listening Returns Value (Beth Kanter)

27 Different Types of Conversations (KD Paine)

Listening Literacy For Nonprofits (Beth Kanter at BrianSolis.com)

Social Media Listening Literacy Skills for Nonprofits (Beth Kanter)

How to Listen to Your Online Community (2-page PDF by Meghan Keaney, United Way of Massachusetts Bay & Merrimack Valley)

Got Your Listening Ears On? (Maddie Grant and Lindy Dreyer at NTEN)

WeAreMedia.org: Listening moduleJD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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