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Empathy, advocacy and social media: the importance of listening

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Award-winning author Luan Wise continues her series on social media and how businesses can leverage it for optimal effect. Here, she says marketers should learn to stand in their customers’ shoes in order to truly understand their target market to successfully win advocates for their brands through social media: it’s the importance of listening.

Consider, for a moment, the words of American author and motivational speaker, Stephen R Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This quote is, I believe, one of the most powerful I have ever come across.

Habit 5 in Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, focuses on principles of empathic communication: that is, ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’.

Empathic listening means listening with the intent to understand, to get inside another person’s frame of reference or world view.

When you truly understand your audience, you can focus on problem-solving – showing how you can help your audience overcome their challenges and achieve their goals with your product or service.

Covey explains that, in the communications industry, we rarely diagnose before we prescribe. We dive straight in with answers and have a tendency to filter what we hear through our own paradigms, reading our own autobiography into other people’s lives. We answer with what we would do, but that isn’t always likely to be the correct answer. We often don’t put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

Covey explains: “Because you really listen, you become influenceable. And being influenceable is the key to influencing others.” It’s the key to getting your message heard and shared, to gaining trust and doing business.

Social media listening

Social media listening is the process of identifying and assessing what is being said about a company, individual, product or brand on the internet, and the issues that affect it. Social media listening can support all business objectives, from marketing to HR and customer service.

“Now that people are plugged in, they are rarely disconnected – and the result is a constant channel of thoughts and opinions from the brain directly to the screen. This is the era of what I call consumer-generated media, or CGM,” says Pete Blackshaw, author of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World.

He goes on: “CGM is the currency of a new commercial relationship between business and consumers. It is the endless stream of comments, opinions, emotions and personal stories about any and every company, product, service, or brand, which consumers can now post online and broadcast to millions of other consumers with the click of a mouse . . . CGM is the true barometer of corporate and brand credibility.”

Every day, 24/7, consumers are posting content and starting conversations about customer service issues, their intent to purchase and providing product feedback. If you are listening, these are all valuable opportunities – to steer engaged prospects towards sales, to turn brand advocates into evangelists, and to manage potential crises. Social media listening helps you to understand pain points, to validate audience personas, to shape content plans and to provide market intelligence. It also helps you to be the first to respond; SAVO Group suggest that 74% of prospects choose to buy from the company that was first to help them along their buyer’s journey.

Start with why

A social media listening programme must start with knowing why you are listening. This means, of course, understanding your business strategy and marketing goals. Only then can you determine what you really need to listen out for.

You may want to:

  • monitor the success of a press release or product/service promotion;
  • track what is being said about your company and products, both positive and negative;
  • conduct competitor or market research; or
  • monitor infringement of trademark or other intellectual property.

Stephen Rappaport, author of Listen First! Turning Social Media Conversations Into Business Advantage, highlights two types of online listening, each of which has a unique purpose:

  • Social monitoring: tracking online brand mentions on a daily basis for public relations, brand protection, operations and customer outreach and engagement. Social monitoring is continuous, to enable reporting on conversation volume and to respond to events.
  • Social research: analysing naturally occurring online categories of conversation to better understand why people do what they do, the role of brands in their lives, and the product, branding and communications implications for brand owners. Social research is strategic, ad hoc and used for campaign planning, new product/service development, or improving the online experience.

How to listen

Tools for social media listening vary from one-off advanced searching within the social media platforms, to daily or weekly feeds of simple keyword monitoring via Google Alerts, to sophisticated tools such as Radian6, MeltwaterBuzz or Brandwatch which monitor quite complex search queries and provide sentiment analysis. Some tools are freely available, while others attract a monthly or annual subscription fee.

Google Alerts

If you’re not already using Google Alerts, get going now – it takes just a few minutes to set up. By creating a Google Alert, you can receive a notification any time Google finds new results on topics that interest you. You could set up a Google Alert for your own name, your business name, your brand name, competitors, keywords, etc. The more precise the search terms for your alerts are, the more relevant your notifications will be. It’s a great way to keep up with information online, it’s fun and it’s free.

Twitter lists

If you are using Twitter, make sure you create some lists. A Twitter list is a curated group of Twitter accounts; they can be a great way to manage your listening activity. Content curation (selecting and organising relevant information) is an important aspect of content marketing. Twitter lists can be public or private; you can create your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. For example, I have specific lists for local media contacts, key resources, event attendees, etc. You do not need to be following accounts that are in a Twitter list, which makes them a great way to (a) follow competitors without them knowing, and (b) keep your follower:following ratio in check.

Social media listening – for customer service

As consumers, we have high expectations from companies, particularly around customer service. Businesses lose staggering amounts of money, customers and goodwill due to poor customer service – and consumers will post online if they are unhappy with the service they receive.

Customer service complaints online are highly visible, which in part is why company Facebook or Twitter pages have become go-to places for getting a swift response. Fast response times and effective handling of customer service issues can reflect well on an organisation.

Social customer service includes listening for complaints, compliments and support requests, including problems and questions. When listening, it can be useful to set up monitoring and follow up processes around:

  • who has posted (customer, prospect, media)
  • what category of post it is (complaint, feedback, advocacy)
  • what the underlying customer emotion is (anger, frustration, hurt).

Consider having predefined messages and rehearse these as part of the training process. Responses can take place both publicly and/or privately, via direct messaging. It is important to acknowledge the query publicly and to manage expectations for a more detailed response, which may or may not take place online.

It’s also interesting to note that many organisations running social customer service programmes are saving money: using social media not only costs less than telephone and email communications, but it can also resolve matters much more quickly.

Listening is a great way to transform a negative into a positive; a problem into an opportunity; customers into advocates.

Read also:

Which social media platform is right for your business?

The best time to post content on social media is . . .

Luan Wise
Author: Luan Wise
Chartered Marketer, Author, LinkedIn Learning Instructor |

Luan Wise’ award-winning book, ‘Relax! It’s Only Social Media’ is available from Amazon, and the companion 2018 social media planner – a step-by-step guide to developing a social media plan – is available from her website: Luan Wise is a chartered marketer with more than 15 years’ experience. In 2009, Wise discovered social media and hasn’t put her smartphone down since. She was recognised as one of the top five female marketers in the UK for the #LinkedInBestConnected social campaign in 2015. Subsequently, she was signed up to write and deliver content for LinkedIn’s online learning platform, Her engaging tutorials have been viewed more than 140,000 times and new courses will be released in early 2018. To provide talks, training and one-to-one support for businesses, contact her on (0)1242 420597 or email

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