I’ve stopped saying it quite so much now, but the four point plan I used to trot out all the time when talking to organisations about their approach to the web was always:
The only reason I don’t say it so much is that I got bored of repeating myself, rather than deciding it was the wrong way to go about things.
The first step, to listen (not monitor! that always sounds a bit big brother to me), is the most fundamental, but strangely it is also one of the hardest to get right, because it needs people, process and technology. Usually when this is the case the technology is the easy bit, but I’m not so sure in this instance.
Listening online is a case of tracking keywords and where they are used on the web. These keywords would be things like:
- The name of your organisation
- The names of the local area
- Names of key people in leadership roles
- Names of campaigns and issues, etc
You need to be alerted as to when they are used online, so you can respond if necessary, or just note it.
Why would you want to do this? Let me count the ways…
- You want to be alerted immediately when people are saying bad / good things about your organisation
- You want to quickly respond to online customer service queries
- You want to quickly see who is talking about key issues and campaigns and join the conversation to raise awareness of your organisation’s activities.
- You want to easily identify people active online in your local area and connect with them and involve them in what you are doing.
There are probably others too.
How to do this though? There are 3 approaches I think:
- Cobble your own – using Google alerts, Reader, Yahoo! Pipes, maybe iGoogle or Netvibes and a bunch of other tools (SocialMention, BoardTracker, Addictomatic, Icerocket, etc) you could put together a pretty decent monitoring dashboard. Downside is that they are a pain to set up and even more annoying to maintain. Plus, any one of those services could disappear at a moment’s notice.
- Use a tool – such as Tweetdeck, Seesmic or Hootsuite, for example. These tools have grown from being purely about tracking Twitter to allowing you to manage multiple accounts across multiple channels, such as Facebook Foursquare and others. They tend to be pretty cost effective, even for the pro versions, but are limited in terms of the data sources they pull content in from, such as blogs and forums for instance.
- Buy a service – there are plenty of social media listening and tracking tools out there, each with their own unique features. Many offer deep data and sentiment analysis tools, telling you how much of the online chatter about you is positive, etc. These systems can be pretty expensive though, and for those organisations that just want a simple listening tool, can be very much in sledgehammer and nut territory.
(The apparent lack of a decent option somewhere between the free and the quite expensive is why I am so excited about the potential of RepKnight, which promises to be a simple, straightforward and cost effective tool to track keywords and to follow up results as necessary. I got to have some input into the specification for the product, so am hoping it will meet the needs of the public sector dead on.)
Once you have the technology in place you can think about the process and the people.
In terms of process, it comes back to Steph‘s neat little phrase that ‘interactive websites need interactive organisations’. What I mean here by listening is active listening, taking into account what people are saying, and acting upon it.
This means acknowledging what people are saying, answering questions and following up on queries. Most of the time it should be possible to reply using the same medium, but obviously occasionally communication will need to be taken offline. Sometimes – but certainly not always! – you might even have to document an interaction using your organisation’s CRM system.
None of this is particularly risky or difficult stuff – it’s just a case of getting the procedure in place and ensuring staff are trained to follow, and adapt to it.
I’d be interested in hearing from folks about the way they are doing online listening, or perhaps the reasons why they don’t! What are the issues you are facing?