Social listening can become a brand’s favorite locksmith — it opens up the door to a world of potential conversations.

Still, many brands struggle to get past that threshold. Others, once they eventually pass, don’t know how to interpret or engage with what’s being said.

Is what’s waiting on the other end sometimes a daunting sight? Of course.

But with a strategic approach and an open mind, you can tap the opportunity to make your brand more relevant to your intended recipients. Without it, you run the risk of losing out on creating value for the consumer and potentially further damaging your brand's reputation.

6 Kinds of Social Conversations

According to a study from the Pew Research Center, most conversations on social media fit into one of six categories: clustered, divided, fragmented, in-hub and spoke, out-hub and spoke, and unified.

While it’s possible that some conversations may fall into multiple categories, “fragmented” and “out-hub and spoke” are the two that align with most brands on social media today. The commonality is that there is little connectivity and disconnected users.

social listening styles

By identifying conversations that are brand relevant, brands can tackle stagnancy and move to a more “unified” network of mutual support.

Social Media is Essential

Social is well past its infancy. Brands have laid deep footprints across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more, albeit with some very slow and altogether lacking responses.

In fact, according to The Q1 2016 Sprout Social Index, people currently have to wait 11 hours to hear back from a brand — that is, if they ever hear back at all (fewer than 11% do).

By not being social on social media, brands are leaving money behind. According to a study by Gartner, not answering customers on social media can lead to a 15 percent increase in the churn rate for existing customers.

Not only do brands miss the boat in customer care (a prime example of social media monitoring), but they also fail to gather the data points needed to see the bigger picture and refine their competitive social listening strategies accordingly.

Unbeknownst to brands, among the millions of messages online, there are other conversations that are highly relevant — and often overlooked. What's more, they are relevant even when they’re not directly asking for your attention. As a result, treasure troves of messages that could unlock valuable insight and vastly impact a brand’s bottom line go untouched.

Social Listening Extends Beyond Your Doorstep

The term “social listening” is not a new concept.

What it isn’t: managing incoming social messages from consumers that are directly calling out to a brand by @mentioning its social handle.

What it is: identifying conversations around brand-adjacent words, people, phrases or topics and using them to unearth relevant trends and opportunities to deepen the connection between brand and audience.

Small steps lead to giant leaps. Brands that venture beyond their own social doorsteps are better positioned to build on real-time consumer insights.

With topics that drive conversations and group behavior at their disposal, brands can identify top-level trends, benchmark social efficiencies and glean more direct feedback on products and services.

According to a study from Bain & Co., when companies engage and respond to customer service requests on social media, those customers end up spending 20 percent to 40 percent more with the company.

Brands that understand the shift in customer empowerment on social media can expect to see a greater return on social engagement with additional benefits, including: increased customer retention, lower customer support costs, positive user sentiment, focus group insights for product development and greater brand awareness generally.

It’s About Your Consumer

The truth is that, for brands, it will never be about them. It will always be about the consumer.

Gone are the days when just having a presence on social media was considered a stellar feat in and of itself.

Social is now the norm for customer service especially, as people thrive on immediate results. Consumers also love brands that solve problems in new ways, so organizations that go beyond just listening are the ones that will ultimately triumph in the end.

Find the problems before your customers do, because proactive customer service goes a long way in building loyalty and repeat business.

If you want to add value on social, start by listening to your audience — because they should always come first.

Title image "Listen" (CC BY 2.0) by ky_olsen