Opportunity Doesn't Always Knock, Sometimes You Have to Listen and Go Towards It
Sometimes the most valuable conversations about your business don't even involve you. If you're not aware about how to effectively eavesdrop on these discussions, you may be missing out on valuable information and opportunities that aren't exactly knocking at your door, but are out there waiting to be approached..
Realistically, it's a challenge for many companies to monitor their online presence. There simply aren't enough hours or people dedicated to the task -- and that goes for both large and small businesses. In larger organizations, social often falls under the communications banner; in small businesses, it's just another job for someone already juggling multiple roles.
So, while not perfect, there are some tools that can help you at least get an idea of what's being said about -- and around -- you.
First, A Quirk of Twitter
Don't expect that every conversation is going to loop you in. And there are significant differences between a conversation that starts with your Twitter address and one that starts with a "." It's important to know that when replying, because sometimes the information requested would be of value to a larger group -- and that can only be accomplished with prefacing your Twitter reply with a period.
It's a simple, but still little-understood Twitter quirk. An @response will simply be seen by the intended recipient and everyone who follows both you and the person to whom you're responding. Adding the period before the @response means everyone who is following you will see the response.
Big difference and if the content you're sharing is something that could help multiple users (e.g. answering a question that would be relevant to many followers), then go for it.
I use Hootsuite; others like TweetDeck. What I like about Hootsuite is that I can manage multiple accounts over multiple platforms and set up various streams. In addition to the basics, like retweets, likes, mentions, you can also follow hash tags and term searches.
Not everyone is going to tag you appropriately in their posts. Sometimes they may mention you by name; they may refer to a product or brand you represent; they may even use a nickname or variation (think The Habs for the Montreal Canadiens). Some of those terms may not appear in your feed if they're not using your specific tags. So setting up search tabs, hash tag lists, and the like in tracking programs allows you to quickly and easily stay up to date with conversations surrounding your brand.
The Ubiquitous Google
Google Alerts is another quick-and-easy (and free*) solution for your business. Though not so great with the social feeds, it does a passable job with any news reference, blog post, or other Web-related content that includes your brand.
The More You Know
It's easy to think you're amazing when you only listen to people who like you. But the conversations just outside of 'earshot' may be the most important ones you can have.
That's where the honesty lies; that's where the real-life experience is being shared. And that can make or break your customer service efforts.
Be careful -- don't be indignant. For many, criticism can be hard to take. But it's not about you -- it's about a frustration or issue that a customer (and likely many customers) are having. It may make you feel better to jump into a conversation in which you were not invited and "correct" some people, but it only comes across as creepy and/or supercilious.
Interact. Be polite. If you feel the need to reach out, do so politely and offer the person a direct contact to address their concern.
After all, your biggest critics can also become your strongest advocates. If they care enough to complain publicly, they're invested in your brand -- and just are expressing a negative sentiment caused by you not living up to their expectations. Look, listen, and turn that sentiment around and you can create opportunity.
But that opportunity doesn't always knock. Sometimes, you have to go find it.