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Hush! Dominate social media through the art of listening

The majority of brand-driven social media mimic soapbox media (TV, radio, print) by being in constant blast mode: talking at audiences rather than with them, asking potential customers to buy their products, read their blog posts, and take their surveys. But social media affords us the opportunity to be human by receiving information in equal measure to dishing it out. Embracing this human quality means you must master one thing: listening.

Active listening creates value for our businesses by helping us identify customer insights, deliver personalized customer service, solidify brand voice, develop product and service improvements, and establish a direct line to our customers innermost thoughts and desires. How’s that for ROI?

Listening is THE secret weapon the social web affords us. Period. Unfortunately, too many businesses are wielding it incorrectly. You shouldn’t mine conversations haphazardly or “just because” you think you have to. Listening must (absolutely must) strategically align with your business goals and have predetermined outcomes. Try these examples on for size:

  • A life coach drives awareness and inbound traffic by identifying key interest areas around personal development on Twitter and builds that into her blog topics.
  • A branding strategist improves satisfaction and retention by addressing and solving the identity problems of her customers early on in their buying cycle.
  • A graphic designer doubles business leads by incorporating the design interests of his client base (obtained through Pinterest boards) into his opt-in weekly newsletter.

Aligning your goals with listening is only half the battle. Knowing how to listen in and what to listen in for makes all the difference. Consider these questions to focus your new social business ears:

  • What annoyances, grievances, and frustrations are your customers vocalizing?
  • How do those paint points relate to your products and services?
  • What types of information are people actively seeking? Where and how often are they requesting it?
  • Is there a visible gap in the marketplace that audiences are noticing?
  • Are there certain keywords or phrases that people are using to describe your product or service?

Though each social media platform has different modes of listening, my personal favorite is Twitter. Due to its unprecedented public access and unrivaled search capabilities the opportunities and methods for listening in are enormous. One incredibly powerful, underused, and underappreciated tool is the Twitter list. (Side note: Underappreciated is good. Underappreciated means opportunity for you.)

Here are some steps you can take to start listening using Twitter lists:

1. Identify some influencers in your field.

In the case of Freelance to Freedom, Marie Forleo, Chris Guillebeau, and our own Leah Kalamakis are great examples of leaders in the space. Start with them if you’re unsure of where to begin.

2. Head on over to their list section.

Click on “More” and then on the clandestine “Lists” button. There are two types of public lists that can be associated with any given Twitter account: lists you can subscribe to and lists you’re a member of (i.e., lists other people have created, curated, and placed you in).

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3. Identify and subscribe to 3-5 relevant lists.

Make sure the lists you choose contain your ideal target audience. Remember—you’re doing this to find juicy conversation as it relates to your business. Make sure to pick a list that includes more than 50 members, but no more than 500. Any less and the conversation can be a bit dry; any more and you might feel the sting of information overload.

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4. Monitor those lists for 15-20 minutes, 3 days a week.

Practice your conversational listening. It’s entirely acceptable to jump in and answer any questions that crop up, but your primary objective here is to tune in and actively listen to your tribe.

5. Write down your insights and actionable next steps.

It’s quite easy to get caught up in the din of social media and forget why you’re participating in the first place. Make sure to write down your findings, list out how it helps you improve the lives of your customers, and make concrete plans that define what you will do next.

Let’s be real for a minute—in this digital world, freelancers are a dime-a-dozen. Our best shot at success is our ability to establish a competitive advantage by differentiating ourselves. The conversational listening process ultimately helps us with this.

People love to be listened to. Impressions stick when people feel they are being heard, recognized, and understood. Listening, caring, and delivering? There’s a USP for ya.

So, let’s hear it in the comments… how will you listen in over the next week? More importantly, what will you do with your findings?

Andrew Kirschner Andrew Kirschner is a social media marketing strategist for entrepreneurs and creatives. He helps small businesses find their social voice and connect with their online communities. You can hang with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Instagram.

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{ 13 comments… add one }
  • OK, it’s official. Twitter lists need to get into my life. Thanks for such a clear post, Andrew!

  • I love my Twitter lists! I even include them as a free resource on my site. I just started one with dream clients.

  • “Listening” to the style preferences of my target market via Pinterest. Such a good idea. Thanks!

  • Great advice! I need to get this scheduled into my calendar so I actually do it!

  • I definitely underutilize Twitter lists, so thanks for this great reminder!

  • I really love how you gave clear, actionable advice. Right now I tend to get on social media in short bursts when I get the chance. It doesn’t have to be this huge task to be more consistent and making the bursts of time really count.

  • I love social media strategists who leverage pre-identified groups – thanks for this post! I haven’t been on twitter in a while and don’t really find it that useful (my feed is super cluttered and I also used to be branded as a young adult writer so I’ve got a different crowd). Do you find you actually drive subscribers and even more importantly – paying clients – through twitter?

    • In a word—yes!

      Twitter is THE tool for starting and nurturing relationships on the social web. It’s different from Facebook in many ways, but two main points are that Twitter is very realtime and very personal.

      Your news feed doesn’t necessarily have to reflect your brand. In truth I rarely utilize my Twitter News Feed—I only follow about 200 people and it’s dominated by close friends, family, and longstanding business contacts. The beauty in Twitter is that you can shape and reshape your account to attract the “right” people into your orbit. In other words, Twitter is built to evolve with you. It’s a lot easier than if you’ve built a following on Facebook for branding and then wanted to switch gears to consumer electronics. It’s all about outreach and who you’re talking to from this moment on.

      As far as it being a viable business tool: subscriptions and paying clients can absolutely be a consequence, but should not necessarily be the focus. It takes time to develop a following that will consistently trust you enough to click on your links, sign up for your products, and become a paying customer. The dividends (namely sales, subscriptions, partnerships) that you get from forging relationships will far outweigh any time investment you put in. But, you must come from a genuine place. You’ve gotta be generous and want to provide help, guidance, and value at all corners of your efforts… mostly because social media users’ bullshit radars are WAY up there and they can smell a promotional-only approach from a mile away. This is especially true on Twitter.

      Case study: I found Freelance to Freedom through Twitter. I would most certainly attribute the opportunity to guest post on this blog to my being active on it, which helped raise awareness and credibility about who I am and the business I have. It’s not always as simple as post → sales, but the relationship between the two is undeniable (and in many case, measurable).

  • I loved this post. I’ve subscribed to some Twitter lists, but haven’t been sure how to actually use them (aside from RTing the occasional interesting post). This feels so much more productive!

  • Great post! I’ve never actually understood Twitter lists so this has really opened my eyes and I’ll start to implement your steps.

  • What a great article! Thanks for the tips!!

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